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”.