Over the last few posts, we have been looking at ways that Jesus and Paul exhibited core aspects of servant leadership. We have looked briefly at Scriptural examples showing that Jesus and Paul both had a clear sense of calling, kept an intimate relationship with God, empowered others, and acted with love, humility, and zeal. Though this is not an exhaustive list, here are the final four traits that stood out to me from my research.
Both Jesus and Paul constantly kept the big picture in front of their disciples and audiences. While walking along the road to Emmaus with two followers who did not recognize him as the risen Messiah, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:45-47). Thus Jesus affirmed the missional nature of the whole of Scripture, the necessity of repentance and forgiveness to be proclaimed in the name of the Christ who suffered and rose from the dead, and the geographic progression of this proclamation from its starting point in Jerusalem to all nations. Paul took great pains in most of his letters and sermons to explain the big picture of God’s plan before calling his audience to action with imperatives (e.g., first Rom. 1-11, then Rom. 12-15; first Eph. 1-3, then Eph. 4-6).
Although he was and is Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus did not come “to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), laying aside his rights and privileges as God. Jesus modeled service to his men by taking a towel and washing their feet, then instructing them to do the same to others (John 13:1-20). It is difficult to comprehend that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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” (Phil. 2:6-8). Paul also willingly set aside legitimate rights in order minister across cultures to people from diverse backgrounds, seeking to make himself a servant of all:
But I have made no use of any of these rights … that in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Cor. 9:15, 18-23).
Both Jesus and Paul understood the role that suffering would play in taking the good news to the nations. Both willingly risked inconvenience, rejection of their message, pain, suffering, and their own lives in order to achieve God’s mission. Western leadership models, even Christian frameworks, tend to view suffering as an obstacle to the fulfillment of God’s plan. Biblical leadership embraces suffering as coming from God’s hand. Consider Isaiah 53, the great servant leader passage that describes the intense rejection, persecution, and death that the Messiah would endure for his followers. Near the end Isaiah writes, “yet it was the will of the the Lord to crush him” (Is. 53:10). Seriously? Paul also affirmed the role of suffering in many ways, particularly in character growth: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
Lasting fruit glorifies God (John 15:8, 16; Gal. 5:22-23). Both men left in their wake a growing community of loyal, trusting friends who were committed to following Jesus Christ, often at great personal cost. Both men completed their time on earth having accomplished the work God had given them to do (e.g., John 17:4; 2 Tim. 4:6-8). Both men touched lives, made disciples, and raised men and women who planted an unstoppable worldwide movement that continues bearing fruit today.
From the beginning of time God has been purposefully working out his redemptive plan for people from all nations. The missio Dei necessitates the calling and sending of leaders with the character qualities of servants who tell others the good news of forgiveness, freedom, and repentance in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul represent two models of such leaders.
Where have you seen some of these traits in the lives of present-day servant leaders?