Leadership Starts Here

Leadership Starts Here | Mark 10:41-45

“When the other 10 disciples heard this, they began to be indignant with James and John. Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45 HCSB)

My wife and I were babysitting the other evening for our youngest son and his wife. They have three young boys that range in age from almost 2 to almost 8 years old. The oldest wasn’t home because he was spending spring break with his other grandparents and cousins, so we had just the two youngest. As we prepared to get them ready for bed, we began to run bath water and undress them and put them in the bathtub. My wife was sitting on a small footstool as she bathed them and I reached over and pulled over a small, folding footstool they keep near the toilet. As I attempted to sit down on this small stool, I quickly realized just how small and low to the ground it was. It was a long way down for these old knees. I told Tina, “that was farther down than it used to be.”

While my struggle to get down onto that low stool is indicative of my age and physical condition, we often face a similar situation. When it comes to being humble and Christ-like, that struggle is indicative of our self-centeredness and desire for honor, position and power. Over the past several weeks, Jesus has been addressing this tendency in the disciples and their desire for money, possessions, power and authority. This week, He hits their (and our) innate desire for position and dominance head on.

As you’ll recall from last week (https://wp.me/p5mod1-8OW), Jesus addressed James and John’s desire for a position of honor on either side of Him when He assumed His rightful position as Lord over creation. They had requested, through their mother, these positions of honor when Jesus assumed His throne. Jesus asked if they were able to drink the cup and be immersed in God’s will and purpose? They assured Him, they were willing and able to do so. He then acknowledged they would indeed drink the cup and be overwhelmed with God’s purpose and plan, but the position they requested was not His to give. It was only for those for whom “it has been prepared.” It was not a position that could be gained through favoritism and privilege, but one given by virtue of obedience, sacrifice and service. This week, we will focus in on the response of the other ten disciples to their request and Jesus’ response to the ensuing trouble it elicits.

Mark tells us that when the other ten disciples heard what James and John had requested, they began to be indignant with them. The phrase “began to be” indicates that their anger was not momentary and that it consisted of more than just disgust and an outburst of harsh words. It seems to include a seething personal resentment and a breakdown in their relationship. As you can tell, Jesus didn’t ignore the situation in hopes that it would resolve itself. Instead, He addresses it head on.

We must learn from Jesus’ response. These kinds of conflict still erupt among us, don’t they? We still tend to seek God’s favor and desire positions of authority and honor in the church and it often leads to conflict and resentment with others. Listen to how Jesus addresses this tendency in us…

He starts by illustrating how Gentile rulers tend to use their authority, their position and the men who serve them to exercise dominance over the people they rule. This is ONE of the very reasons the Jews hate the Romans and resist their authority. They use their position of power and authority to dominate, take advantage of and benefit themselves professionally and personally. I think most of you are well aware of how tax collectors used their positions for personal benefit and were hated by the general populace. They were expected to collect a certain amount of tax revenue from the populace and anything they could get above that amount was kept for their personal gain and benefit. In like manner, the Roman authorities used their role and position of authority over the tax collectors and the general populace to benefit themselves and supplement their income.

Naturally, this abuse of authority and position was despised by the people. Don’t we despise those who do the same? Both of the words in this verse (dominate and exercise power over) emphasize the negative ways that authority and power can be used and abused as weapons against those who are under them. Both words in Greek (katakyrieuousin – dominate; kataxousiazousin – exercise power over) emphasize the tendency to oppress, beat down or step on (kata – down) those who are beneath you, politically and socially.

Perhaps it deserves repeating, Jesus didn’t come to oppress and dominate those under Him. Instead, He came to lift up those who are oppressed and to set free those who are held in bondage (see Lk. 4:16-21; Is. 61:1-3). So, Jesus points out that the disciples were not to use their authority, their position and their place of leadership like that. “It MUST NOT be like that among you!” (my emphasis) The modern church needs to hear Jesus’ words afresh and new. We need to be reminded that “it must not be like that among you.” There have been far, far too many church-related scandals where someone in authority has used their position and power to abuse, dominate and oppress those perceived to be under them. To be blunt, one incident of abuse of power or position is too many.

Now, notice the contrast Jesus paints… “On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.” You don’t exercise Godly authority, leadership or power by stepping on or oppressing people. That’s not at all what God is like nor what He wants us to be like. Instead, you exercise Godly authority, leadership and power by stooping down and becoming their servant. Whoever wants to be first in the kingdom of God must become the slave of all.

I think this is going to cause a lot of Christians trouble when it comes time for us to stand before our Lord. We tend to use worldly methods and examples of leadership and are shocked when God doesn’t honor or bless our efforts. Why would we be so surprised at God’s rejection of our leadership methods when they are in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching and example? We tend to measure success in our churches by worldly standards rather than obedience to Jesus’ commands while following worldly examples of leadership and authority. While I recognize that it is certainly easier to measure success by the number of attendees and the size of the church’s budget, it would seem that the better method of measuring success is through their development of spiritual fruit, faithful obedience to Christ’s commands and their love for one another.

Consider these words: “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 HCSB)

Why am I so adamant that these things are critical to properly living out the Christian life? Notice how Jesus ends His statement: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life – a ransom for many.”He’s not calling the disciples to have a slightly different perspective on authority, position and power, He’s calling them to emulate His radically different approach to exercising and using His own authority, position and power. He says, I didn’t come to be served but to serve, you do the same. I didn’t come to get ahead in life, but to give my life – to give it as a ransom for many. Now, take up your cross, follow ME and give your lives for My people.

So, to be great in God’s kingdom requires that you become an obedient servant and to be first among Christ’s followers means you must be a slave to all. There’s simply no getting around His words or His example.

I want to end by highlighting those final words, Jesus came to serve and to give His life – give it as a ransom for many. The ransom that He paid is literally the cost to free a slave. He came to set those who were captive free. When Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Those listening to Him said, “We are descendants of Abraham, we’ve never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, “You will become free?” Jesus responds, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.”

Many in our culture sound just the like the Jews of Jesus’ day – they outwardly reject the idea of individual sin and accountability towards God and deny their need for freedom – freedom from enslaving sin. And yet, we live in a culture overwhelmed with debilitating anxiety and steeped in destructive depression. But Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth about what? The truth about our enslavement to sin and the Son’s desire to set us free.

I started our study be relating to you the story of how my wife and I were babysitting our youngest grandsons. As we put them in the bath, I struggled to get down low enough to sit on that folding footstool. It sure seemed like a long way down. That struggle was due mostly to my age and my lack of flexibility. These old bones and joints just don’t work like they used to. Things hurt more and the floor seems farther way and it is harder to get up, once I get down.

While my body may struggle to get down that low, my spirit recognizes more and more how much I need to get down that low. Not physically, per sè, but spiritually and emotionally. I need to be willing to serve, rather than being served. If I want to be great in God’s kingdom, I must become a servant and if I want to be first I must become last and least among men, a slave to all. I’ve not been called to dominate others or “lord it over” them. On the contrary, I’ve been called to emulate my Lord as a servant – and to follow Him, all the way to the cross. Come on, descend with me into greatness. Leadership starts down here…

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