Matthew 20:20-28 (Part 3)- The Bizarro World of Christ-Like, Servant Leadership

Posted: February 19, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 20:20-28 (Part 3)

Jesus Teaches About Serving Others

 

As we take our last look at Matthew 20:20-28 today, I think of the Bizzaro World episode of the classic TV comedy series, Seinfeld. In the episode, Elaine makes a new group of friends who represent inverted types of the normal Seinfeld gang. Jerry even labels his counterpart “Bizarro Jerry”, much to Elaine’s confusion.

 

These characters are kind, considerate, curious about the world around them, and good citizens. Though Elaine is initially attracted to their friendly ways, she is ultimately turned off by the formality and lack of simple camaraderie which she enjoys with her old, selfish, shortsighted group. A second reason for her leaving the Bizarro group is the fact that she is, in turn, so flawed that the Bizarro group reject her in much the same way that Elaine rejected her old friends. Conceivably, her Bizarro version would be ladylike. To this day, fans still write in and tell the producers of the show of all the things that can be pointed out in the background of the Bizarro apartment. These include a Bizarro figure on an apartment shelf, just as a Superman figure sits on a shelf in Jerry’s apartment. Viewers can also see a unicycle hanging from the wall instead of a bicycle, and images of horses instead of cars. The locks on the doors are on the opposite side and actually used.

 

There are many other examples of Bizzaro World in television lore. Star Trek: The Original Series had an episode where everything was opposite of what we had grown accustomed to onboard the starship Enterprise. The concept itself can be traced back to DC comic books of the early 1960s where all the heroes and villians of DC comic lore on a planet Bizarro are the opposite of what they are here on Earth. It is that concept of the opposite of expectations that pops into my brain as we take this one final look at this passage. Let’s re-read Matthew 20:20-28 once again today:

 

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked. 

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

 

In his closing remarks in the passage,Jesus indicates that being a Christian is not anything like what one would expect in the world we know. Jesus says that in the secular world, rulers and high officials and most leaders of any kind lord their authority over those whom they have been placed in charge. Jesus says leadership among His followers will be different. He introduces the concept of servant leadership, as we call it today. Just what is a servant leader? That seems a contradiction in terms as we know them in the business and political realms. Let’s take a look at the qualities of a Christ-like servant leader.

 

First, a servant leader is a follower of Jesus Christ. This means that a true servant leader has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. What does this mean for a leader? It means that as a follower of Jesus Christ, the leader realizes that He is under the authority of Jesus Christ in his life – all of his life, not just his personal life. Thus, there is a humility in that. When we realize that we are not the top dog, the all to end all, and that Jesus is Lord of our lives in every area including those areas in which we find ourselves leading other people, we think of ourselves as serving Him and not about “hey, this is my opportunity to serve my own desires and my own agenda.” A follower of Jesus Christ leads in a way that serves the best interests of those they lead. As a Christ follower, we realize our flaws and sins and thus live in a space of gratitude for the grace shown us by Jesus Christ. It makes us less power hungry and more concerned about the success of our team that we lead than about personal glory. Certainly, because we are flesh, this ideal is hard to achieve in every moment in every situation. The difference is that a Christ-like leader realizes when he is being selfish and realizes that about himself and guards against it.

 

Second, a servant leader is willing to deny himself. He knows the difference between ambition and vision. A servant leader is one who leads others toward a goal that is good for all rather than just for the leader himself. A servant leader must submit his own wills and desires to that of the vision for the group that he leads. For example, I have heard my senior pastor, who founded our church, say on more than one occasion that if he ever sees that he is holding back the development of LifeSong Church or that he can no longer has the skill set that will allow the church to become what God needs it to become, then he would step aside. Think about that, a church, a business, an organization of whatever kind that you founded. Would you step aside if it meant the better health and better future for the organization that you founded? A servant leader is one who desires the best for the organization and recognizes where he is weak and compensates for that through developing those who have those strengths. A servant leader is selfish about one thing – the vision that God has given them for the organization’s they lead. They deny their own selfishness but cling hard to the vision and keep it in front of everyone at all times. Vision. Vision. Vision. Just as Jesus kept the vision of what He had to do in Jerusalem in front of Him and was never deterred from his business at the cross so should a servant leader never let personal desires impede the health of the organization of people that he leads.

 

Third, a servant leader is willing to stand on his Christian principles and does not have his morality conditioned to the situation. A servant leader if nothing else is consistent. A servant leader whose words 10 years ago are the same as they are today. You can count on a servant leader to react consistently in the same way because his leadership is based on biblical principles that are ageless and timeless and never change. Some leaders react to situations based on what the results or intended outcomes will mean to them personally. Thus, ethics become situational. I will react in a moral way as long as it does not interfere with my personal needs, desires, and goals. This type of leader will throw other people under the bus to save their own skin. Many of us struggle with this. We would rather hide our mistakes, throw other people under the bus for it, so that we can survive in our organizations. A servant leader will own up to his mistakes and deal with the consequences because of his faith in the provision of His Lord and his belief that the health of the organization is greater than his own need to cover up his mistakes. A servant leader will also seek to honor his Lord and Savior by his actions within his organization. All actions are measured by whether it is honoring to God. That may mean saying no unethical but profitable activities. It may mean not participating in the good ol’ boy network and missing a promotion. It may mean standing against the tide of values within your organization. But one thing people can count is the consistency of values from a servant leader. People will know where you stand.

 

Fourth, a servant leader helps others succeed. Jesus invested three intensive years in his immediate disciples. He pour himself into them. He wanted them to succeed after he was gone physically from the earth. He taught them so much. He taught them things that they needed to know. He wanted them to be successful. That is the way we should be with the people we lead. We should always be developing the people we lead such that they one day can step into our positions and excel at them. A servant leader will understand the skill sets of the people that work for them and develop their giftedness. Other leaders simply ride there people so that the job gets done and they get the glory for it. A servant leader realizes that everything is temporary and we must ensure that our organizations survive when we are no longer there. We have an eye toward to long-term health of our organization such they we do not have to rebuild it every time a leader is promoted or leaves the organization. Like a great college football program is said to reload instead of rebuild, we should be the same way with the organizations that we lead. We have developed our people so that when it is time for “next man up” that it is said that our organization reloads instead of rebuilds. A servant leader wants his people to grow and be able to make decisions because they have learned how from you. Just think of the mighty power of Jesus’ disciples with the combination of his training and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus invested in His guys. He developed them. He didn’t give up on their training.

 

Fifth, a servant leader will never ask those he leads to do something that He is not willing to do himself. How can you ask someone to walk through the mud if you have never walked through the mud yourself? How can you ask someone to clean the toilets if you never are willing to clean them yourself? We must be willing to do the very dirty work that we ask our people to do. We must have the humility to get down in the dirt with those we lead. If you never knew the blood, sweat and tears of working on the front lines of your organization then how can you teach those who must do that work now how to do it. You can textbook it but you can’t know it unless you’ve done or are willing to do it. If you don’t know what it’s like to be a janitor cleaning up someone’s vomit off the floor, it is hard for you to understand what a daunting task that can be. We must understand the jobs that people have to do. That is why it is so important in Christianity that Jesus broke into human history and became Immanuel, God with us. He lived the life we lead. He understands what it is like to be human. He understands this existence. He understands us! He could’ve sat in heaven and just ruled over us but God loves us so much that He came to earth in the flesh. He set aside His glory just for us. He got down and dirty with us. A Christ-like leader then understands the work that his people must do and empathizes with the challenges of that job. Never ask someone to do a job that you are not willing to do yourself.

 

These are just some of the qualities of servant leadership. When we are servant leaders, we are emulating Jesus. When we are servant leaders, we do not lord our power over others. We want them to see Jesus-style leadership in us. Think about it! Jesus’ organization, the church, has survived for over 2,000 years. Sure, it has its problems but it has survived through the guidance of men filled with the Holy Spirit who get it back on track when it strays away from its Jesus center. Because of that, the church has survived its own mistakes, some of them continuing ones, and even has thrived when it has been true to Christ. It is still here. There must be something to this Jesus-style leadership. There must be something to this servant leadership. Amen and Amen.

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