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Matt 20:20-28 (ESV)

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But 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.”

Jesus’ words embody Christian leadership. Although this passage is essentially about greatness not leadership, Jesus includes leadership in the heart of his rebuke by using the term “rulers” and stating that “great ones exercise authority” in the kingdoms of this world. Jesus hears in his disciples what he heard from Satan at the forefront of his ministry: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory.” Jesus refused to receive glory outside of servanthood. The lust for power and greatness is the great enemy of the leader after Jesus’ heart. His life offered a paradigm of leadership that comes from heaven not the kingdoms of this world. Leaders are to serve rather than to be served. To be great is to become the least. Christ’s definition of greatness places servanthood at the center of it. Effectively, a person becomes great by becoming ‘ungreat.’ What a paradigm shift for the disciples!

Notice the paragraph before this one. Jesus announces to the disciples that he is going to give his life for humanity and their heads are spinning with confusion. So it follows naturally that they don’t understand that they are to pursue servanthood not greatness. It was only after Christ’s death that the disciples saw the fruit of his servanthood in their lives. Disciples who follow Jesus give their lives for others in order to see others succeed. A satisfied leader is a leader who has the privilege of seeing the people he/she is serving become who God has called them to be.

Therefore ‘ambition,’ as seen through the lens Jesus offers, is completely upside down to the world. The goal is not to gain achievement and power for oneself but to see others achieve and be empowered. Godly ambition pushed Paul to share the gospel to the world and Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Jesus challenges the disciples to follow him and to become great by laying down their ambitions in exchange for an ambition to serve. How far does this go? Jesus says that the greatest will be last. The disciples would have shuttered in shame when Jesus said that they should take up their cross and follow him. Crucifixion was the most shameful way a person could die. Roman citizens were not even allowed to be crucified because it was so shameful. But this is how great Christ’s standard of servanthood is.

As leaders following Jesus, we become greater leaders as we serve. We will never reach our fullest leadership potential on a different path than servanthood. As we serve, we grow. This ‘Jesus action’ keeps our motivations on a straight line following Jesus. We are servants following The Servant.

  • Are you pursuing servanthood by giving of your life to see someone else succeed?
  • Do you wish to be recognized for the good things you have done? How do you feel when no one notices?
Action Points:
  • Determine to serve someone close to you in any way they need help. Make sure to look for no benefit to yourself.
  • Try the ‘secret servanthood’ challenge: Do something for someone without them knowing. For example, if you know the kitchen must be cleaned by someone close to you, clean it when they are not watching. Take out the garbage for someone else. Find something that you know is not fun to do for someone and do it for them. Purpose to pray for someone to achieve a key goal in their life. Don’t tell them.
Further Study:
  • John 13:1-20 The great picture of servanthood
  • Philippians 2:1-10 The clearest definition of biblical servanthood
  • Eph. 5:1-2
  • Rom. 15:1-2
  • 2Chron 10 King Rehoboam’s great opportunity to serve his people.


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