Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
St Paul refers to himself as “servant” and “the very least of all the saints”. In doing so he echoes the call of Jesus upon us all: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all”. (Mark 9: 35)
A willingness to be a servant of others is a core consequence and mark of faithful discipleship but it is far from being an easy option. Those familiar with the annual ‘Covenant Service’ of the Methodist Church will recognise these lines from its preface:
“Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.”
A willingness to embrace such servanthood – when we feel like it, and when we don’t – may sometimes be something we are inclined to resist but it is a mark of faithfulness to the One who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Philippians 2: 6-7). St Paul underlines the fact that it is God’s grace that enables him – and us – to fulfil our calling.
When it comes to regarding ourselves as “the very least” there is no shortage of parables told by Jesus in which those who think too highly of themselves are put in their place. Nevertheless, today’s reading assures us that “in Christ Jesus our Lord … we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him”. There is an implicit irony: invited to embody humility nevertheless we can have boldness and confidence in approaching God.
If we are open and willing today may well offer us a fresh opportunity to serve others and to embody humility. May what we do and who we are enable others to see “the mystery hidden for ages”.
A Prayer by St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556):
Teach us, good Lord to serve thee as thou deservest, to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for any reward; except that of knowing that we do thy will. Amen.
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister, The Crossing Church & Centre, Worksop & Wales Kiveton Methodist Church
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