Perils of Pride #7: Pride of Imagined Authority

Matthew 20:20-28

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.”
(NIV)

An ill which we find in too many modern evangelical churches today is their model of leadership. So many churches have a mindset that the church is just like a business. Pastors are sought out who have the skills of a CEO and then they lead the church just like they are at the helm of a Fortune 500 corporation. Men and women in the church assume positions of leadership too often based on their desire for authority rather than based on a desire for service and the use of their spiritual gifts. I have been a member of such churches, and I have been one of those people who have wrongly assumed that power and authority came along with certain positions in the church. I am guilty of being proud that I was entrusted with positions of authority in the church. I used my authority as a source of pride, not an opportunity for service.

I can identify with James and John in the passage cited at the beginning of the post. They desired positions of authority within the kingdom of Jesus Christ. But they were too “humble” to ask for themselves, so they hid behind their mother while she asked for them. Verse 20 says “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.” (NIV) Just like James and John, I am too “humble” to brazenly seek out positions of authority for myself. But if someone would only ask me to serve in a position of leadership, then my pride kicks in because I think that I deserve such authority.

What positions of authority do James and John want? Only to sit at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus in his kingdom. That’s not asking too much, is it? Look at verse 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.” (NIV) What an indictment against my own heart. Just like James and John, I recognize that Jesus is Lord, but I so want to be his partner, his right hand man. I want to be intimate with all the details of all his plans. What’s the problem with this? My heart should long to be Jesus’ slave, not his partner. Paul repeatedly refers to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. Some versions of the Bible use the word “servant” instead of slave. But we never see the word “doulos” properly translated as “partner” or any such nonsense. What is wonderful is the grace that Jesus extends to those who become his slaves indeed. John 15:15 tells us these words of Jesus spoken to his disciples “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (NIV)

Notice how Jesus sees past the front James and John are using their mother for. In verse 22, Jesus looks past their mother and addresses the two brothers directly. “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. (NIV) Is Jesus amused at their request? Or maybe Jesus is perplexed by their request. We cannot tell his tone of voice. But we do know one thing. It is not a light thing to desire to partake of authority in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. True authority in the kingdom of Jesus Christ involves not positions of power, but positions of service and positions of sacrifice. In John 15:20-21, Jesus tells the disciples “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” (NIV)

The transition in these verses occurs in verse 24. “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” (NIV) The attention shifts from only James and John to the other ten disciples. When the other ten disciples heard about the request of James and John, they were indignant. Why? I think for one of two reasons. First, perhaps they were indignant because each one of them thought that they should be the one to sit at Jesus’ right hand or left hand. Or second, perhaps they thought that James and John definitely did not deserve to sit at the right hand or left hand of Jesus. Either way, this is a manifestation of pride. And does not this same thing happen in our churches today? When someone is asked to serve in a position of leadership, how many of us say that we should have been asked first? Or how many times do we take shots from the sideline when someone takes a job in the church that we don’t think they are qualified for. Or that we think we are more qualified for.

In verses 25-27, Jesus offers the disciples a new paradigm for what authority within his kingdom really means. Notice that Jesus begins with a contrast in verse 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.” (NIV) Here is the world’s model of authority: people who are in charge act like they are in charge. There are any number of so-called “leadership courses” that go about training people how to act like they are in charge. And we carry this same mentality into the church with us. And how can this method of leadership not incite pride in the human heart? When we act like we have authority, it cannot be long before we attribute our authority to our own self worth.

But notice the true paradigm of leadership in the body of Christ in verses 26-27 “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (NIV) Here is Jesus’ model of authority: the greatest person is the one who is a servant of all. How is real authority granted within the kingdom of God? It flows from service, not from power. And how can this method of leadership not beat down pride in the human heart? When we act like a slave, we find nothing in and of ourselves to be proud of. Any pride we find is pride in our master, not in ourselves.

But I hear someone out there saying “Someone has got to be in charge or nothing will ever get done around here.” You are exactly right. I propose that we let Jesus be in charge. Now I hear another objection being raised. “That’s not practical,” someone says. “A person needs to be there to lead and direct.” Supposing that is true, I have another proposal for you. Find the person who is serving the Lord and start working for them. Not the person who has the most authority, and not the person who is the most charismatic leader, but the person who is quietly serving the Lord that you never hear get a word of credit or a word of thanks. Go serve that person. You see, the example is given for us in verse 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.” (NIV) The one man who had every right to be in authority because he was also God, the one man who had every right to be served because he is the King of kings, instead came to serve. And who did he chose to serve? A wretch like me, to borrow words from John Newton. And such a great and marvelous service – he gave his life as a ransom for my soul. How can I not serve such as one as this?

Here are a few verses to contemplate as we end today:

John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (NIV)

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV)

Philippians 2:5-8
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
(NIV)

By Berean Husband

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