You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave (Matthew 20:25-27 NLT).
The First Shall Be Last, And The Last, First
Wow, what a paradigm change from the model of the religious leaders of the day. You can just imagine the puzzled looks on the faces of his disciples. He had just described to them an upside-down leadership style. If you want to be a leader, become a servant; do what others are not willing to do. If you want to be first among the leaders, become a slave (a bond servant). Not embraced with a legalistic obligation, but born of a free choice motivated by love. In this commitment there was no free agency; it was a lifetime of voluntary indentured service.
The Pharisees perpetrated the model of religious leadership of the day. They loved the best place in the synagogue. They loved to be noticed in the market place. “Hello, Rabbi.” The disciples also must have been tempted to think; it will be nice when our movement succeeds to have the best seats and have people affectionately say, “greetings, men of God”. But after this little discourse by Jesus, they might have been thinking, maybe I should rethink my commitment to this leadership thing.
In v. 28 Jesus revealed to them the hinge that would support this radical service. That hinge would be the willingness to give up their lives; “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many”. At the core of all authentic service is always a relinquishment. No, for most of us it will not be our physical lives, but in true service there is always the aspect of giving up what we want, to do what he wants.
The Power Of The Towel
As Jesus’ time on earth was drawing to an end, he needed an object lesson that would stick in their minds after he left this world. He wanted to give them a pattern for ministry that would not only reach the world but also transform them. In the last meal he had with his disciples, Jesus proceeded to take a towel and wash the feet of his followers.
That night he must have shaken the very Espirit de Corp of Hell. Demons must have shuddered when they pondered what would happen if this mindset replaced the mentality of the world—this system of the world that is under the “power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), which says you are important according to position, possessions, or posture in life. Jesus blew a hole right in the center of this mentality by the most valuable taking the role of the least valuable. Ultimately, it is not the height of the task or even its breadth that impresses God. It is the depth of our love that motivates us to serve which catches the eye of our Father.
Many fine servants of God are people of the cloth, but it is not the collar that qualifies one for service. It is embracing the common cloth of a towel and being willing to serve and not just be served. Jesus set the pattern and all servant leaders must walk in his footsteps.
Read also: Moses: A Servant Leader
Ken Barnes, the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing