Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership

One day while Jesus and His disciples were going up to Jerusalem, James, John, and their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom. Upon hearing this the other ten disciples became angry (Mt.20:20-28; Mk.10:35-45). Why would they become angry over this request? Probably because they looked upon these positions in the king’s domain as the positions of prestige and power and probably they wanted these positions for themselves! Why did they want these positions? In order to honored as leaders. Jesus turns the value structure of the world upside down in His response and teaches what Biblical leadership is. Jesus’ view of leadership totally contradicts the world’s view of leadership. The Gentiles (world) believed that the person “on top” was the leader. That would be the prince, the chief, the ruler, he who called all the shots and exercised all dominion/power. Jesus contradicts this by saying; “whoever desires to be great (of high rank, chief position) among you (disciples of Christ, followers, learners) must be your servant or slave. Jesus uses two words that one must become in order to be great (chief, ruler). First He uses the word diakonos which means servant, attendant, minister. It was also used of one waiting on tables. They frequently used it when speaking of “waiting on guests”. In Mark 1:31 it is used of women preparing food. In Matthew 25:44 it is used of relieving one’s necessities, or supplying the necessaries of life. I thought it interesting to know that the Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says that there is nothing in the original representing the word “office”. I think a good english word for diakoneo would be “amanuensis” meaning service from one’s hands relating to another’s needs. The second word that Jesus uses is the word doulos which is an adjective signifying “in bondage” or “enslaved”. Often it is used indicating subjection without the idea of bondage. In short Jesus is saying, “the highest position in His kingdom is a slave.” So if you want to be great become the lowest! Was not Jesus the greatest and yet servant to all (v.28)? Now before we draw all the conclusions let us look at another text.

In Luke 22:24-27 Jesus teaches His disciples once again about Biblical leadership. There arose a dispute (a logical argument over the love/campaign for office) among them as to who was the greatest. Jesus then says, “the kings of the Gentiles are called Benefactors, but this is not so with you. The word benefactor means a worker of good. Jesus goes on to say that with you (disciples of Jesus) the benefactor (worker of good) is the one who becomes as the youngest and the leader (one who governs) is the one who becomes as the servant. Now Jesus says that the greatest should become as the youngest and the leader as the servant. Jesus uses the word hegeomai for greatest in this context. This word means to lead the way, to preside, rule, be the chief. It is also used of the “ambition” to be chief. Again Jesus contradicts the world’s view of a leader. Remember the kings were the ones who called all the shots and had all the dominion and authority. The youngest is the last one to call the shots and the one without any authority. The servant never governs, but rather is the one governed. Jesus goes on to say (v.27) that in the world the one reclining at the table is the greatest. In the kingdom who was the greatest? Jesus! But where do you find Him among them? As the one who serves! In John 13 who do we find reclining at the table? The disciples. But who was the greatest Jesus or the disciples? Without a doubt Jesus was the greatest! Therefore what does this text teach? It along with the other three texts teaches that the servant is the greatest. Therefore the Biblical leader is not the one on top making all the decisions, exercising all the authority, and receiving all the service (as the Gentiles believed), but rather the one on the bottom without the rights to make decisions and rather than receiving all service giving all service! I like what J. Oswald Sanders said in his book Spiritual Leadership, “To serve was Jesus’ definition of leadership, and that is true whether in the realm of the secular or of the sacred. Lord Montgomery said that his war experience led him to believe that the staff officer must be the servant of the troops and that a good staff officer must serve his commander and the troops, but must himself be anonymous.”

Marty Hale

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