“Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
Everywhere you turn you’ll see the world promoting “life at the top”. Whether it’s through books and programs, commercials and TV shows, music and art, social media and pop culture, business and wealth-building curriculum, or any plethora of self-promotion material, we’re often encouraged or trained to be “large and in charge”, the “cream of the crop that rises to the top”, the “best in class”, the “captain of the ship”, the “ringmaster”, the “alpha dog”, the “leader among men”, the “american/asian/australian/etc. idol”, the “owner of our own destiny”, the “hero”, the “heroine”, the “master”, the “winner”, the “champion”.
I think you get my point. There is definitely a time and place for some things, as in certain circumstances such as sports or other competitive programs, the inherent objective of the program IS to “be the best” and to “come out on top” (unless you’re doing it purely for fun or other reasons).
But when we’re talking about life overall, not a competitive program, but life itself, how backwards does it seem in this day and age to shoot for being the servant? To have the goal of being the one that sacrifices yourself for the benefit of others? To pursue the dream of being a leader established not by title or position or authority, but purely by the way you serve others?
Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what Jesus is teaching here. We have to realize that the kingdom of God is SO ENTIRELY different than this earthly kingdom- one which God has temporarily given Satan dominion over (Eph. 2:2, Jhn. 12:31). Read the Beatitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, and you’ll see the stark difference between the superficial happiness and accomplishments that we often strive for in our flesh, vs. the spiritual well-being and prosperity that Jesus prioritizes.
The context of this verse in Matthew 20:28 is when James and John’s mother asks Jesus whether her sons can sit at His right and left hand in heaven. Jesus basically replies back that A), it’s not His decision to make but His Father’s, and B) you don’t know even know what you’re asking for you crazy lady [that’s my paraphrase].
Jesus goes on to teach them that while the Gentiles (non-followers of Christ) define greatness through position and authority, it’s quite the opposite in the kingdom of God and among Christians. Even Jesus came to serve, not to be served. And so it should be with all of us who follow Christ- our goal should be to love and serve others because we love God first and that’s what He calls us to do. We’re not here to call attention to ourselves, but to give glory to God in a way that will draw others to Christ.
Whether you are in a position of church leadership or not, the same question is posed to you, because EVERYONE in this world has some form and level of influence on someone else. Some can reach hundreds or thousands or millions through their platform, while others may only have access to those in their family or household, which is just as important.
Anyone who has the truth of the gospel and hope of Jesus planted in their hearts, is called to humble themselves in Spirit-led service to others, so that God would be glorified and salvation would be carried to the ends of the earth.
But furthermore, if you feel called to lead at church in any capacity, whether that’s being a pastor, a ministry leader, a Bible study teacher, a social media writer, a music minister, a small group leader, a deacon, an elder, a Sunday school teacher, or any position of “authority” or influence in the church, then get ready to serve others. Get ready to completely humble yourself and lead from a place of self-sacrifice. Get ready to function not out of a position of strength and self-sufficiency, but out of a position of weakness and dependence on the Lord. Get ready for God to graciously and wisely put a thorn in your side to save you from pride, lest you fall wayward like we’ve seen from some of the horrific abuse of power by church “leaders” across the world. Get ready NOT to rule, but to SERVE.
Jesus asks in verse 22, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”, as He gave His life as a ransom for many. God moves through our surrender. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Oh what a challenging joy and rewarding privilege it is to walk in the footsteps of Christ!
Jesus is telling us that we’re not to be like the world. To be great in God’s kingdom we must be servants, and will end up first as we consider ourselves last.