This is the third installment in the series, The God Who Serves. In the first two posts, we looked at three things concerning our amazing Savior’s ministry to His disciples.

First, upon His return, Jesus said that He will serve supper to His servants. This is a truth that we almost want to reject as Peter did when Jesus offered to wash his feet. However, like Peter, we must accept His words if we want to know Him.

Second, He prepared and served breakfast to His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, after His resurrection. His ministry to His leaders was as a cook and waiter.

Third, after breakfast that morning, Jesus told Peter that, if he loved Him, he would feed His sheep. We asked the question if Peter had understood that the humble servanthood he had witnessed that very morning was an example of leadership. Did Peter comprehend that being a shepherd of Jesus’ sheep was not only feeding them spiritually but also serving them as a cook and waiter might?

It seems clear that Jesus’ understanding of leadership is different from ours. That should concern us, since He should be our ultimate example of leadership.

Let’s look at another Scripture portion that speaks of Jesus’ view of leadership. In Luke 22:27, He said, “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (ESV). Jesus made this startling statement in response to an argument that His disciples were having. “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:24–26 ESV). After hearing His disciples’ disagreement about greatness, Jesus endeavored to set them straight. So, He asks His disciples two obvious questions. “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table?” The answer to the first question is answered in His second question: “Is it not one who reclines?” Yes. This has always been true in the history of the world. We Christians think this way, and the unbelieving world does, as well. The one who serves is never greater than the one who is being served. However, Jesus turns this upside down when He states, “But I am among you as the one who serves.” My interpretive submessage here is, “So what are you going to do with that reality, boys?” So, Jesus, our Creator and Savior, says that He is not great according to our understanding of greatness? Throughout Scripture, God is spoken of as great, particularly in the Psalms. How can this be? Jesus is demolishing our “do great things for God by being a leader” paradigm in this statement, turning our understanding of significance and service upside down. The leader is the servant, and the greatest is like the youngest. Again, my submessage: “Stick that in your the-greatest-is-the-leader-from-the-top paradigm and smoke it.”

The Gentile model of leadership is one of having authority over others. However, Jesus said, “But not so with you.” The Matthean rendition is even stronger: “It shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:26 ESV). Does this sound like a command? The way the Gentiles rule, exercising authority over others, is not the way we find “greatness” in the Church. What should we do with Jesus’ instruction here? What has the Church done with this truth throughout its history? With a few exceptions, it has ignored it. This makes perfect sense. How could one lead a church without exercising authority over others?

Jesus was then and is now the “greatest” and the “leader.” Therefore, according to His definition of leadership, He was “as the youngest” and “the one who serves.” Did Jesus act like the youngest and a servant? Yes. This may be difficult to grasp until we think more deeply about who is speaking these truths. Jesus is God, the sovereign ruler of all. This is the One to whom all nations are like a drop in the bucket, dust on the scales and less than nothing. This is the Holy One, who is perfectly morally pure, without a speck of stain. It’s difficult for us to comprehend what it was like for Jesus to leave heaven and His status there. We’ve never been in heaven. Let’s attempt a poor analogy. Imagine that after working many years at your job, you are bumped up into senior management status with better pay, better hours, and a bigger office with a spectacular view. A year later, your company is bought out, and the new owners shuffle management. You think it’s possible that you may not hold the same job, but your seniority and position should result in perhaps a sideways move or even down the ladder a bit, but surely not much. However, you get a note in your box that tells you that you have been assigned the job of taking out the garbage, cleaning toilets and sewer traps, and sweeping floors, with a 50% cut in pay. You’ve just become the least in your company, or close to it. It would be humiliating to take such a low position after years of dedicated hard work.

Does this illustration help us understand what Jesus did when He left heaven? To a very tiny degree, perhaps. In heaven, Jesus ruled over everything and lived in a place of unimaginable power, beauty, and magnificence. Therefore, just living on this dark, sinful planet after having resided in heaven for eternity with His Father would have been a sacrifice. It’s true that while He was on earth, He did manifest His rule over some things, like demonic oppression and illness, as well as, at times, nature itself. Yet, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:7 that Jesus “emptied himself,” and in 2 Corinthians 8:9 that He became “poor for our sakes.” Jesus chose to give up the most wonderful life possible to live like a servant and give up His life for people who did not want Him.

Are our church leaders men of like mind? That’s the mind Peter told us to have: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8 ESV).

Which of our church leaders is the greatest according to our optics? We probably will not know his name, because he isn’t necessarily in positional authority over others, which we’ve come to believe is necessary in order to build and shape a “great” church organization. This man or woman wouldn’t be “great” according to our understanding. Here is the striking reality for all of us if we take Jesus’ words seriously: If we truly want to be among the greatest of God’s servants, we will be servants in His Church—and perhaps anonymous, as servants most often are. Does that possibility trouble any among us?

I do not understand my Savior. I do not know Him as I ought. Lord, please teach me Your ways. Please give me the heart of a servant, like Your heart.