Implications of Matthew 20
Let’s go back to the text of Matthew 20:25-28 and ask of it some questions that are begging to be asked. Why did Jesus begin with a description of worldly leadership? That was obviously where the apostles were conceptually. Ten of them were indignant toward James and John. Why? Because the two were being worldly in their thinking and the ten wanted to see them get help? No, not at all. They were envious that the two beat them to the punch in seeking what they perceived to be the ultimate leadership positions as men would see them. Plus, the two had their mother to advocate for them in their request. Position, not servanthood, was the foundation of their thinking and desires regarding leadership. Of course, we would never be like that, would we?
I look with embarrassment back to a time when our movement was characterized not simply by worldly leadership concepts, but by military ones. I describe this sad period in Chapter 4 on leadership styles in my book, “Dynamic Leadership,” under the subheading, “The Military Model.” I include there nineteen evidences of the military model, all suggested by leaders in several different churches. The suggestions came in rapid-fire order; it didn’t take much time to figure it out. Sadly, most of us bought in to accepting parts of the model, although some were better or worse than others. But no one from our earlier days can deny that our leadership was full of worldly concepts and practices.
Nor do I think that many today would deny that we have vestiges of worldly leadership left in our churches right now. The most concerning one is not manner, as in “harsh,” but manner of decision-making, as in lacking true collaborative teamwork. Thankfully, we also have many Golden Rule type leaders. But the servanthood of which Jesus spoke has not dominated, in my opinion, which means that we still don’t understand the basic nature of God as the Servant of servants.
Another question that arises from these verses is how does Jesus fit in? He was obviously correcting the views of the apostles and calling them to both servanthood and even slavehood in their views of leadership. But he used himself as the ultimate example. He came into the world as a servant and giving his life up on the cross could demonstrate slavehood. Two passages come to mind.
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Dying for a friend is servanthood. Dying for our enemies could be called slavehood. Jesus is the greatest example of both to ever walk the earth, but as old Jim said, Jesus didn’t become a servant or slave by virtue of becoming a man. His nature is that and always was. In an article I wrote entitled, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” I describe the plan of the cross as being in the mind of God before he created Adam and Eve. He knew what introducing creatures of choice into the world was going to cost him. He had already filled out the price tag before the merchandise existed. If that doesn’t define servanthood, I don’t know what would. Always and forever, he does what is best for us, whether we can understand it at the time or not. Some of my greatest gains have come though the times of greatest pain, and my recent stay in the hospital marks the highlight of this principle. I wrote three health updates on Facebook, and this is the last paragraph of the final one.
The normal reaction to hearing these details goes something like this: “Goodness, that must have been tough, but I’m so happy you made it through!” That is an appropriate response, to be sure, but mine is different. Yes, it was very challenging and sometimes very scary, but it was the greatest spiritual experience of my life—by far. The spiritual insights I gained were simply marvelous. I knew even in the worst days that if I survived, I would need to start a YouTube channel and share through some form of podcasts what God had taught me. I am working on getting that set up now. If I could skip the illness episode but also miss the spiritual insights, would I choose that? I don’t think so. As crazy as it may sound, I believe I would go through it all again (but only with the help of your prayers) to learn what I learned and to connect to God the way I have. I love and appreciate you more than you imagine. Stay tuned! I will resume my radiation treatments Monday, but only have about 9-10 remaining. No more chemo! Please keep me in your prayers that all of the cancer will be eradicated. God bless you!
Finally, if the greatest quality of a follower of Christ is servanthood, especially leaders, it has to be the greatest quality with which to define Christ himself. It simply has to be; it must be; it cannot be otherwise. Certainly God is light and love and many other things, but his overriding supreme quality is servanthood to the nth degree with no limitations or boundaries—up to and including death for his enemies. If that is what I am to imitate, especially if I am a leader, it changes so much about how we see him, ourselves, our roles and our relationship with him. God’s greatest description is servant.