Serving to Lead

The church at Philippi began with the conversion of Lydia, the seller of purple (Acts 16:14), and the Philippian jailor. It is now 62 A.D., about 10 years after Paul’s first visit to Philippi and he is again in prison for his faith, most likely writing from Rome. Because of his failing eyesight, Timothy his protégé serves as his scribe as Paul dictates his letter.

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1)

Paul is an apostle, yet he puts himself on an equal plane with Timothy as a servant of Jesus Christ (v. 1).  Of course, the apostle was due the respect of his office, but rarely did he use that to his advantage because he understood that we are all ultimately servants to the same Lord. Timothy was destined to become a pastor/evangelist. Because of his close association with Paul he would have had a certain celebrity status amongst the believers of his day, especially after the death of Paul since he would have been the people’s last link to the great apostle. Such an association could have resulted in a big ego for the young preacher boy, but we never see that in Timothy. We always see him serving. In this epistle, he is serving as a scribe. Not the most glamorous job but a necessary one which is probably why God was careful to mention Timothy in the greeting of this letter.

In His earthly ministry Jesus told His disciples, “…whosoever of you will be the [greatest], shall be servant of all” (Matthew 10:44b). In his pastoral advice to Timothy, Paul admonished, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22a, ESV). In other words, don’t be too quick to promote people to higher office. There is nothing worse than putting someone in a position of authority who hasn’t yet had his wings clipped. There really must be a certain rite of passage before someone should hold office, especially in the church. Because the only way to learn how to lead is to learn how to serve.

Paul saw himself as a servant of God. He regularly referred to himself in that way because he understood that when he was living in his self-righteous pride, he was of no use to God. He was the exact opposite, an infamous persecutor of the faith. The Lord had to cast him down on the road to Damascus, leave him blind for several days and then, according to Paul’s personal testimony, the Lord had to disciple him out in the desert for three years much like He did Moses before he could become useful. (See Galatians 1:11-17). Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ, and Timothy his preacher boy was servant to Paul.

There’s no shame in being a servant. Our problem is that we often mistake glamor for honor. We consider the positions that get the most attention as the ones that have the most honor. God does not see it that way at all. He honors those who are the most humble: “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of contrite spirit, and [trembles] at My Word” (Isaiah 66:2b). Compare the Lord’s reaction to the Pharisee’s prayer and His reaction to the prayer of the publican in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee enjoyed all kinds of status in society and the Lord dismissed his prayers in favor of the publican’s, a man whose office made him the most despised in Jewish society.

Consider as well the servants in Capernaum when Jesus turned the water into wine. There is an observation made by John that seems almost incidental but really shows God’s attitude toward those who serve:

When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew) … (John 2:9).

The servants were privy to details that not even the master of the feast realized. Why? Because that kind of information is the privilege of servants, not masters. Ask anyone who has had to work in a servant-level role. They all are privy to blessings and details that higher-ups never get to know. By serving before becoming a leader, Timothy got to see Paul when he was most vulnerable. He saw Paul’s struggles, his failings, his idiosyncrasies, his humility and most of all his humanity. So, when Timothy did take on a leadership position, he understood well what it took to get there. When people spoke of Paul, because he knew him so well from having served him, Timothy knew how to respect Paul without worshipping him. From the things that Paul taught him and the life of Paul that he saw from serving alongside him, he understood the concept of serving to lead.

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Photo by Glenn Haertlein on Unsplash

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