Dr. Phil Brassfield
History and experience teaches us that there are choices to be made when traveling the leadership road. Like a fork on the road leading in two distinctly different directions, there are generally two options for Christian leaders. One is the path of earthly/carnal leadership that is self-focused, success driven, and pride oriented. Jesus illustrated this path as the way of the Gentiles in Matthew chapter 20. Their leadership style was command and control; to command authority and demand submission. He said they seek to lord their positions over their followers. They lead with a heavy hand and view their followers simply as the means to accomplish a desired end. Jesus condemned such leadership styles as ungodly, pagan – or godless. And then there is the second option, one that was exceedingly radical for their day. It was the path of spiritual/godly leadership. This leadership style is rooted in service and sacrifice. This was the way of the Master. It focuses on the greater good, and sacrificial service to others.
Illustrating this second path, in the same passage in Matthew chapter 20, Jesus taught His disciples to humble themselves and care for others. He said in verse 26 and following, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave–“just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The terms Jesus chose, ‘servant’ and ‘slave’, have significance. The term ‘servant’ is diakonos or minister in the Greek. It speaks of function. The term slave is doulos or bondman, and it speaks of status. These were common terms in the first century Near East, but their significance in this passage is illustrated by contrast. The first, servant (one who serves), is contrast to a desire to be great (GK megas or large – influential). The second, slave (one who is subject or belongs to another) is contrast to a desire to be first (chief) among a group. In choosing the contrast of terms, Jesus actually contrasts the values of the two paths of leadership. One is self-focused and success orientated, the second is others-focused and service oriented.
Finally, in this passage Jesus illustrates this lesson of Spiritual Leadership using Himself as an example. He says, “just (or in the same way) as the Son of Man (a title reserved in contemporary thought for the Messiah) did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus did not deny His identity – He knew well who He was. He was, indeed, the Messiah. His humility was not a result of identity crisis or insecurity. Yet, He intentionally did not use His identity as a tool of control or domination. In this He teaches us the way spiritual leaders should lead. We are to lead through service even when it involves sacrifice. We are never to use our gift, talent, calling or position to control others, but rather to serve them in love.