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(Part 137)


September 20, 2015

Today’s reading:
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

Unfortunately, most conflicts in Christian community are caused by leaders. At its essence, it is a failure in servant leadership.

Jesus captures the essence of servant leadership: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mk 9:35). The leader is the first but the servant is the last. The leader is the servant.

This was difficult for the apostles to grasp. How could they even think that the expected Messiah would not be a victorious King but a suffering servant? Jesus told them about his coming passion. “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him” (Mk 9:31b). How could that be? And so “they did not understand the saying” (Mk 9:32a). Further, “they were afraid to question him.” (Mk 9:32b). Were they afraid to hear the truth about true servant leadership?

Indeed, despite what Jesus was teaching them, “they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” (Mk 9:34b). This is the way it is with many leaders in the Church, as they look to power, authority, position, being acclaimed, insisting on their own views, etc.

And so to help them understand, Jesus took a child and placed it in their midst (Mk 9:36a). Then, he told them, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:4). In Jewish society the child took the lowest place. Just like a servant or a slave. As such, this teaching of Jesus was very radical. But such speaks about the proper posture of a servant leader.

Now conflicts in community oftentimes starts with leaders. There are leaders who stand on their positions of authority and power and advance their own selfish ambitions. Then there are leaders who look at those in power and authority and envy them, and start to work on their own upward movement. At some point they come into conflict with others and cause disunity in the community. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” (Jas 3:16).

James talks about the causes of division. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess.” (Jas 3:1-2a). Leaders or members envy those in positions of power and authority which they do not have, and they end up causing strife and conflicts. They then end up at war with each other, tearing each other down.

So what is the proper posture of servant leaders? It is not to be wise according to the world, as “wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (Jas 3:15a). Such worldly wisdom that seeks power and position is not only unspiritual but demonic! It causes conflicts which brings strife and disunity, which greatly hampers God’s work. Such can only come from the devil.

If however we look to God, then we see that “the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” (Jas 3:17). Such virtues are what are needed in order to prevent strife and conflicts, even as there might be disagreements within community.

  • Pure. Maintain purity of heart. Desire only to serve, and only to give glory to God. Have no selfish ambitions. Die to self.
  • Peaceable. Be peacemakers. Respond to disagreements with grace, patience, a reasonable degree of tolerance. Do not see your brother as an enemy.
  • Gentle. Be gentle as a loving parent. While standing for God’s righteousness, be flexible in dealing with whose who are still needing to grow in maturity.
  • Compliant. Comply with all the ways of God and the directions of elders in community. Give respect and deference to those over you.
  • Full of mercy. Be merciful to those who fall short of God’s righteousness. Recognize their struggles. Be quick to forgive. Be encouraging.
  • Without inconstancy. Be someone whom God and elders can rely on. Be a steady and committed man of God.
  • Without insincerity. Be sincere in speech and action. Desire only what will benefit the work of God and not oneself.

Our call is to holiness. We in community are all journeying together. We help each other, and servant leaders are there to pastor and care for the flock. Leaders are servants and peacemakers. Peace and unity enable all of us to move on to holiness. “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” (Jas 3:18).

When servant leaders find themselves no longer working at peace, if they begin to argue with each other in ways that result in strife and disunity, they should pause, pray, and consider the Master calling them to task. “What were you arguing about on the way?” (Mk 9:33b).

Let us get back to what true servant leadership is. Being last not first. Being the least not the greatest. Being a servant and not a lord. Being not self-referential but totally unselfish and self-giving. Being a peacemaker rather then an instigator of strife and disunity. Being a man of God and not an ally of the evil one.

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