Steve Jobs. He was known for being an innovator, a revolutionary, a leader. He changed the way many of us relate to the world through the invention of the smart phone. Today, Apple is said to be the most valuable company in the world. Many entrepreneurs look to Steve Jobs as a shining example of success. The thing is,
He wasn’t a very nice person.
In fact, as Business Insider reports, there is a whole list of reasons that Steve Jobs was sort of a jerk. Jobs was known for insulting and swearing at his employees and colleges. He denied paternity to his own daughter and refused to support her and her mother for years. He fired people without notice. He cheated a good friend out of a bonus on a job they did together. He never gave Apple’s first employee, and a personal friend of his, any stock options. Walter Isaacson asked one of Jobs’ close friends why Jobs was so rude and this was his reply:
“I once asked him why he gets so mad about stuff. He said, ‘But I don’t stay mad.’ He has this very childish ability to get really worked up about something, and it doesn’t stay with him at all. But, there are other times, I think honestly, when he’s very frustrated, and his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. And I think he feels he has a liberty and license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him. Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that.”
And that’s coming from Jobs’ best friend.
You’ve got to wonder if we lift up someone like Steve Jobs as a success story in America if there is something wrong with America’s definition of success. If there is something wrong with how Americans define leadership. I believe there is something wrong with American views of success and leadership. But we Americans are not alone.
Jesus was dealing with this problem 2,000 years ago, as our text today suggests. And Jesus has a lot to teach us from being leaders that Lord it over each other to being what I would like to call Ransomed Leaders. So today, I want you to understand three things. 1. What is the world’s view of leadership? 2. What is Christ’s view of leadership? 3. And how do we achieve Christ’s view of leadership?
First, let’s talk about the world’s view of leadership. The world’s view of leadership is not hard to describe. It can be summed up with the question, “Who’s the greatest?” Who is on top? Who has the most power? Who can get other people to do what they want? That’s what it means to be a leader in the world’s eyes. People think you are the best and people do what you tell them to do.
Even after all the time the disciples have spent with Jesus by Matthew chapter 20, the disciples are still susceptible to this way of thinking. Right before this passage, Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection for the third time, but even James and John, the sons of Zebedee, two of the three in Jesus’ inner circle (the third being Peter), don’t get it. They are wanting to know when Jesus’ Kingdom comes, who will sit at his right and left hand, that being the two most important places of power. Note that Jesus had already told his disciples that they will reign with him in glory, so the question is not completely out of the blue.
To shore up their case, James and John bring their mom along. For who better to give an argument for why you should be the equivalent of Vice President and Speaker of the House of the entire Universe than your mom. Some scholars, based on several texts in the Bible, actually theorize that James and John’s mother was Silome, sister to Mary the mother of Jesus. So perhaps James and John are hoping to use a family connection to get out on top. Call it divine nepotism. And the other disciples, they are more than a little upset, probably not because they thought James and John were out of line, but because they didn’t think to ask first. But Jesus explains to them that they are not to “Lord it over each other like the Gentiles,” i.e. like all the worldly kings. You see, what the disciples are fighting over is what Joseph Stowell, President of Cornerstone University and author of Redefining Leadership, calls “positional authority” (Stowell, 71). This is simply recognizing in our world there are different positions, and people in those positions have a certain amount of power as a virtue of that position. To an extent, this is a good thing. Our Founding Fathers sought to get away from power being passed down through the blood line of kings and instead sought to balance power through the different executive, legislative, and judicial branches. This is great because whoever is in the White House, whether you love them or hate them, they will be gone in eight years, and after they are out of office, they don’t have the power to press that little red button that blows up the world. A lot of power comes with certain positions.
The problem is, when we simply try to lead by the power of our position, people can feel manipulated and used. Notice that Jesus had positional authority. He was and is the Son of God, God incarnate. Demons feared him, the waves obeyed him. Even when he faced the cross, he could have called upon a legion of Angels to protect him. But he never used his position to benefit himself. Though he was and is Lord of the universe, he did not lord it over his creation; instead he chose to become part of his creation.
Positional authority in God’s Kingdom is not a prize to be handed out because we have served faithfully, have the most money, or have the most people coming to our church. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that the Zebedees’ mom came before Jesus bowing before him and made this request in a humble fashion. But in Jesus’ response, the commentaries tell us that Jesus uses a word for “ask” more associated with business transactions. It is as if he is saying to her and her sons, “You think with your request you are worshiping me, but you have actually turned the power of God into a cheap trick to be traded.” What position we have in the Kingdom isn’t Jesus’ to give, but only his Father’s. It is not dependent upon our success or lack thereof, but simply upon the Father’s perfect plan. Think of our time going through the Sermon on the Mount and the book of Matthew. Think about what Jesus reveals to us about success in the Kingdom. Do you think Steve Jobs would score very highly? I don’t think so. There is no app to help you get into the Kingdom besides the Word of God.
Instead of throwing up his hands and giving up on the disciples, Jesus uses this conflict over who is the greatest as a teaching moment. He shows them what leadership in the Kingdom of God and in God’s church would be like. First, he asks them if they can bear the cup that he is going to bear. The cup is symbolic language for the wrath that Jesus would endure on the cross. James and John say they are, but it is evident by later events, when all his disciples abandon him, that they don’t know what they are getting into. So first, we see that suffering is part and parcel to following Jesus in the Kingdom. This is not finding your best life now. It’s laying down your life that you may gain eternal life. It is making ourselves less so that Christ may be more. It is lifting up Christ so that he may draw all people to himself.
Next, Jesus tells us that if we want to be great, we must become a servant. The Greek word here is where we get our word Deacon. In the book of Acts, the Deacons were set aside to minister to the physical needs of the congregation. But we also see that Stephen, one of the first Deacons and martyrs of the church, testified with boldness and helped spread the Gospel (Acts 7:54). This shows us we cannot separate the spiritual from the physical. We cannot feed our neighbor without telling them about Jesus and we can’t tell people about Jesus without also meeting their physical needs.
Finally, Jesus tells us if we don’t only want to be great but first in the Kingdom, we must become slaves. Slaves in the ancient world could be put in charge of vast holdings of their masters, but ultimately they had no rights. Their lives were owned by another. Our authority does not come from our position. For a slave has no position. Instead, we are called to take on the moral authority of Jesus, to have our Spirits shaped in the image of Christ. Jesus is calling for his followers to have spiritual authority, what Stowell would call Moral Authority. This is when people follow you not out of fear or compulsion but out of love and respect. Stowell tells us that in the workplace, we can tell what kind of authority our boss has by what we say about them when no one is around. That is why the show “Undercover Boss,” where bosses of major organizations go undercover to see what their workers think, is so popular. Because it reveals something to us more than results. It reveals to us the character of those who lead because character filters down to affect the structure of an organization.
How are we to become the type of leaders that Jesus requires? Jesus tells us at the end of this chapter. He tells us that he came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The word for ransom here means to buy a slave back. What were we slaves to? The book of Romans tells us that we were slaves to sin and death. But when we become Christians, we are bought back, we are transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light, and our lives become not our own. We can lead because we have been ransomed at the price of his blood. I heard a saying once that describes leadership in the Kingdom very well. “God equips the called, he doesn’t call the equipped.”
To you who are stepping up to serve as new Elders and Deacons today, to those who are continuing to serve, to all those here in this church who have served in their own ways faithfully for years – why do you think you are here? Do you think you come because your family has come to this church for years? Do you come because you like the old hymns or the preaching? Whatever reason you think you are serving, the fact of the matter is you are here because you have been ransomed. We are not as much leaders as we are followers of Christ. There is no ten step plan to become more like Jesus except to commit to following him in the darkness and the light. And our goal, my goal, is not to be the Steve Jobs of the church world, but to be men and women of integrity, that we may be found faithful at the coming of our Lord.
Stowell notes that when he taught at Moody Bible College in Chicago, he had a handful of students from the underground and persecuted church in China. He asked his students if graduating from the prestigious Moody Bible Institute would give them more status and authority back home in China. To his surprise, they disregarded this as a possibility. They told him, “When we go home, the elders will listen to us pray. That is what will give us credibility.” To quote Stowell, “I walked away knowing that the church in China had propelled its kingdom work not by highly credentialed leaders, but by intimacy with Jesus on bended knee, I was impressed and convicted” (Stowell, pg 42).
May we all be convicted today. Convicted that we were bought with a price by the one who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, that we may not lord it over each other but become ransomed leaders.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Amen.