“…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:26-28 ESV)
In my latest sermon at Prince of Peace, I talked about the lust for power. I noted that, even though we may not aspire to a position of great authority, we often demonstrate a lust for power by our refusal to submit to those who are in authority over us. If you’d like to listen to this message, you can click on this link: http://www.princeofpeacebeulah.org/sermons/the-lust-for-power/
I believe this is true. However, as we consider the lust for power, we must also bear in mind Jesus’ definition of greatness. He reminds his followers that greatness in the kingdom of God is not the same as the world’s idea of greatness.
When we aspire for greatness, we seek the benefits it will bring to us. We like the idea of people submitting to us. We like the idea of people serving us. We want others to place our preferences and desires ahead of their own.
However, according to Jesus, being great does not mean being served. It means serving others. Being first does not mean that others attend to us, it means being a slave. In other words, authority is given not for the benefit of the person in authority, but for those under his authority.
The words used by Jesus do not typically appeal to us. We don’t like the thought of being a servant. And that word “slave” really grates us. They don’t appeal to us for the very reason I just mentioned. They tell us that the focus of our attention and energy is not to be our own needs and desires, but those of others.
A king is not to use his authority to seek his own benefit, but that of his subjects. A pastor or church leader uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his congregation. A husband and father uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his wife and children. An employer uses his authority not for his benefit, but for that of his employees and clients (or customers).
We must recognize that this does not always mean succumbing to the mood of those in our care. Those that we serve are sinners. And leadership often means holding that sin in check. It may mean that we give to them not what they want, but what they need. It may mean withholding from them an earthly benefit they desire in favor of submission to the will of God.
Jesus then uses himself as the ultimate example of this truth. He tells us that even he came into this world not to be served. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
If anyone deserves to be served, it’s Jesus. Yet, even though he is deserving of all honor and glory, he used his authority for our blessing. He came that the penalty of our sin might be paid and that we might spend eternity in his presence.
We, of course, can never live up to his example. Our sinful nature always focuses our attention upon ourselves. But, as we see our struggle in this area, we can confess our sin to the Lord seeking his mercy. We can also seek from him the strength to lead according to his calling and institution.