“Placing Others First,” Ensign, Mar. 2003, 37–38
For me, one of the most revealing scriptural texts about the Savior’s example is in Philippians 2. Although not frequently quoted, it is an important reference in guiding us to make correct choices. The imprisoned Apostle Paul wrote this epistle to the Saints in Philippi, the earliest congregation he founded in Europe. Although the Apostle Paul seems to have had a special affection for the Philippian Saints, he was concerned about dissension within the Church that apparently was being fueled by the pride and selfishness of some of the members. So he taught them that the key is to have “this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philip. 2:5)—in other words, to think and act like the Savior.
But how did the Savior think and act? The interesting passage that follows is a poetic form that may well have been an early Christian hymn, possibly already familiar to the Philippian Saints:
“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
“But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
“And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philip. 2:6–11).
The first line in the Greek version of this passage is literally “being already in the form of God.” The text then points out the distinction between the glorious Lord of pre-earthly life and His mortal appearance as a “servant.” This contrast brings to mind the comparison of the son and servant in the Old Testament extended family unit. Historically, the firstborn son was the most important person in the family next to the father. It was he who would inherit the larger portion of the estate and probably ultimately assume leadership of the family. Servants had no such natural privileges. Therefore, the comparison of son and servant symbolizes those of highest and lowest rank, respectively. For the eldest son to voluntarily give up his rank and inheritance and assume the role of a servant would be astonishing.
Thus, an important teaching of this text is the Savior’s infinite selflessness. In the premortal realm the Lord did not seek His own aggrandizement but chose to become a servant to all in bringing about the Atonement.
The next lines in Philippians show the Savior’s willingness to put aside His own comfort. Faced with suffering and death on the cross, He could retreat and seek His own comfort and safety or follow through with His vital mission of service. The choice between fulfilling Heavenly Father’s purposes and seeking our immediate comfort often faces us, as it did the Philippian Saints. When faced with such choices, we should look to the Savior for our example, as the Apostle Paul emphasized.
Our yielding to selfishness is usually associated with a limited perspective rather than a consideration of the ultimate consequences. Thus, the text emphasizes the outcome of the Savior’s choices from an eternal perspective. Because He was willing to give up personal position in order to serve others and because He remained committed to His promises despite sufferings greater than any of us could bear, He was able to bring about the Atonement. Through this, He found infinitely greater joy in the fruits of His work than He could have realized without His sacrifice. As our perfect and personal example, He is constantly challenging us to follow Him.
Clyde D. Ford, Valley View 12th Ward, Salt Lake Valley View Stake