Webster’s Dictionary defines a servant primarily from an outside perspective as “one who serves, or does services.” In contrast, Philippians 2 reveals Christ as the model for us to follow, not just outwardly by “looking … on the things of others” (Phil 2:4), but also inwardly by letting, “this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). It is His inward mindset, with its choices and costs, which we will explore in this short meditation.
In Genesis 15, Abraham attempts to convince God to elevate his servant Eliezer to be his son by referring to him as a “son of my house” (Gen 15:3, RV). God quickly corrects him with the statement, “This shall not be thine heir” (Gen 15:4), highlighting the chasm between a servant and a son. Undoubtedly many a slave boy, including perhaps Eliezer, dreamed of becoming a son, but a son would likely never dream of becoming a servant. President Lincoln argued further that no one, a son or otherwise, would choose to be a slave when he said, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” Yet choosing to be a slave is exactly what the Son of God did when He “took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). In this phrase, Paul carefully uses the word doulos or “bondslave” (Strong’s Concordance #1401), not misthios or “hired servant” (Strong’s Concordance #3407), such as what the prodigal son stooped to become (Luke 15:19). Paul then links “bondslave” with “took upon him” to emphasize that our Lord chose to take this lowest possible position.
Going further, the first mention of “servant” in Scripture is in Genesis 9:25 where Canaan was cursed for his own sin to become “a servant of servants” or the equivalent of a bondslave. Deuteronomy 21:23 outlines that a curse was placed on anyone who died by being hung on a tree. Paul uses the middle voice again to carefully link these concepts together as he shows that our Lord chose, not only to be a bondslave, but also to bear our curse by hanging on a tree when He “humbled himself … unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8).
The Model Servant experienced both outward and inward costs from the choices He made. From an outward perspective, Exodus 21 describes a man, likely forced into bondage, initially by his own debts, who had the choice to go free, but because of love, he chose to remain a servant. The cost of his choice was being publicly and painfully marked by his master boring through his ear with an awl.
In contrast, the Model Servant had no debts of His own to pay. All along His pathway, He could have chosen to go free, but instead, He set His “face like a flint” to go to Calvary (Matt 26:5, Isa 50:7). The outward cost was not just the mark of an awl in His ear, but rather for His face to be “marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa 52:14).
The language of Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24 and Revelation 5:6 shows us that His wounds will always be fresh, as a public reminder of the outward cost He paid for our redemption. However, we would miss the inward cost of our Lord’s choice to become a servant if we passed over five beautiful, but often misunderstood, words in Philippians 2:7 where He “made Himself of no reputation” or as the Revised Version states “He emptied Himself.”
Some commentators have misinterpreted this inspired statement and made terrible errors by suggesting our Lord somehow lost something of Who He was eternally by becoming a servant. Clarity comes from understanding the context where Christ is being presented as the example to follow. The passage assumes His deity as its underlying foundation, but not as its central focus. This point is reinforced by Paul’s careful use of the word morphe or “outward form” (Strong’s Concordance #3444) for “form of God” and “form of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7). The wonderful truth taught by this passage is that our Lord chose not to exercise privileges that were rightfully His, and to take a servant’s pathway, which He did not have to follow, so that we could be redeemed. What then does the Spirit of God mean by deliberately using these six words? Isaiah 42 answers this when Jehovah speaks with great affection of “My servant” Who would not speak out of turn, would not step out of His instructed pathway, and was blind and deaf to anything but His master’s commands (Isa 42:1). When we fast forward 700 years to the garden of Gethsemane, we find this prophesy fulfilled in the Model Servant Who said, while lying prostrate on the ground in anguish which turned His sweat into blood, “not My will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). We can only bow our hearts in worship when we begin to grasp just a little of the inward price He paid, while being everything He always was; of emptying Himself of any will of His own, and taking the road to the cross.
Philippians 2 was written to challenge our thinking with the perfect mindset of Christ. If each of us were to “let this mind be in [us], which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5), what would the impact be on our families, our assemblies, and our workplaces? How would our choices and the costs we are willing to pay be different? In the upper room, after performing a common task of a slave, He taught us “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).