Editorial: May 2012
When correcting His disciples for their aspirations for position and recognition in His Kingdom, Jesus said: "But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognised as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them." "But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant" (Mk.10:40-43 NASB).
Jesus’ foot-washing was an example of humility and service (Jn.13:15). It was the duty of slaves to wash the feet of the guests. Christ took the place of a slave. He made this clear to His disciples (Jn.13:16). If their Teacher and Lord washed their feet, they should wash one another’s feet and serve each other in humility. This must have been a striking rebuke to the twelve disciples, for they had been debating just that evening who was to be the greatest among them (Lk. 22:24-27). This was our Master’s supreme and perpetual rebuke of the spirit which prompts the desire for greatness. They, who have the power to yield to serve others, have true greatness. However, the desire to be served is persistent in man.
When Christ left heaven to come to earth, He arose from the throne, laid aside the outward glory, became a servant, and humbled Himself to die on a cross. These steps are outlined beautifully in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus did not cease to be God, but He did lay aside His glory and the independent use of His attributes as God. After He completed the work of redemption, He put on His garments and sat down, foreshadowing His resurrection, ascension to glory, and enthronement, at the right hand of the Father. In the midst of the throne is "a Lamb as though it had been slain." His life as the God-Man on earth was completely subjected to the Father. He humbled Himself to become flesh and then to become sin as He willingly went to Golgotha bearing the cross. It is ludicrous that some of His ‘followers’ want a servant to carry their Bibles behind them! They deem it below their dignity to carry the Word of God with them!! What a fall?
The lesson of humility is recalled when Peter wrote: "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (1 Pet.5.5-6). Too many Christians now are fighting for recognition and position; they need to recall this lesson on humility. To be "clothed with humility" means to be controlled by a humble spirit, to be servant. God resists arrogant, self-seeking persons, but gives grace to the humble (Pro.3:34, Jas.4:6). "Be humbled under the mighty hand of God." Those who do not humble themselves become proud and the devil takes advantage of the situation, since Pride is one of his chief tools. Humility comes from God. "Humility is not thinking meanly of ourselves, it is just not thinking of ourselves at all."
The attitude of the disciples was that of the world, where competition and authority are important to success. In the kingdom of God, greatness is measured by how many you serve, not how many serve you. Jesus is the model for our ministry, and He was a servant (Phil. 2:1). The Lord assured the disciples that the greatest glory was yet to come (Lk.22:29-30). So, why settle for the transient glory of the world?
The Apostles were unlikely leaders. Most of them "knew more about mending nets than winning converts, when Jesus said He would make them ‘fishers of men.’ Yet, 2000 years later, all over the world, the Apostles are still drawing people in."
If a person’s life does not warrant influence in the lives of others, then he won’t be respected. But if he speaks with wisdom and insight and serve with a humble attitude, people will notice and follow him, regardless of the person’s position or title. Jesus led in this manner. He had authority in the lives of His disciples because of who He was, not because of the position or title He had. He operated outside the religious system of the day, but still was able to gather and lead His followers.
Many leaders teach that it is important to lead as a servant in the kingdom of God. But Jesus wanted that those who indeed serve are the leaders in His kingdom. In such an arrangement, position and title are useless. Jesus is our example. He had no position, no title in the Jewish hierarchy. St. Augustine said: "Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that pierces the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility." To fail to live this life of service is to refuse the call to discipleship.
There are huge benefits for dying to self. One of the best ways to reap those ‘death benefits’ is to serve others. Leading is about bringing life and hope to others. By dying to our rights, we find life. That means dying to the right to be understood, the right to be represented, the right to be loved, the right to be treated justly, and all other rights. "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose"! "In God’s family, there is to be one great body of people: servants. In fact, that is the way to the top in His Kingdom."
Priyanka Gandhi said recently: "Who is a leader? He should be your servant. He should have been among you and not on the stage. It is very sad that you are forced to beg for your rights." In this context, it is good to know what Akhilesh Yadav said just before he was sworn in as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh: "I am here to serve, not rule."
The most influential leaders do not need to rely on a title or position. The example that comes immediately to mind is that of Mahatma Gandhi, who was not even a "Four Anna Member" of the Indian National Congress, even as he guided and directed the freedom movement of the entire nation against the British Empire. It is the passion of the leaders, their character, their love for others, the sum total of who they are, that gives them all the necessary authority. Woodrow Wilson said: "The princes among us are those who forget themselves and serve mankind."
The purpose of spiritual authority is to inspire people to obey the commands of Jesus and to equip them for service, not to command and control people’s lives. Tozer wrote: "I believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader."
Leadership is not dictatorship-the dictator uses law, not love; he does not lead, but drives; his motives are selfish. Christian leaders are overseers, not overlords. They do not demand respect, but command it by godly lives and by their sacrificial service. It is important for Christians to respect leadership and submit to the Word of God.
Having been ‘On India Government Service’ and having interacted with Government servants of all the different grades including Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for over 3 decades, I have a fairly good understanding of the service that the bureaucrats provide to the aam admi. Many of those who are selected and elected to serve people use their discretionary power to act as bosses. They misuse power, show favouritism to cronies and make money by corrupt means.
The authority that Paul speaks about in Romans 13 is the right and power to enforce obedience by government officials. But the authority Peter speaks about in 1 Peter 5 is the responsibility spiritual leaders have to serve God’s people with love and integrity, not the power to command or control those they lead. Spiritual gift is essentially an opportunity for self-giving in sacrificial service for others. Paul, in response to God’s grace, voluntarily became a slave to Jesus Christ. Jude, a brother of Jesus Christ, calls himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ.
What Jesus meant by authority was different from what the spiritual leaders of the day thought was their authority. Jesus defined authority as influencing people by serving them. Remember, He served even His betrayer. If we serve, we have influence, we have spiritual authority in their lives (Lk.22:26-27). In this way, authority is defined as the privilege of influencing others by exercising one’s spiritual gifts in a Christ-like manner. "If you wish to be a leader, you will be frustrated, for very few people wish to be led. If you aim to be a servant, you will never be frustrated." The leaders should become role models in terms of honesty, integrity and truthfulness.
The words Serve(d), Servant(s) and Service are recorded 1330 times in the Bible (KJV). The Service concept is very important in God’s scheme of things. Service is one of the gifts of the Spirit (Rom. 12:7).
An inscription in the Stanford University chapel reads as follows: "The highest service may be prepared for and done in the humblest surroundings. In silence, in waiting, in obscure, unnoticed offices, in years of uneventful unrecorded duties, the Son of God grew and waxed strong."
We are focussed on Sunday Services, instead of focussing on everyday movement. Management models have tended to dominate the way we do church: reporting relationships, span of control, job descriptions, quality control, budgets, flow charts, etc. There is no fellowship, but only business relationship and exchange of plastic smiles on Sunday mornings. The way the church organised itself in the book of Acts was different. There was recognised authority in the men and women Jesus called to lead the movement He founded; it was not a top-down authority. Where there is close fellowship among the members, there is no need for positional authority. The way of the church by its divine design is decentralised expansion, but the way of the flesh is to control and command what happens; the result is disastrous, as we see all around us.
Serving is the key to the new life. The old way is about rights, about position in the church/organisation. But we should learn to live for His glory, not ours. That means serving from underneath, not from top. It means purity, giving up control over one’s time, dying to one’s rights, accountability to others, embracing sacrifice and suffering, being committed and loyal to a small community of people, telling people about Jesus without regard to personal reputation or ambition. "It is easy to turn our religious life into a cathedral for beautiful memories, but here are feet to be washed, hard flints to be walked over, people to be fed. Very few of us go there, but that is the way the Son of God went."