Sometimes I read the Bible like I’m watching a movie. I want the good guy to win, and I’m secretly hoping that Jesus will suddenly burst forth and put the bad guys in their place. This is what the people of Jesus’s day wanted – and, quite frankly, expected – their Savior to do. They wanted a hero who would display his power and overthrow the Romans; one who would elevate their quality of life and socio-political standing. But, you know what? That climactic scene never happens the way Hollywood would have scripted it (*spoiler alert: God still wins).
Jesus is the original servant leader, and today’s verses are explicit in instructing us to do the same. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45). This model was almost incomprehensible to the people of Jesus’s day – even the disciples.
James and John asked Jesus not only for a favor but also for Jesus to show them preference by seating them at His right and His left. They were asking for places of prestige and power. These disciples had missed or misunderstood what Jesus had been trying to teach them about His coming eternal kingdom.
There are several details we can consider to better understand the disciples’ misstep:
- Human Nature: We are flawed people, and being selfish is innate. Have you ever daydreamed about being successful or needed or saving the day? I have. Have you wished to work tirelessly without notice or thanks, or to be persecuted for your faith? Me neither. It’s not my primary motivation, but I like people to notice my hard work and to celebrate my accomplishments.
Being selfless and having pure motives takes dedication and practice, and the transformational power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
- Cultural Influences: My concept of “normal” is shaped (and warped) by growing up in Western culture. Our culture rewards people who push the limits and stand up for themselves. I imagine how people today could label James and John’s boldness with terms like: assertiveness, leadership, courage, self-confidence. Jesus would have labeled them as: prideful, misguided, self-serving. (Note, however, that Jesus did not give up on them; He refined James and John over time.) Our culture places little value on being a servant.
- Familial Pressure: Interestingly, in Matthew 20:20, James and John’s mother asked Jesus the exact same question for her boys, and their father was a relatively wealthy fisherman. Raising entitled children is one of my own greatest fears, and I wonder if they felt a sense of entitlement given their above average financial upbringing.
So, yes, servant leadership is hard, but I think there’s much ENCOURAGEMENT to be drawn from this model, too. You don’t have to be a CEO to be valuable. You don’t have to run all the committees or have all the degrees. All of these things are fine, but they are not requirements to validate your worth as a person or to secure your place in the kingdom of Heaven. No resume or genealogy is required at the pearly gates.
Servant leadership is in the daily grind.
It’s loving your kids and trying to model and teach Christlike behavior to them.
It’s supporting your spouse, being faithful in prayer and action to the covenant you share.
It’s encouraging friends.
It’s seeing the potential in people and working to develop their talents and skills.
It’s volunteering your time and expertise in your church or your community.
It’s rushing to do tasks, however menial because you see that they need to be done.
It’s leading with an extra measure of grace, mercy, and patience for the people within your influence.
It’s remaining steadfast, trying to cultivate “progress and joy in the faith” (Phil 1:25).
It’s trying to bring glory to God in every situation.
James and John ultimately became great servant leaders, advancing the gospel. They were persecuted for their beliefs (as Jesus foretold when he said, “You will drink the cup I drink…” in Mark 10:39). But, they remained faithful to the point of execution (James) and exile (John).
We are not perfect in our humanity or perfect in our faith, so we will never be perfect servant leaders. Thankfully, God doesn’t call us to be perfect. He calls us to be faithful.
We believe in a servant Messiah, who ransomed us with His own life. The adage is true that actions speak louder than words. Intentionally serving will breathe life into dead places. It will transform our homes, our businesses, our churches. Let’s bolster the community of believers and win the world for Christ by serving its people.
Grace and peace,
Sara is a West Texas girl, currently living outside of Dallas. She adores her husband of 14+ years and delights in the daily chaos of raising and discipling their 3 young girls. She is also a physician, specializing in MRI imaging.
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