The Nature of Servant Leadership.
God measures a person's greatness by the extent to which that person serves other people's needs.
Was there ever a time in your life, most probably during adolescence, when you felt insignificant? The other girls were prettier, or the other guys more virile. Maybe you felt others were smarter, and you were dumb. (Quite intelligent, but cursed with profound A.D.D., this would be my own childhood testimony.) Other people were popular and you were largely ignored by the "in-crowd". During those formative years, peers valued each other based upon appearances, and how those appearances reflected on themselves. Those who were "respected" were the noisy, gregarious, and demanding personalities. Bullies demanded far more respect than the quiet but smart "geeks." It would seem that little really changes when one observes adults.
With much of our culture shaped by the media, and much of the media shaped by the buying habits of adolescents and young adults, is it any wonder that our cultural value systems are becoming more and more selfish and self-image-oriented? Satan is the prince of this world, and consequently, the worldly viewpoint of things is always contrary to the Christian perspective. However, since we are such integral citizens of this evil world we often lack sensitivity and do not see the conflict. One area of conflict is this concept of personal value. What makes a person of value? What makes a person important? First, consider the importance placed upon people by the media. Who are the important people? What makes them important? When we ogle the "lifestyles of the rich and famous," or observe the myriad of play-acting that is our media we make the mistake of thinking that that life is real. The actors always know the exact words to say, always have the perfect and prompt solution to every problem. Even actors get a second cut at the scene if they merely misspeak a word.
Yet, we ignore the falsehood that is the media and adopt for ourselves much of its messages, messages that not only shape our culture but teach us how to define who we are. We see that we are not as beautiful as those "real" people, (fueling a huge cosmetic industry). Lacking the wisdom and guile of these fictional characters we somehow think of ourselves as less than some normative measure. Like the playground bullies, adults often compensate by demonstrating personal value by pushing their Lordship over others. They want to be the boss, call the shots, and enjoy the feeling of sitting on the throne of authority. When this happens in the Christian fellowship, the results are devastating, and unfortunately, this is an all-too-common experience.
If we listen to God's Word we will get a quite different picture of who we are: infinitely valuable creatures of God's choosing, each person uniquely blessed with a variety of talents, gifts, abilities, and interests, all of which can be used for God's purposes. Our potential for "greatness" is already realized by our value to God, and as Jesus demonstrated and taught, the expression of that greatness is not found in being the Lord of Others, but rather by being the servant of all.
This study will help us understand how Christ measures greatness by relating it to servanthood.
Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. 2And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. 3Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. 4And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them. 5And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. 6And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude.
Luke dated the events leading up to Jesus' death by their nearness in time to the annual Jewish Passover feast. This is a time when many people were in the city for the celebration. At a time of "celebration", the religious leaders could focus only on ridding themselves of Jesus. The celebration surrounding the Passover had long ago been reduced to a vain tradition. The meanings of the elements of the traditional events was long lost. The religious leaders were far more concerned with the controversy that Jesus brought to Jerusalem at this very dangerous time. With crowds of Jews filling the streets, the potential for social unrest was real, and the Roman response to such unrest was quite predictable: if the leadership could not control the people, the leadership would be replaced by the military and by a full array of Roman governing officials.
The Jewish leadership had engaged Jesus frequently among the crowds of people. If they were to make any move against Jesus in that environment, riots would certainly follow. Consequently, the leadership feared the very people they were supposed to serve. However, it was not the people who they were serving, but rather their own personal desire for power and importance. They hid their pride and desire for control under the title of "righteousness" in a religious culture that tolerated it.
The best way for them to exercise their desire to destroy Jesus was to find a way to get to Him when He is not surrounded by the crowds. Consequently, when Judas came to them with a proposal, they were more than interested: they were immediately engaged.
What, do you suppose, motivated Judas to do what he did? This is probably a question that has stirred no little debate over the years. The disciples simply did not understand who the Messiah was, and what the nature of His leadership would be. They were looking for a new King David who would overthrow the foreign governmental oppression, and restore the throne of David. If this was the purpose for Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, Judas was only "hurrying the process along" a little. Certainly, Judas never thought for a moment that Jesus would be anything less than victorious in conflict. Shouldn't he profit from the circumstances?
Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. 8And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. 9And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? 10And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. 11And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 12And he shall show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. 13And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.
While Judas plotted the betrayal, Jesus planned to observe the Passover meal with His disciples. He told Peter and John to make preparations. Finding a man carrying water would not have been difficult, since that task was normally attended to by women. Jesus kept the location of the Passover meal a secret. Just as they would shortly be, people were off of the streets, making it easier for him to be located and arrested by the Jewish leadership. It was not yet time for that to take place.
And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
No doubt, you have seen famous paintings which depict the Last Supper. Usually Jesus and the disciples are seated at chairs along one side of a long table in a room decorated like the gilded sanctuary in a Roman Catholic church. The only part of the picture that is correct is that Jesus and the disciples were there, though we have no idea of what they actually looked like.
The hour had come for this Passover meal to be shared. This would have been immediately after sundown, the start of the 15th day of the Jewish month, Nisan. The main preparation for the meal had taken place prior to sundown on the 14th day, and now Jesus and the disciples would be reclined on couches surrounding a table in the center of the room. The term for "upper" room may refer to a common form of architecture where the lower room was on the ground and housed the cattle, sheep, goats, etc. The upper room is simply made by placing flooring over the ground so that there is a step up, keeping the debris from the animals off of the living space. If this is the case, the last supper took place in a stone barn/home, on its raised floor. This would be very similar to the place where Jesus was born.
Judas has arrived from his meeting with the Jewish leadership. What would be going through his mind at a time like this? Is he imagining the huge victory that will be seen when Jesus, with a sweep of His hand and with the sound of his voice, defeats the oppressors? Indeed, Judas had played an important part in the drama that would unfold in the next few hours and days.
And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
Jesus stated that he very greatly desired this opportunity to share the Passover meal with them at this particular time. He had a final, and very important message to share with them before he would suffer. Since the lesson to be shared was so important, it deserves significant attention. The first part of the lesson concerned the interpretation of the Passover meal and its relationship with the suffering He was about to endure. The Jews knew their Passover meal. The traditions were written and obeyed. The meal, referred to as the sader meal, had several courses, each with its peculiarities. Though the tradition for the meal was set down nearly 1200 years before, following the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, those peculiarities were no less then prophesies of the coming Messiah. It is those prophesies that now need to be revealed.
For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
If His statement in verse 15 didn't get their attention, this statement surely would. Literally, Jesus was saying that He would share his next Passover celebration with them in the Kingdom of God. I don't know how Peter kept quiet! Though the scripture doesn’t record it, there could have been some questioning from the disciples. They now knew that the Kingdom of God was imminent. Judas may have felt pangs of thrill when Jesus' prophesy matched so well his own "secret" conspiracy to bring it about.
Though the meal was prepared by Peter and John, at this point Jesus took over the responsibility of the host in presenting the bread and wine. As the meal's "honored guest," this would not have been normal and traditional. Jesus' taking the lead in presenting the coming courses of the meal would have certainly drawn the full and focused attention of all who were there. This was no ordinary Passover meal, and they were about to experience something special. What they would learn in the next few minutes would serve as the foundation of their understanding of the true kingdom of God, an understanding that would soon turn their hearts away from their petty and self-centered attitudes, and lead each of them to become some of the most dynamic voices for Jesus Christ who ever lived.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
The Passover celebration included sharing four cups during the meal. This shared cup is not that which we share in the Lord's supper. As part of the Passover, Jesus used it as a repeat of the statement about eating the Passover: that this cup which he shared with them would be his last.
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
The action of taking and breaking of the bread were traditional features of the Passover meal. What Jesus said, not his actions, were the unique part what had happened. The Passover meal was full of symbolism that the Jews had long since forgotten. As Jesus took the unleavened bread, He revealed to them the meaning that it has held for these 1200 years. The unleavened bread was baked without yeast, representing its purity. Furthermore, the bread was pierced with holes. The unleavened bread has been a prophesy of the person of Jesus Christ, its purity serving as a prophesy of his sinless life, and the piercing as a prophesy of his passion. Just as Jesus is taking the bread and giving it to them, He would be giving his body to them, redemptively, in his suffering, ultimately on the cross. From this point on, as they break bread together, they are to use the act of breaking it to remember how and why Jesus gave his body up to be crucified.
Some who misunderstood the symbolism of the unleavened bread have promoted a theology of "transubstantiation," simply meaning that the bread was miraculously transformed into the real flesh of Christ, causing many to persecute Christians as "cannibals." The unleavened bread has served for thousands of years as a metaphor to remind us, as well as the ancients, of the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who would live a perfect and sinless life, but give it up to be pierced and bruised for our iniquities. Consequently, Jesus gives them the command: now that they understand the meaning behind the bread, they are to remember it for this purpose every time they would again share it.
Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
Following the bread, is another of the four cups, probably the last. Note that He did not make the same anthropomorphic metaphor with the cup that He did with the bread. This cup is the New Covenant. The Jews were well-aware of the relationship between blood and covenant. The shedding of blood was the traditional act that would seal a covenant. Again, for 1200 years the Jews had shared this cup without any understanding of its real meaning. Understanding this, the apostles are being shown how this last cup of the meal represents the shed blood of Christ, the blood that would seal the New Covenant between God and mankind.
To the Jews, the purpose of the Passover celebration was to bring to remembrance saving of the nation of Israel from the tyranny of Egypt. Their salvation came through the act of sacrificing a lamb and placing blood at the head and sides of their doors. Their celebration was closely tied to the sacrifice of the lamb. In this statement, Jesus was stating that his blood was to be poured out as a sacrifice, establishing a new covenant. From the beginning of the first covenant with Abraham, all of the blood sacrifices, and all other worship forms, even the feast of the Passover, was designed by God to point to the vicarious death of Christ. These were signs given to the nation of Israel so that they would recognize the Messiah when He came.
Though they may have missed the signs, we have been shown them. The bread and the cup are symbols that remind us of the truth they represent. Jesus sacrificed himself for us in a way and for a purpose that we can never duplicate. At the same time He secured eternal redemption for us, He left us an example to follow. We cannot follow His example until we receive forgiveness through faith in his atoning death. Being forgiven, we are freed to follow His example in living sacrificially.
But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. 22And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!
(Note that Matthew 26:21-25 and Mark 14:18-21 indicate that Jesus statement about Judas took place prior to the ceremony with the bread and the cup, and that Judas left before the bread and cup was shared. Luke makes no such distinction in the order of events.)
The woe proclaimed on Judas indicates that Judas was entirely responsible for his actions. Judas' immediate suicide indicates that he never thought that Jesus would submit to arrest and torture, and the turn of events devastated him. He could not deal with the guilt that he associated with is own actions. Still, it was in God's plan that this would happen. The Old Testament prophesy identified that He would be betrayed by one of His own. Surely, Judas never thought that the prophesy pointed to himself! Some might argue that, with all of this circumstantial support, Judas shouldn't be responsible... He didn't know what he was doing? Right? Jesus indicates that Judas is fully responsible for his act. Judas died a grizzly and demeaning death, and has for all time since been decried as the worst traitor who ever lived.
And they began to inquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing.
With that announcement, the disciples react in a natural way. You can see them pointing fingers at each other, trying to rout out the infidel. Again, Matthew and Mark indicate that Judas revealed that he was the one, and Judas left the assembly. However, more was taking place than simply routing out the traitor. The natural and worldly pride that was demonstrated in the disciples was coming out. Each of the eleven remaining could see themselves as much higher in value than Judas. This whole event has been precipitated by Jesus announcement that the Kingdom of God was at hand. They knew that whatever it was that Jesus said would take place was imminent. Now they are ready to reap the rewards for their faithfulness and are counting the gems in their crowns. Who gets the most gems?
And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
It is plain to see where this is leading. Jesus has just described to them in accurate prophesy that the coming of the kingdom would come at his loss of life. He has said many times that the Kingdom was not of this world. But, they still did not understand, and were looking forward to their new rank in the upcoming Kingdom. This is not a new problem with the disciples, or with us:
Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. 47And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, 48And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great (Luke 9:46-48.)
Luke 22:24 is almost a carbon copy of Luke 9:46. The version of the situation revealed by Mark shows more closely their association of the coming of the Kingdom with their hoped-for status:
They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory (Mark 10:37.)
This statement was made by James and John, presumably James doing the talking. What were they thinking? Luke omits the following part of the discussion:
But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. 41And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John (Mark 10:38-41.)
We can see a schism of conflict between the apostles over which would be the greatest, over which would have the most authority in the coming kingdom. Understanding little or nothing of the nature of spirit-led leadership, they can only perceive of leadership the way the world does: the leader makes the decisions for those "under" him. Such leadership builds pride and demeans others. Such a leadership model divides the people into different levels of value, worth, and contribution to the community. Though this is the leadership model of world governments, and the leadership model of worldly corporate enterprises, this is not the leadership model of the kingdom of God.
And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 27For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
Jesus referred to those in the world who are considered great to be Kings and Benefactors. What did the disciples think of their current kings and benefactors? Though they included those who were the "religious leaders", they saw them as enemies of Jesus. Here Jesus was illustrating just how incorrect the world view of greatness really is, a world view that had even taken hold in the leadership of Israel.
Jesus then described the nature of the disciples who would be the greatest: he would be as the youngest. The youngest in the family was the least esteemed and the most menial tasks fell to them. The youngest had no authority to make decisions, and spent his days serving all of those around him. Likewise, the greatest disciple in God's kingdom must choose to take the lowest places of service. Faithful service in lowly places is true greatness.
Likewise, Jesus stated that the disciple who would "rule" would be he who serves. The application of the words, "one who serves" parallels the statement about the younger, as persons with less status and recognition. The greatest persons in the Christian fellowship take positions of menial service. This is very much opposite to the world. Our natural desire is to be considered great by being served by others. We want the government, the church, and society to serve us and meet our needs. People often move from church fellowship to church fellowship because of the excuse, "that church didn't meet our needs." Though that situation may be true, far more frequently, the statement is coming from people who don't understand the call to Christianity.
Our society teaches us to aspire to positions of greatness, being served by those beneath us. Jesus teaches us to aspire to be one who serves others, taking no authority for ourselves. The account of the same discussion in Mark is very similar:
But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. 45For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45.)
Just as the Ancient Jews had missed the message, many of us still miss the message today. In Jesus' time, the Jewish leadership saw themselves as important people who held all of the authority in religious affairs. They exercised their authority by making all of the religious decisions, demanding the obedience of all others to their interpretations of the laws and traditions. They were so sincere and convinced of the truth of their position, that not only were they unable to recognize the Messiah when he walked into their midst, but they successfully conspired to destroy his influence in Israel.
Not much has changed today. Many self-governing churches are not led by servant leadership, but rather by men (or women) who more illustrate the Jewish leadership than what Jesus describes. These are leaders who demand that they make all of the decisions, and think of themselves as being more important than the others in the fellowship. As a minister, I have been told by my deacons that I work for them, and that I will obey them as I would a boss. Their decisions are not based upon the Holy Spirit's guidance through the hearts of the membership, but by their own personal agendas and desires. Jesus' lordship in the church is replaced by their own, and the Holy Spirit is not allowed to flourish in the body.
Is this a common problem in the body of Christ? In my own denomination which promotes the autonomy of the local church and its right of self-governance, it is a serious problem. The average tenure of a pastor is less than three years, just long enough for him to be fired by the church "leadership", or for the pastor to become too stressed by the environment to stay. Churches that are led by these "well-intentioned dragons" continually go through cycles of crisis that bring the faithful to their knees in tears while the leadership smugly continues in their autocracy, the church fails to flourish, God is not freely worshipped, and Satan and his demons laugh at the crippled church. If these words sound strong, it is because they come from far too much experience with the expression of arrogance and ego among the leadership in the local body of Christ. Even as I am now seeking to find a church within which to serve in a pastoral capacity, I find myself buffeted back by a continual string of flesh-led churches that are embroiled in conflict and have seen no growth in years.
It is only when the local church leadership surrenders themselves to the same Lord as every other member of the body of Christ that the Holy Spirit can take the lead in the body. The Pastor is not the Lord of the church, nor are the deacons, the bishops, the elders, or the founding family. If Jesus is to be Lord of the church He is Lord through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, expressed in the hearts of every one of its members, not through a select few. Spiritual leadership is characterized by listening to the still small voice of God rather than to the arrogant and self-serving voice of the prideful human heart.
Each of us is on a pilgrimage. Each day brings us opportunities to grow in spiritual maturity. One day we will leave this world and stepping into the Kingdom of God, will look back on our lives and see what was of real value. What will be of value will be only those things that God considers of value. What is that? Will it be that we were the church boss, or that we were the servant of all?
I'm reminded of a song sung by Ray Boltz a few years ago that described the experience of a new arrival in heaven. A young man came up to the new arrival and said (paraphrasing the lyrics,) "Though you don't know me, I want to thank you for leading me to the Lord in a prayer in my third-grade Sunday School Class." A second man came up and thanked the new arrival for giving money to support missions, because the gift enabled him to hear the Gospel and respond.
"One by one they came, far as the eye could see. Every person touched some way by your personality.
All the little things you'd done, the sacrifices made, went unnoticed on the earth, in heaven now proclaimed. ...
Now I know that up in heaven you're not supposed to cry, but I'm sure that I saw that there were tears in your eyes
when Jesus took your hand and you stood before the Lord and He said,
"My child look all around you. Great is your reward.""
What are you going to be rewarded for? Maybe each of us can take a look at our commitment to the Lord, and determine where we can be more a giver and less a consumer, more a servant and less a boss. We may need to repent of our arrogance and pride, apologize to the community of Christians to whom we have been abusive, and seek forgiveness from them as well as from the Lord. If this were to happen, a revival of the Lord's power could sweep through the congregation, empowering spiritual growth in its members, and the spread of the gospel in the community.
It may be time to reconsider the nature of true spiritual leadership. Jesus gave us the example as He thoroughly loved those to whom He ministered, and rather than treat them with arrogance and autocracy, gave His life for them asking nothing in return but their love. Jesus' Lordship levels the ground at the foot of the cross. If Jesus is Lord, no person has spiritual authority over another. However, together, led by the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish great things, far greater than any worldly power can ever imagine.