"An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest" (Luke 9:46, NIV).
It's scary to realize that a dozen men could be in the company of Jesus day after day, listen to his teaching and watch his ways, and yet not get it. Get what? That Jesus lived by a different politic: servanthood.
His slogan? "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).
The followers of the Lord grew up in a culture that understood only one politic: power. The power of kings and armies—brute force. The power of the religious community was, shall we say, sacramental (the claimed ability to affirm or deny eternal life). The power of family, village, and tribal tradition nailed people to a mindless conformity to life's ways.
These various concepts of power were hardwired into the souls of the disciples. They were sensitized to locating the source of power and submitting to it. They were used to exercising power if they found themselves in a position to do so. In the case of the small movement of Christ-followers, it was natural for them to sort themselves out through competition and debate. Who of us is the most faithful? The most genuine? The obvious one to run things when Jesus is absent? Who should prevail when decisions are to be made? Who's in charge?
These debates (and there was more than one) seemed to happen whenever Jesus talked about suffering, martyrdom, and resurrection. He spoke of suffering, and they preoccupied themselves with rights and privileges. Not much has changed, has it?
This "politic," over which there was so much misunderstanding, is one of the great divides in the affairs of human beings. To dominate, intimidate, control by power—or win over people by serving them. Talk as much as we do today in the church about serving, do you ask yourself from time to time, "How much of it really happens?"
Jesus' men had had enough of serving the Romans, the religious establishment, the rich. Yet the Son of God was asking them to adopt this perspective for new and different reasons. They apparently thought Jesus was their chance to break out: to become the power-brokers instead of being the "power-broken."
Servanthood meant that everyone (child, leper, Gentile, opposite gender, sinner) was essentially more important than me. Servanthood meant that all I have and all I am is placed at your disposal if it will bring you into the presence of God. Servanthood is not about how I add value to my life but about how I add value to yours.
Jesus not only taught it, he did it. By leaving heaven, by becoming a man, by dying on a cross, by building into the lives of men and women. It took those dozen men a long time to figure out this counterintuitive conviction: serving changes the world; ruling does not. And when they "got it," history was never the same.
Excerpted from our sister publication, Leadership journal, © 2000 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit www.Leadershipjournal.net