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A Difficult Model

On October 10, 2007

“In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–-even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8, TNIV).

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what empowerment for Christian service in the church and world means in light of the model Christ has provided us with. Suffice it to say, it’s a challenge. There is nothing assertive or upwardly mobile about God putting on flesh and serving, then dying on a cross. It spells difficult words for someone who wants to think of “equality” as empowering, and yet it remains the model before us.

Immediately preceding the glimpse of worship contained in chapter 2 of Philippians, Paul exhorts those at Philippi to “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (3-4). In the ordering of their (and our) relationships and our proclamation of the Gospel we are somehow to emulate this model of selflessness, of obedience, and of humility. It strikes me as odd, then, that in considering who can and cannot serve within the church and world, the Christian community quickly turns to the language of power.

Stripped of notions of power and held to the model of Christ, the question of who can and cannot serve is turned on its head. The question of a woman’s being permitted to preach or teach is no longer a question of her right or power to do so, it is a question of her being permitted to serve–-really serve–-and ultimately emulate the model of Christ. Similarly, empowerment becomes an exhortation to one another (regardless of gender) to follow Christ in this downwardly mobile fashion.

To serve within the Christian community is to model Christ. It is to “put on flesh” (that is, imitate Christ’s downward movement), assume the nature of a servant, and become obedient–-to death. And, if anything, it is a setting aside of power, a deliberate and humble choice to be selfless and obedient. It is nothing that any of us would aspire towards if not called by God and exhorted by one another. It is not easy, but then again, when is following Christ easy?

As we continue to imitate Christ, may we find all of our notions of what it means to both serve and “empower” others to do so challenged.

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