Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. (26) But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; (27) And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: (28) Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
“Pick me!” the child calls out when her teacher needs a volunteer—at least that used to be the case before “attitude” came into vogue. Do you think the child wants extra work for no reason but generosity? Not likely. Oh, I suppose one kid in a hundred has that spirit of unselfish helpfulness, but most volunteer to earn teacher-perks.
In Matthew chapter twenty, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, James and John, petitioned Jesus to give her boys the two highest positions in Jesus’ kingdom. “Natural leaders,” she must have thought, “They deserve to have the highest rank, boss others around, gain favor with the Master.” But that’s where Jesus’ little exhortation picks up, wherein he clarifies what “servanthood” really means.
Servanthood is anything but a popular concept in this age of personal autonomy-worship, even in God’s church. Experts in church growth cater to those who ask, “What can the church do for me?” They know that we go to church to “get blessed,” to “get fed,” even to “get entertained.” In many congregations, everybody calls the man up front, “Reverend,” and they show the Elders and Deacons respect, even deference. Yup, it’s sure nice to have everybody look up to you.
How does that attitude compare with Jesus’ idea of servanthood? In Matthew 20:26, Jesus said, “But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.” Who was the “you” he spoke to? His disciples, of course. And what does “minister” mean? Diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os), the Greek word for “minister,” means runner, errand boy, waiter. So the “minister” Jesus referred to wasn’t the head honcho standing in robes in front of the congregation; he was the guy or gal taking care of everyone’s needs, or “ministering” to them. I wonder when “minister” and “ministering” parted ways.
But that’s not the worst—or best—of it; in verse 27 Jesus said, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Now there’s a different word: servant, or doulos (doo’-los) in Greek, means “slave.” Jesus used a literary device called, “parallelism,” which emphasizes the latter of two words. So basically he was saying, “Whoever wants to be the top dog among you must at least be everyone else’s waiter, but preferably their slave.”
Wouldn’t Christendom look different if all who call themselves “Christian” actually took Jesus’ words seriously? There would be no “big ‘I’ and little ‘you'” in the churches. Wow, what a concept! Folks wouldn’t come to church hoping to grab leadership in some committee, or have others defer to them. There’d be no ladies in lavish dresses and hats, or gentlemen in fine apparel. Their Sonday best would be their servant spirit and attitude of deference.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with looking your best on Sonday, as long as your purpose isn’t to impress others or show them up. It’s all about bearing Christlike motives and attitudes, “washing the disciples’ feet,” or at least being willing to. Remember who knelt before the others on that Thursday evening before Passover? It was Jesus, their Master. As Jesus said in Luke 10:37, “You go, and do likewise.”