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Authentic Servant Leadership
Robert Wurtz II
“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” (Mark 3:1–6 ESV)
Jesus came into the world, among other reasons, to reveal the Father. Over 1300 years of teaching the law of Moses hadn’t done it but instead gave rise to competing sects within Judaism who jockeyed for glory and power. The competing parties of the Pharisees, Sadduccees, and Herodians shared one thing in common; they all hated Jesus and were the exact opposite of God in many ways. They were children of the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). So we shouldn’t be surprised when they attacked Jesus when he healed a man. They didn’t care about people; they craved the glory that belonged solely to God (Isaiah 42:8). This event is one of the rare examples of Jesus clearly being angry, from the Greek word orgas that the KJV nearly always translates as wrath.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV)
“Those of a haughty spirit think of themselves above what is meet, and look with contempt upon others that with their pride affront God and disquiet others, will be brought down, either by repentance or by ruin.” (Matthew Henry)
We typically think of this verse as meaning that the proud person will be the recipient of destruction, but the verse implies more than that. A proud person leaves destruction in their wake. It follows after them. The time would fail to start a list of men and women who have destroyed parts of the world intoxicated with pride. Families have broken up, churches wrecked, and friendships ended because of pride.
The key attribute of Satan is pride, and it is found abundantly in his children, too. Self-assertion originated with Satan, who had only known submission to God until “iniquity was found in him” (Ezekiel 28:15). Pride is a stench in the nostrils of God, and He will not tolerate it in His presence (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Of all the things that God hates, pride is number one (Proverbs 6:16-17). Pride has caused more destruction in the world than anything else.
We are 2000 years removed from the advent of Jesus, and pride is still destroying families, churches, and society itself. His teachings and example haven’t penetrated, generally. His life of utter humility was an example to the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadduccees, and Herodians, but they hostilely rejected it. He endeavored to end this invisible plague of humankind with the antidote of humility. Until all humanity is willing to humble themselves before God and their fellow man, destruction will continue unthwarted. The same can be said for leaders in the churches of God.
Power Hungry Pride
Scholars have pointed out that the Pharisees were so power-hungry that they expected Jesus to ask permission from them to heal a man. But that doesn’t go far enough. Common sense reveals that nobody has the power to heal someone and that only God can and will do it. So to challenge what Jesus was doing was to challenge God the Father as well. They attributed the power to Satan, but he would never relieve suffering unless he could be advantaged by doing it (Matthew 12:26, 2 Thess. 2:9). When conceit reaches the point that says “anyone who challenges us is of Satan” pride has fully blinded the person.
Moreover, since when does Jesus or anyone else need permission to do good? Only when you’re dealing with children of the devil. Rather than glorifying God that a healer was present, they wanted to control Him and obstruct what He was doing. They wouldn’t be controlled by anyone else, but they tried to control others. Consider the implications of that.
Only in the kingdom of darkness does anyone need permission to do good. This is the devilish and self-serving world that the religious leaders had built for themselves. They loved the “chief seats” at the pinnacle with everyone else underneath. These “religious” leaders were contrary to all men. If they didn’t receive the glory and honor, they resisted and fought it. They believed they deserved the honor of the people. Notice they were religious leaders and not spiritual leaders. Jesus said that they strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel (Matthew 23:34). Why? Because when you’re power-hungry your actions only make sense to you.
Why would anyone get in the way of God just to make sure their name or position is honored? This is pride run amok. It was an outrage then, and it’s an outrage today. In an era when sermon after sermon and book after book is written to encourage submission to leaders, we need to pause and reflect on authentic servant leadership. We must reject the voices of people who lead with statements like “I’m here to serve you” when the opposite is true. Words and actions must match. Noone can sanitize their pride by labeling themselves as a servant. An authentic servant leader instinctively helps people attain their full potential for God and doesn’t view them as a threat to target and diminish their influence.
Understand that the religious leaders didn’t care about peoples’ needs or God’s will; they only cared about control. So we might say that they were “controlling” or had a “controlling spirit.” As today, so then, people who refused their control were labeled rebels by these twisted leaders. Yet the religious leaders’ hypocrisy gave rise to a profound truth that we might not otherwise have known; The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Mark alone has this profound saying which subordinates the Sabbath to man’s real welfare (A.T. Robertson).
God delivered the Sabbath to man and not the man to the Sabbath. Yet, these leaders subjected the people to the precept of “Sabbath-keeping” to “lord over the people” and control them. So long as people believed that man was made for the Sabbath, they could continue the deception and arrogate to themselves authority and honor that belonged to God.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)
What does this mean? The devil wanted to ascend into Heaven and be like the Most High God (Isaiah 14:14; Ezekiel 28:1-20). This self-centered, self-promotion and exaltation is key to understanding the nature of Satan. He wants to rule, and his children want to rule as well. Keep this clear. Jesus Christ humbled Himself into a servant, and His children do likewise. Yet, the religious leaders sought to utilize manufactured rules under the guise of Divine law to enforce their authority. They wanted to be reverenced.
Most people don’t know this, but in 70 AD, when the Temple was destroyed, the Pharisees (religious leaders) fled to Jamnia (Yavneh) and started Rabbinical Judaism. This religion is not the Judaism of the Old Testament. It took spiritual authority completely out of God’s hands and placed it squarely with the Rabbis (See Dan Gruber, Rabbi Akiba’s Messiah). This meant that people needed to come to the Rabbi to have contact with God. They even reserved the right to interpret dreams. The Catholics did a similar thing by placing a priest between man and Christ. The Protestant Reformation cleared this up essentially, but the enemy still seeks to establish Gentile-based power structures in the churches that place spiritual authority in men’s hands and not God’s.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. (Matthew 20:25, 26)
I’ve been in management in the secular world for over 25 years (I speak as a fool). I say to one “go,” and they go; to another “come,” and they come (Matthew 8:9). This is because the job is secular, and the power structures are set up like a pyramid. But Jesus said that the churches are not to be set up this way. He could have put a megaphone into the ears of the religious leaders of then (and many of today) and blasted Matthew 20:25-26 into their ears, and they would still try to set the Kingdom of God up like a hierarchy.
Why do people call Jesus their Lord and Savior and yet disobey His directives? For the same reason the Scribes, Pharisees, and Herodians quoted Moses. He was a means to their ends. It reminds me of Matthew 12:9, “And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue.” Notice that it was not His Kingdom or His synagogue but theirs. This is what you get when you ignore Matthew 20:25, 26; you get your very own, bona fide, do-it-yourself church. It’s yours! All yours! A.T. Robertson said it this way, “Christianity has had to fight this same battle about institutionalism. The church itself is for man, not man for the church.”
The Test of Character
The Greek historian Plutarch once said, “There is no stronger test of a man’s character than power and authority.” The Pharisees wanted to Lord over the people. This is why they had so many “protocols” and “rules.” The rules gave teeth to their desire to boss people around. Simply put, they wanted to control everyone, including Jesus. They would block healing on the Sabbath just to exercise their authority. With each “fence” they added to the Torah, a feather was in their cap to match it. They arrogated to themselves power over the people and eventually placed themselves over God Almighty.
During the 1930s, a controversy came up in the United States due to the Supreme Court blocking some of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal economic policies. He became so angry that he proposed to Congress that they empower him to appoint additional Supreme Court Justices to outnumber the opposition. He was willing to do whatever it took to get his way. Reflecting on this situation, fellow Democratic Rep. Samuel B. Pettengill of Indiana retorted, “A packed jury, a packed court, and a stuffed ballot box are all on the same moral plane. This is more power than a good man should want, or a bad man should have.” Such desire for power has driven men to wild extremes. Yet, there is a price for this behavior, especially in the churches.
Pride that Destroys Souls
“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:52 NKJV)
Sinners have killed for power, but these religious leaders were willing to damn peoples’ souls to keep their power. This is a flat charge of obscurantism on these scribes (lawyers), the teachers (rabbis) of the people. They refused to go into the house of knowledge but locked the door, hid the key, and hindered (ekōlusate, effective aorist active) those who were trying to enter (tous eiserchomenous, present participle, cognitive action). It is the most pitiful picture imaginable of blind ecclesiastics trying to keep others as blind as they were, blind leaders of the blind, both falling into the pit. (A.T. Robertson)
What was happening? They didn’t want people surrendering to the authority of Jesus Christ; they wanted them submitted to them. Let that sink in. They used sleight-of-hand to make the people think they were obeying God by obeying their laws and precepts, but in fact, they were obeying the lawyers and religious leaders. These usurpers were speaking for God but putting words in His mouth. Obeying God is following God’s word; it is not obeying another man that is usurping God’s authority. This is what the religious leaders did with the Sabbath day precept. They twisted it to give the false impression that Jesus needed to come under the authority of their interpretation.
It is staggering to think of what lengths men and women will go to subordinate people, even God underneath them. It is Satan’s nature, and it is the children of Satan that do such things.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25–28 NKJV)
You will recognize a genuine, God-sent, Spirit-filled, trustworthy leader by their desire to help you cultivate the ability to be led by the Holy Spirit without their assistance. Any leader worth their salt will guide you through the scriptures to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They will not disciple you to themselves; they will disciple you to Jesus Christ. They will not seek what’s yours; they will give to you of theirs. Have we not read that Paul warned the Ephesians that grievous wolves were coming to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:30)
A servant leader leads like Jesus and the apostles used to lead. A servant leader makes themselves of no reputation and humbles themselves as a servant. They don’t behave like royalty to be served. The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve. This is not lip service. This is the real thing.
Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in Heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:9–12 NKJV)
God wants to be our Father, and Christ wants to be our teacher. Genuine servant leaders humbly cultivate and encourage this reality and rejoice when it works. Why? Because it’s not about self-assertion or self-exaltation. Their attitude is that of John the Baptist, “I must decrease, and Christ must increase.”