the letter iconWell you are not going to believe this…and actually I hate to even say this but today is the last Sunday of the Roman series!  We are going to end this study today looking at Romans 15…now there is a Romans 16, that I would encourage you to read on your own, but today we end this series with what I see as something extremely important, and frankly something that is just so hard to grasp if we aren’t living out the words that we have been reading in this letter.  I have really enjoyed taking our time and studying this letter and as I really started to focus in on what I wanted to speak on today in Romans 15, one thing jumped out at me more than any other…Paul challenges us to see true greatness as the Kingdom of Heaven sees it.  He challenges is us to understand what strength is for, and what true status really is…and frankly, if we can’t do what Paul told us to do, and get in the same mindset of Jesus, this is really going to be hard to live out.  Remember what Paul said in Romans 12?

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.  NIV

Today is a perfect example of why it is so important to not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed to the mindset of Jesus because the reality is what Paul is teaching here is completely opposite of our human instincts, and our culture’s mindset for how to live a successful life.  Let’s check out the scripture for today.

Romans 15:1 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. 2 Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” 3 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. 4 Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. 5 May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. 6 Then we’ll be a choir — not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! 7 So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!  (MSG)

This is an incredible section of scripture and while there are a lot of things we could look at today, I can’t get my mind off of the phrase we see in verse 1.

“Strength is for service not status.” 

Now as we read down through the chunk of scripture I just can’t help but notice the theme of this letter continuing…we are to live as Jesus lived.  How again did Jesus live?  He lived his life as a servant.  He engaged people right in their mess, and what is interesting is that Paul would say that he didn’t take the easy way through life.  Did you catch that?  Paul says in verse 3…

v3 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it.

We are to live as Jesus lived.  We are to understand that we are to look difficulty and challenges in the face and meet them head on in the name of advancing God’s kingdom…and we are to understand that our strength has been given to us by God, not for status but to serve others.  I have to say that this is a big moment for us as we read Romans 15, and also a very challenging one because Paul seems to be asking us, no challenging us to live the complete opposite way of every instinct we have in life!  I mean how many people do you know that want to take the harder road through life?  How many people do you know that are willing to take on the troubles of the troubled?  How many people do you know that are willing to cast aside their status to engage and serve people?  Well this is the life of a disciple of Jesus, how do I know this?  Because this is the life that Jesus lived, and we are to live as Jesus lived.

What is funny to me, and something that we really need to discuss today is that people will see this and immediately picture living this type of life as being a life lived in poverty, sacrificing every nice thing you own, almost starving, and of course never advancing in the work place, basically to us humans, when we hear we are to live this way we kind of assume that it is for anyone who doesn’t care about being a success, having nice things, or having any money.  What is ironic is that if we can live out a true life as Jesus lived we would actually be more successful, be better leaders, and have a peace and satisfactions that go far beyond anything we are earning on our own…but it’s so hard to get people to see that.  You know as I read through Romans 15, I just got really stuck on this counter-cultural phrase…”Strength is for service not status and I was drawn to a story where Jesus really explained to his disciples how they were to live their lives.  This is the moments right before Jesus is betrayed.  This is the last moments Jesus spends with his disciples prior to being crucified and we see Jesus and the disciples eating together.  Keep in mind that he knows the brutal, painful moments ahead of him, and Jesus begins to show his disciples something very important…

John 13:1 Washing His Disciples’ Feet

Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. 2 It was suppertime. The Devil by now had Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, firmly in his grip, all set for the betrayal. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. 4 So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. 6 When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.” 8 Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet — ever!” Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”9 “Master!” said Peter. “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!” 10 Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you’re clean. But not every one of you.” 11(He knew who was betraying him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you.”) 12 After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table.  Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. 14 So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. 15 I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. 16 I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. 17 If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it — and live a blessed life.  (from THE MESSAGE)

This is a pretty incredible moment isn’t it?  Jesus puts on an apron and washes the feet of his disciples.  This is something that a servant would do in those times, not a King…and Jesus is THE KING!  This is God doing what seems so well, gross and un-Kingly!  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Peter, and I have to say I think I would have had a similar reaction to Jesus that he did…no Jesus you don’t need to wash my feet, seriously God in skin, don’t stoop to this level for me please!  But Jesus is trying to show them something that is just so important, and so opposite of the way us humans think…

John 13:12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  NIV

Jesus is saying to them do what I do, yes I am the master…I am THE MASTER, yet I choose to serve you…now you go and do that, and look hard at verse 17 because many people can’t see this…and you will be blessed if you do!  We don’t think serving is a way to be blessed do we?  I mean if I work hard it means that others should serve me right?  I mean at home I’m the leader of my house so I should be served right?  At work I went further in school than everyone, I have climbed the corporate ladder…I’m the boss now and I should be served right?  I am owed this and I deserve this right?  Yet Jesus who is God in skin, tells you and I that you will be blessed if you serve.  What in the world, the whole concept of strength, of success, of well life for us is status and now Jesus, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords is saying we are to step down and serve and do humble things like he did here?!?!?!  What in the world.  Well I told you, this is a challenge…actually this is THE CHALLENGE.  Remember the phrase that we are focusing on today…Strength is for Service not Status.

So how are you doing so far?  Are you tracking with me today?  I just wanted to check in on you because I know this can really be a challenge for us…especially if we aren’t being transformed by Jesus on a daily basis so that we can break free from the pattern of this world.  So let’s keep going on this strength verses status thing because status is a big deal to us, and I think it is completely different in the Kingdom of Heaven than it is to our earthly eyes, now there are many examples of this in scripture but we will stick to the words of Jesus today.  So let me ask you a really important question here today…

What is true greatness?  To us humans, true greatness may look like having lots of money, a big home, climbing to the top of whatever it is you do right?  When I think of greatness I think of Michael Jordan…the best basketball player, or Muhamad Ali who let everyone know he was the greatest of all time in boxing…or great leaders, or the CEO of a major corporation, you know someone who has climbed to the top…someone who has achieved a great status…but you know that is not true greatness in God’s eyes.

Check out how Jesus would explain true greatness in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 20:25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  NIV

So what you and I see as greatness and what Jesus would see as greatness are two very different things.  This is such a big deal, and this is so hard to do…if we aren’t spending time with Jesus on a daily basis we cannot break out of the patterns of this world, we can’t see like Jesus sees…and we will miss true greatness…and we will miss the greater purpose for our lives all together because frankly, this is the opposite of what you and I think isn’t it?  To you and I greatness is elevating ourselves to new heights, and maybe that is true, but Jesus is saying the way to elevate yourself to a new height is to lower yourself…wait, what?  Yeah I did just say that…and I mean it.

Well let’s go back to our story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet for a minute and I want to look at a couple things inside this story.  The first thing we see in verse 1 is this…

  1. Jesus was motivated by love:

John 13:1 Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.

Jesus is heading to a brutal death, he has a man sitting in front of him that is about to betray him for a bag of money, and he loves them…and he serves them…all of them right until the end.  He loves them.  I don’t know about you but if I knew the painful couple of days I was heading into I would be pretty wrapped up in myself at that point, but not Jesus…he is still loving, still teaching, and modeling for us maybe the most important lesson of all, that we are to serve.

  1. Jesus knew He was the boss man:

John 13:13-14  You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. 14 So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet.

I think this is a pretty important point.  Jesus knew who He was, yet He still even as the King of Kings he lowered himself rather than elevated himself to a level above and beyond serving others.  How many managers, CEO’s, owners, or leaders in corporate America seem to get this?

  1. Jesus wants us to do this too!

John 13:14 So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. 15 I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.

Paul tells us we are to live as Jesus lived.  How exactly did Jesus live his life?  He lived it as a servant.  Now this is a big challenge to us because it is just so opposite of everything you and I would want or know, or even feel to be a way to live a successful life.  We think that this means we are to live in a world of without right?  We are going to just lower ourselves and be doormats for the rest of the world right?  We are going to not be able to succeed in life because Jesus told us that true greatness is found in serving.  I know some of you are sitting there thinking that this can’t allow you to be successful in your time on earth…and I want to press in on that thought for a moment.  Actually I want to challenge you today…because if you can live out this life you can actually be more successful, and a better leader…

Have you ever been in charge of something?  How do people respond to your leadership?

This question isn’t a random one…and I think it helps us understand that Jesus was trying to help us not hinder us here in our time on this earth.  So if you are out there and you are working hard to climb the ladder at work, fighting to be the leader and the boss, how do people respond to your leadership?  Do they hear your instruction and jump right on tasks with great motivation?  Do they do what they have to do because it’s their job?  Do you struggle to get them to do anything at all?

Can I tell you something, if people are not responding well to your leadership it’s often because you can’t see the idea of leading as Jesus led, or really the concept of Romans 15:1…that strength is for service not status.  Many people go to school for leadership and miss everything about leadership, because they can’t get past themselves and understand that a true leader is a servant.

Leadership is not gaining a position and lording it over people, barking orders down at people you see as beneath your level…it’s actually stepping into a spot where you realize the importance of the people doing the task, and asking them to do things that you yourself are willing to do, and they know it.  That is the key to getting people to respond to you well.  Asking them to do something that they know in their hearts you are willing to do yourself.

The best leaders, the ones that people enjoy serving, are leaders who lead as Jesus led…they are willing to take off their robes, put on an apron and get dirty.  How many times have you enjoyed someone telling you to do something nasty that you know darn well they weren’t willing to do themselves?  It just doesn’t work and really doesn’t motivate you well at all does it?  Sure doesn’t work for me!

You know what is funny for those of you in leadership positions with employees or volunteers under you…I bet you that your organization, your team at work, or your volunteer efforts are all about making, building, or doing something, right?  Like if you work at a construction company as a project manager you are building buildings I would assume.  So let me ask you this, if your men and women won’t work for you, if they aren’t willing to build a building for you, or really if they aren’t able build a good building, how important will your leadership position be?  What about in your big volunteer effort?  I bet you are working towards something, and without the people under you that event, or task just won’t happen will it?  So in these situations…where is the power really?  It’s in the people!  It didn’t take me long running large jobs at Lobar Inc. to understand that if I wanted to really be great at running work my investment had to be in my men…I couldn’t build the building on my own, the task was bigger than me!  As the leader my job was to invest in my men, to love on them, and make sure they had everything necessary to build the building well…because we built buildings.  So my position wasn’t going to really matter too much if I didn’t have people who wanted to work for me.  No matter what it is that your team, club, organization, or company does, we can’t lose sight of the importance of the task, and the people that actually make it happen!  Jesus was investing in to 11 men who were about to become the church…he was building too…and he knew the importance of the people on his team!

Paul tells us that we are to live as Jesus lived.  We are to engage a life that seems contrary to the ways of this world.  What is really funny to me is that if we could just grasp the teachings of Jesus and apply them to our lives we would actually live out a pretty incredible life on this earth…it’s just so hard to get on the same page as Jesus.  Most of us in leadership hear these types of teachings and really don’t want to hear it right?  I mean let’s be real…we want more influence, more big moments, more territory because that seems extraordinary and we all want that!

So many of us are starving for greatness, and we can’t seem to understand that greatness is right in front of our faces…it’s in serving others that we find true greatness, yet it seems so ordinary to our earthly eyes.

This is why we would end the Romans talk here today…trying to focus on these words of Paul.

Romans 15:1 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. (MSG)

Strength is for service not status.  It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but there is greatness in serving, there is greatness in these ordinary moments…there is greatness in living as Jesus lived.  For some of us this isn’t going to be easy because everything for us is status.  Jesus loved others, served others, and engaged the mess…and our challenge is to live that same way.  For many of us we have decided that this means we can’t succeed in life, but the reality is that Paul and Jesus weren’t trying to sabotage your leadership or life in your time on this earth…they are trying to help you succeed.

That won’t happen until the focus shifts off of you and onto God, the more time you spend with Him the more you will see as Jesus sees…which will allow us to live as Jesus lived.  That life is more rewarding than the one our earthly eyes would see as rewarding.

Strength is for service not status.