读经：箴22:28–23:9 加3:10–25 赛41:1–42:25
Serve to Lead
‘Who is the servant of the Lord?’ This was the question that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ethiopia asked the evangelist Philip in Acts 8: ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ (v.34).
The title ‘servant of the Lord’ is one of great dignity, reserved for leaders such as Abraham, Moses and David. But in the four ‘servant songs’ (Isaiah 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12) a distinct concept of ‘servanthood’ comes into sharper focus.
The role of this ‘servant’ can be illustrated with the St Andrew’s cross. (St Andrew, brother of Peter, is believed to have died on a diagonally traversed cross, which the Romans sometimes used for execution. It therefore came to be called the St Andrew’s cross, and is the flag of Scotland.)
Originally, God intended that all humankind should be his servant. Then, after the fall, God chose the whole nation of Israel to serve him. But even his chosen race was not faithful to him. So the focus, continuing to narrow, became a mere ‘faithful remnant’. Ultimately, only one individual was completely faithful (shown by the central, most narrow part of the cross). This was Jesus.
Jesus revealed what Israel (and indeed humankind) should have been. He was an Israelite sent to Israel, totally identifying with his nation, and yet remaining distinct from it. No earthly king or prophet meets the description used in all the servant passages. Yet, Jesus does – perfectly.
1. Use all your leadership skills to serve others
Proverbs 22:28–23:9The writer of the book of Proverbs continues to dispense practical wisdom. He warns against us spending our lives serving false gods such as food (23:1–3) or riches: ‘Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle’ (vv.4–5). The eagle on every USA dollar note should be a reminder of this truth.
Rather, we are encouraged to get on with doing what we do well: ‘Do you see those who are skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before obscure people’ (22:29). I have watched over the years those who have quietly got on with serving in humble and obscure ways, but done so with great skill in their work and God has raised them up to positions of influence.
It is sometimes said, ‘No matter what size the bottle, the cream always rises to the top.’ There is some truth in this, as the verse suggests. However, it is not an invariable principle. There are many people who serve faithfully behind the scenes and they are just as valuable to God and to their church or organisation.
Lord, thank you for the example of those who have pressed on – serving you with great skill and without seeking any glory for themselves. Thank you that you have raised such people up as examples for us all.
2. Thank God for Jesus’ ultimate act of servant leadership
Galatians 3:10–25Jesus said that those of us who follow him should lead in a different way to those around us. We should not throw our weight around. We should not let power go to our heads (see Mark 10:42–45, MSG). Rather we should follow his model of servant leadership. Jesus said he ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (v.45).
In this passage, Paul explains how Jesus did exactly that. The cross is the ultimate expression of his service.
We have all failed to keep the law of God. According to the law of Moses, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ (Galatians 3:10b; see Deuteronomy 27:26). In order to be justified by the law, a person would have to keep the entire law (Galatians 3:12). No one has ever done this. Therefore, we were all under a curse.
On the cross, Jesus took this curse on himself. He ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (v.13a). Paul points out that the book of Deuteronomy says, ‘cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’ (v.13b, RSV; see Deuteronomy 21:23). It was the depth of disgrace to be crucified. ‘He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse’ (v.13, MSG).
You are justified through what Jesus, the servant of the Lord, did on the cross for you by becoming a curse for you. ‘He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit’ (v.14).
God’s promise was originally given to Abraham and his seed (v.16a). Paul’s argument is that Jesus is God’s promise, since ‘the Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ’ (v.16b).
‘What, then, was the purpose of the law?’ (v.19). The law had at least two main purposes. First, it pointed us to our sin (v.19). It exposed the problem. It defined sin. It was intended to put a brake on sin.
Second, the law points us to Jesus. It is intended to lead us to Christ (vv.21–25). ‘The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for’ (v.24, MSG). It leads us to Christ through whom we are justified by faith (v.24).
Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant of the Lord, through becoming a curse for us, has removed the curse of the law. By his death he justified many. You are set free from the law to become a servant of the Lord.
Lord, thank you that, in this ultimate act of service, you took upon yourself the curse that should have fallen on me. Thank you that as a result I can be justified by faith in you. Thank you for setting me free to serve.
3. Follow the model of Jesus: serve to lead
Isaiah 41:1–42:25The Sandhurst motto on every cap, badge and belt is, ‘Serve to lead’. This was the model of Jesus. As Oswald Sanders wrote, ‘True leadership is achieved not by reducing people to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.’
As we have seen, God originally chose Israel to be his servant, serving by his side. He promised to give them strength and help them (41:8–9).
However, the people of Israel failed and became part of the problem. It is possible to have perfect 20/20 physical vision and yet be spiritually blind: ‘You’re my servant, and you’re not looking!
You’re my messenger, and you’re not listening!
The very people I depended upon, servants of God,
blind as a bat – wilfully blind!’ (42:19, MSG).
Isaiah foresaw another servant of the Lord:
‘Take a good look at my servant.
I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
until he’s finished his work – to set things right on earth’ (42:1–4a, MSG).
Matthew points out that Jesus fulfilled these words, which were spoken through the prophet Isaiah. He directly quotes Isaiah 42:1–4 (Matthew 12:17–21).
In Jesus, this prophecy was perfectly fulfilled, just as all of the other servant passages in Isaiah were perfectly fulfilled in him (Isaiah 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12). Jesus would be ‘a lighthouse to the nations… opening blind eyes, releasing prisoners from dungeons, emptying the dark prisons’ (42:6–7, MSG).
As a result of what Jesus has done for you, these wonderful promises now apply to you:
‘So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (41:10).
He will guide you along unfamiliar paths, turn darkness into light before you and make the rough places smooth (42:16).
Lord Jesus, thank you that you alone fulfilled this prophecy perfectly and that you will not give your glory to another (v.8). Thank you for your model of humility and gentleness. Thank you that you call us, too, to be servants of the Lord. Help me to follow your example.
‘“You are my servant”; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’
Wonderful words of comfort, particularly in difficult times.