So many books have been written about leadership, and yet so few of them grasp this principle that Jesus here teaches—a principle that is at the heart of who is and what the gospel is.
First the contrast. The Gentiles have a certain style of leadership. Often we look at this description of leadership in verse 25 and assume it means something uniformly negative or dictatorial. But in some respects, the principles of verse 25 are described in many management and leadership text books. To lead you must have people who follow, they say. A leader without followers is like going for a walk on your own. To have followers, they say, you must establish appropriate control procedures. This is all equivalent to the principle of exercising “lordship.” And then to retain such precedence, you must be careful to reward your followers with patronage, or you yourself be thought of and called a “benefactor.” All this is sensible enough, worldly enough, and you can find it in Machiavelli’s The Prince as much as anywhere else.
But then, second, note how different it is that we Christians are to lead. The greatest is instead to be like the youngest. And the one who leads like the one who serves. What does this mean in practice? The answer is found in that it is described in the leadership style of Jesus, “I am among you as one who serves.” He will give the kingdom to those who have followed him. In other words, the key difference is in the end goal. A person who leads like the Gentiles is someone who leads for their own benefit. A person who leads like Jesus is someone who leads for the benefit of others.
Not all of us are leaders, but all of us have influence. We have influence over our friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues. Everyone at least has responsibility to lead themselves. What Jesus is teaching here, and modelling here, is a lifestyle that is for others. How can we live this way? 1) Establish and maintain by God’s grace a secure relationship with God. It is hard to serve others if we ourselves are not served by Christ. We must be secure, and have the resources emotionally and spiritually, to be able to give our lives for others. 2) Pray for those around you—for their spiritual good, flourishing, health, and holy happiness. 3) Study the needs of those around you. Ask yourself what areas do they need to grow in, what do they need in order to flourish? 4) Take practical action to bless those around—in small ways and large ways. 5) Serve in the church. 6) Serve your family, friends, and neighbors as God gives opportunity.
Being a servant does not mean being a doormat that everyone can walk over. Sometimes, for their own good, you need to take a firm line towards other people. Jesus was no push over. What it means is intentionally living your life for the good of other people. It might even mean dying for other people—as Jesus did on the cross.
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