George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Form of a Servant
He took upon him the form of a servant--Phi 2:7
Slaves and Servants
On one occasion our Lord announced "I am among you as one who serveth." That was the summation of His ministry. The word for serveth which St. John gives us is a word of very large and liberal meaning. It includes services of every kind, however high or exalted they may be. But when St. Paul says of that same Lord that He took on Him the form of a servant, that is an entirely different word. It is the common term for slave, or, as we might put it, for a domestic servant. There was nothing of lofty ministry about it; it was colored with contemptuous suggestion. Paul was thinking of his home in Tarsus where, unregarded and unthanked, the slaves were busy in menial occupations. No one knew better than the great apostle that life in its last analysis is service. The Grecian statesman and the Roman general were the servants of commonwealth or empire. But what awed Paul when he thought of Christ was not that He was found in such a category. It was that He humbled Himself to the likeness of a slave. There is a service which is highly honorable. It is compatible with great position. I have a postcard I once got from Mr. Gladstone, and it is signed "Your obedient servant." But the slave's service was of another order, quite apart from honorable ministries, and in that lay the wonder of the Lord. The slave legally had no possessions, and He had not where to lay His head. No freeman acknowledged a slave in public places, and from Him men hid, as it were, their faces. The slave was universally despised, and his master could maltreat him as he pleased. And He was despised of men and, being maltreated, opened not His mouth.
Even in Childhood He Took on the Form of a Servant
This aspect of the Lord's obedience constitutes the wonder of His childhood. It explains as it illuminates the strange silence of the Gospel story. There are apocryphal gospels of the infancy that credit the little Boy with various miracles. He strikes a comrade who instantly falls dead; He makes clay sparrows and they fly away. But the real wonder of the childhood does not lie in miracles like these, but in this, that even in His boyhood He took on Him the form of a servant. Did Mary never ask Him in the morning to go and fetch the water from the well? Did she never say, "Child, I'm very tired today, will you run to the village shop and take a message?" And the beautiful way in which He did such bidding was a far more wonderful thing to seeing eyes than any reported miracles on sparrows. He, the eternal Son of God, running little errands for His mother; He, who might have grasped equality with God, lighting the cottage fire and fetching water--that was the astounding thing to Paul, as it was to all of the evangelists, as is so clear from their majestic silence.
In the Practice of Carpentry Jesus Took on the Form of a Servant
Or, again, we think of these long years when He was the carpenter of Nazareth. And once again legend has been busy seeking to give content to these years. Strange stories soon grew current of amazing things that had happened in that workshop. Beams had been miraculously lengthened, and ploughs, in a moment, miraculously made. But to all this, in the inspired evangelists, there is not even a reference in passing. For them the abiding wonder lay elsewhere. Do any of my readers keep a shop? Don't they know how hard it is to serve their customers ? Aren't some of these customers very hard to please and often irritating and unreasonable? And one may be certain if it is so in Britain where at least the atmosphere is Christian, it would be worse in uneducated Nazareth. The carpenter was at the beck and call of everybody. There was no pleasing some of the folk in Nazareth. It was a thankless and often humiliating service, that of a carpenter in a provincial village. And to Paul the wonder of these years was not the miraculous lengthening of beams. It was the stooping to a drudgery like that. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Christ was the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person. And then Paul thought of the carpenter's shop at Nazareth with its exacting and uneducated customers and wrote, He took on Him the form of a servant.
In His Public Ministry Jesus Took the Form of a Servant
In the public ministry, again, there is one incident which illuminates our text. It is an hour the world will not willingly let die. In the East it was one of the duties of the slave to wash the feet of the arriving traveler. For men wore only sandals then and the highways (save in rain) were very dusty. And Peter at any rate never could forget how once, and very near the end, the Master had done that office of the slave. Would he not be certain to tell that to Paul when they talked together, as we know from the Acts they did? Would not Peter enact it and draw back his feet to show Paul what had actually happened? Perhaps it was then there flashed into Paul's mind the magnificent daring of our text coupling the Lord of heaven with a menial slave. Jesus, knowing that He was come from God and went to God, girded Himself and washed the disciples' feet. He did it not forgetting His divinity. He did it because He knew He was divine. Brooding on which, Paul took his pen and wrote, "Who being in the form of God, took on him the form of a servant."
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