I must have been in my late 50’s when I first learned the word “oxymoron,” but it had served me well in principle many years before that. Several years ago I ran into a phrase which seems to fit the definition well, yet is in fact and absolute truth. It is “Servant-Leader.” I know of no other expression which so appropriately describes the ones Jesus calls to follow him. While he was still in his earthly ministry his disciples often bickered over which one of them was the greatest. Although he had several different answers for them, the one recorded most in the New Testament is “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,” (Mat 20:26; Mat 23:11; Mark 10:43; Luke 22:26 ). Few other teachings get so much exposure! Perhaps it is because there are few teachings so contrary to human nature.
Jesus brought a radical new thought into his world, and ours. He did not do away with leadership but made them servants of their fellows. He did not do away with power but simply pointed to a greater source than mankind.
In the society of man, from the early days down to the present, status has a great deal to do with who serves and who is served. Men often measure their stature by telling how many “work under” them, or how many they are over. Now that can be an important measure, by human terms, or it can be used in deceptive ways. For instance, I have a good friend who was a city employee, who once told me that he had more people under him than anyone else in the city. But he said it with that smile which tells you that you have not heard the whole story yet. And then he explained he was over the city cemeteries! Not that this was not an important job, but it was not quite the same in its explanation as in the first impression which was given. He was using humor in his statement, but many slip in a statement of their “oversight” as a factor of status.
Typically, we measure success by wealth, position, and power. Jesus taught it was to be measured by service. But the service to which he calls us is not one of unwilling slavery. It is a call to unselfishly lay down our privileged position and willingly take up the task of servitude. After all, isn’t that exactly what he had done? Do you remember the scene John describes at the last supper? “..And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you..If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17).
And when he had washed their feet! I am sure that many of us would have been like Simon Peter. He was refusing to let Jesus wash his feet because he saw it as demeaning to the Lord. That was the very point Jesus was making. Service is not demeaning, it is uplifting! “And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Mat 23:11). Jesus changed things! He not only “..has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble” (Luke 1:52), he has shown the power of humility. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him..that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW.. and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:8). What the world needs is more leaders with a basin and a towel. –Bill Sherrill 03.18.2018