Jesus, servant, good shepherd

In previous blogs, we have discussed two biblical terms that paint pictures of what it means to lead like Jesus: “Shepherd” and “Steward.” In this blog, we discuss a third biblical term that paints a picture of Christ-like leadership: “Servant.”

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, two of His followers, James and John (who may have been Jesus’ human cousins), apparently assumed Jesus would establish a political kingdom with a throne symbolizing His power. They asked to be seated on His left and right as His key lieutenants. Jesus’ response to this request likely shocked those two men who were looking for personal power and prestige:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-43, ESV). In Jesus’ view, godly leaders are not to exercise power for personal gain. Rather, they are to “serve” (that is, be aware and meet the needs of) those they are leading. Furthermore, the route to greatness is traveled by those who consider themselves to be the “lowest of the low” (that is, slaves).

Jesus Demonstrated Being a Servant

Jesus not only taught what it meant to be a servant-leader—He demonstrated what that meant in practical terms:

“For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, ESV).

Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate demonstration of service to all people. But Jesus provided another more tangible—and humanly attainable—way to prove great leadership through being a servant. One of those formerly power-possessed men, the Apostle John, later describes a scene the night before Jesus was crucified:

“Now . . . when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper . . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from the supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him . . .If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feel” (John 13:1-5, 14, ESV).

By washing the disciples dirty feet, Jesus literally took the role normally assigned to Gentile slaves.

Why He Served His Disciples

Sometimes in our rush to demonstrate how Jesus literally became a slave to His followers, we miss three key points that John says preceded and provided the basis for this act of service:

  • Jesus loved His followers at the deepest level possible.
  • Jesus knew God had given Him all authority.
  • Jesus knew where He had come from and was going.

In other words, true servant-leadership flows out of (1) unconditional love for those we are leading, (2) a sense of our status or position with God Himself and (3) knowing where one has come from (for us humans, our sinful past) and where we are going (heaven where we will be rewarded for following Jesus’ example).

This sounds contradictory: We are to consider ourselves the “lowest of the low” yet we must also recognize that what frees us up to serve others is knowing our position in Christ and that someday we will be rewarded for serving others.

The challenge you face is: Am I truly demonstrating servant-leadership in the ministry God has given me? Am I serving others under my care with an attitude of true humility yet with a confidence based on my position in Christ and my future with Him?

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