If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Friday, July 23, 2010

Serving Others: Philippians 2:1-13

*This lesson can also be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/Curriculum/abs/abs100808.html

Servanthood has been an unquestioned metaphor for the core of the Christian discipleship. It has been a dominant metaphor for Anabaptist-Mennonites. The image of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet is at the heart and art of our identity. Among the many New Testament texts on servanthood we love this text in Philippians about having the mind of Christ. We had that mind in us as we created numerous organizations around serving others. Servanthood is in our minds and hearts.

Having been shaped by Anabaptist theology, even before I knew who Anabaptists were, I believed that servanthood was the key to Christianity. It is one of the essential elements of the Anabaptist tradition that drew me into the Mennonite Church. So, I could never imagine anyone daring to question the idea of servanthood.

That is, until I started reading womanist theology, which is theology from the perspective of black women. I discovered that servanthood was being questioned as a key metaphor for Christian discipleship. My view of servanthood was turned on its head when I came across Jacquelyn Grant’s essay “The Sin of Servanthood: And the Deliverance of Discipleship.” She argues that servanthood in our country has been more exactly servitude. Given the nature of Black women’s servitude Grant questions the use of the metaphor of servanthood as helpful in their relationship to God and others. How does one justify teaching a people that they are called to a life of service when they have been imprisoned by the most exploitive forms of service?

Grant offers an important critique of servanthood as a model for our relationship to God and others, particularly among those who have had little power and have been the actual, not metaphorical, servants of those in the dominant white culture. The text in Philippians might better serve those of us with more power and privilege in society. To have the mind of Christ would be for us to empty ourselves of our power and privilege, value others above ourselves, and take on the form of a servant to those who have been the real servants among us.

• In what ways is “servanthood” a meaningful metaphor for understanding our relationship to God and others?
• How can “servanthood” be a limited or unhelpful metaphor for Christian discipleship?
• How are you or your church practicing the truths from this Philippian text?

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