FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON SERVANT LEADERSHIP
THE ULTIMATE SERVANT LEADER
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
September 14, 2016
Today’s reading: Philippians 2:6-11
Jesus is the ultimate servant leader. He is our leader, but he came to serve us all, taking the lowest place in doing so. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, but “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” (v.6). He is God, but set aside that sublime position to become man. He rules over all, but became a lowly slave washing the feet of others.
Four things make a servant leader.
First is self-emptying. “Rather, he emptied himself” (v.7a). Servant leadership is about not looking to one’s own preferences, agenda, priorities, comfort and convenience. We only look to the priorities of the Master. Since our sinful human flesh oftentimes make us desire to do things other than what our Lord desires, we must decide that it is not about us but all about Jesus. Thus we need to empty ourselves of anything and everything that will keep us from following him wholeheartedly. That can be pride, a personal agenda, looking to power, or clinging to position. We empty ourselves of our own will in order to be totally submitted to God’s will.
Second is taking the lowest place, “taking the form of a slave” (v.7b). To be a leader is to be a servant. To be great is to be the least. To be first is to be the last. Servant leadership is all about expending ourselves in the service of God and His people. In possessing the highest place, a place of honor, we take the lowest place, and even embrace dishonor.
Third is humbling oneself, as Jesus “humbled himself” (v.8a). Pride is the great sin of servant leaders. These are those who lord it over others, who seek to be served, who think they are entitled to power and position. Rather, we must know that we have become leaders in spite of ourselves. We are weak sinful flesh, and we often get in the way of God’s plans, but God still calls us and uses us. Rather than sinful pride, that is cause for great humility, knowing that apart from God’s blessing we are nothing, but with God’s grace we can be His anointed servant leaders.
Fourth is being obedient, “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (v.8b). A servant is one who is obedient. What good is a servant who wants to do his own thing, who thinks he knows better than all others, who openly defies those over him in authority, who will not submit even just for the sake of peace and unity in the body? Such disobedience goes against the very definition of a servant. A true servant leader is obedient to Christ, and to those whom God has appointed (and hopefully anointed) as His human leaders.
And just as “God greatly exalted (Jesus)” (v.9a), the divine Master too will exalt those who are authentic servant leaders, and raise up those who are humbly bowed down. And just as “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (v.10-11a), true servant leaders will be used by the Master to bring the salvation of Jesus to everyone on earth, as they confess the lordship of Jesus.
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