THE SERVANT GENERAL
GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM
The apostles, all called to be servants of the Master, argued
among themselves on who was the greatest (Mk 9:33-34; Mt 18:1;
Lk 9:46). Jesus said to them, “If anyone wishes to be
first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
(Mk 9:35). Then Jesus took a child and gave them their lesson.
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like
children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever
humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven.” (Mt 18:3-4).
What is it about a child that Jesus wants to teach us about
servant leadership? What is it about a child wherein unless
we become like one we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven?
Once again, Jesus turns our world topsy-turvy. To be first
is to be last. To be the leader is to be the servant. To be
great is to be like a child. While the world expects us to
grow up, Jesus expects us to become like little children.
While the world urges us to become somebody important, Jesus
directs us to become a nobody (children were on the low end
of the social ladder during those times).
What is Jesus pointing out about servant leadership?
First, servant leadership demands purity of heart.
Little children, though some of them can be real brats, are
basically pure of heart. They are not yet prone to the wickedness
and evil that adults manifest. They do not know how to insult,
malign, be intolerant, plot against others, seek revenge,
or the like.
On the other hand, relationships in the world are characterized
by lying, cheating, cover-ups, hidden agendas, taking advantage
of others, and the like. Even leaders in the church are not
immune from such, leading to much conflict and strife.
But servant leaders, in their personal conduct and service,
are called to be pure of heart and intention. They must not
be out for power, position or privilege. They must not look
to build turf. They should not have any personal agenda or
ulterior motives. They should simply want to serve.
Second, servant leadership demands total dependence on God
Little children on their own are basically helpless. They
need their parents to feed, clothe and protect them. This
too is our basic relationship with God. We are nothing without
God, and apart from Jesus we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). The
good news is that we simply need to ask our Father for what
we need, and we are assured He will provide us all good things
The world abhors dependence on anyone other than self. The
great leader is the independent, self-made man. But for servant
leaders, it is precisely their dependence on God that enables
them to become His instruments. It is precisely their weakness
that enables His strength and power to be experienced in their
Third, servant leadership demands humility.
Little children have nothing to brag about. They have no accomplishments,
no money, no developed talents, no family influence, no extended
circle of admirers. Their opinion, advice or counsel is not
Now Jesus teaches, “The greatest among you must be your
servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever
humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:11-12).
Greatness in the world is accompanied by pride. Pride in human
achievement, pride in accomplishing something out of one’s
own strength, pride in besting everyone else. But the servant
leader recognizes that all achievements are due to the blessing
of God. Paul puts it this way: “Who confers distinction
upon you? What do you possess that you have not received?
But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you
did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7).
It is humbling to be totally dependent. But this dependence
of ours on God is actually such a great privilege. And it
is the acknowledgment of this dependence, resulting in humility,
that is the key to even more of God’s favor and power.
As Jesus says, “for everyone who exalts himself will
be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Lk 18:14b). Therefore our response should be that as directed
by Peter: “And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility
in your dealings with one another, for: ‘God opposes
the proud but bestows favor on the humble.’ So humble
yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt
you in due time.” (1 Pt 5:5b-6).
Fourth, servant leadership demands obedience.
Little children are simply told what to do and are expected
to follow and obey.
Now Jesus teaches that “whoever obeys and teaches these
commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Christians call Jesus their Lord. But many Christians do not
live their lives with Jesus as actually Lord. A requirement
of the lordship of Jesus in our lives is obedience to his
commands. Many Christians need to seriously consider and answer
Jesus’ question, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord,
Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Lk 6:46).
We will need to come to terms with and be sobered by Jesus’
warning: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord,
Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the
one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21).
Servant leaders call Jesus their Master. They should act only
in accordance with the directions of Jesus. They are to obey
without reservation. They are to give their all without holding
back in any way.
God does want us to be great. God does want us to perform
great works for the kingdom.
God has His own standards.
Not the first but the last.
Not to be served but to serve.
Not pride but humility.
Not independence but total dependence on God.
Not being a lord but the servant of all.
Not doing it our way but God’s way.
Not indulging self but embracing the cross.
Do you want to be first? Then be the last.
Do you want to be great? Then be the servant of all.
(February 27, 2009)
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