In verse 25 Paul repeats his earlier statement from 1:23 that he is a servant (Harris 1991:64). Both times Paul's comment is emphatic: I, Paul, have become a servant. His sense of service to God in the ministry of the gospel is his essential identity as a person. In this new formulation, however, Paul replaces the gospel with the church. This new thematic focus relates Paul's gospel ministry to a particular audience. His work is not removed from real people in real places; he is not an ivory-tower academic, but a pastor who is intent on adapting the gospel message in ways that are useful in the lives of his readers.
As we attempt to follow in the footsteps of Christ, Christian leaders, including pastors, will be tempted to give in to a kind of vocational dualism. On the one hand, to follow Christ demands our single-minded attention to his interests; we are called to serve him and proclaim his gospel. We understand ourselves in terms of our relationship with Christ; we are subject only to him. In the realm of human relations, on the other hand, we remain leaders, in charge of things and expecting unswerving loyalty from those over whose lives we exercise some control and influence. As leaders of people, then, we serve Christ. But is this what Paul means? Isn't he saying that as a leader of Christians he must embody the servanthood of Christ?
The issue is not merely to serve Christ, but to serve like Christ. This fashions a different kind of servant leadership—a leadership characterized by setting aside any interest in social standing or political power and submitting ourselves to others in order to share their burdens (see Gal 6:1-10; Phil 2:1-11).
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