If you think the sixties in America was a counter-cultural decade, the first century was even more so—thanks to Jesus. Most of what He did and said went against the religious and political grain of His day. One of Jesus’ teachings—important enough to be recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke—was no doubt indirectly aimed at the leaders of the day. These leaders ruled according to the common idea that “might makes right.” The Pharisees kept the Jewish masses in line with their rules and traditions, and the Roman governors employed sword and shield—and crucifixion—against any who dared disturb the peace.
So what did Jesus say that rankled the rulers of His day about their brand of leadership? First, it’s important to understand that His words had authority because of how He lived. Paul tells us that when Jesus came to earth He set aside His divine prerogatives and took on “the form of a bondservant” (Philippians 2:7). Jesus affirmed His servant lifestyle in His words to His disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
But those words didn’t just come out of thin air. Jesus was responding to an argument among His disciples about who was the greatest among them. He pointed out how Gentile rulers (Roman authorities) lorded their authority over their subjects. But, He said, if you want to be great in God’s sight you must be a servant of all (Luke 22:24-27).
It’s hard for us to imagine how radical a notion this was in the first-century Roman Empire. And it was one of the ideas that got Jesus killed. The power structures of His day didn’t like Him undermining their status and authority.
A similar counter-cultural event happened in America in 1970—the year a corporate executive named Robert Greenleaf published an essay called “The Servant as Leader.” His essay jumpstarted what is now called the modern “servant-leadership” model of corporate governance and leadership. In 1977 he consolidated his research into a large volume titled Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. The book has become a classic as others have adopted, and expanded, his servant-leader model.
Here’s what Greenleaf said should happen to people who are led by servant leaders: “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
Let me suggest a shorter version of what should happen to those who are led by Christian servant leaders: “Do they become more like Jesus by our example? Are they helped and encouraged?” After all, that is the goal of our Christian life, isn’t it—to be like Christ and help others do the same (Romans 8:29)?
When we think of service, the first thing that comes to mind is serving in our local church. And that is a good thing! But service is a lifestyle, not just a task on Sunday. Jesus lived the life of service. Everywhere He went, whomever He came in contact with, He served. He came not to be served, but to serve.
Can we say the same about our lives? We have so many opportunities to serve! In our home, in our workplace, in our church, in our neighborhood, where we shop—in short, wherever we go there are opportunities to humble ourselves and to take on the form of a servant like Jesus did. We can tie a child’s shoelaces; we can change a stranded person’s flat tire; we can take a meal to a sick mom and tend to her young children; we can check on an elderly neighbor; we can return a shopping cart to the store for a single mom whose hands are full of kids—the list goes on.
But do those acts of service help others become like Jesus? Yes, for a couple reasons. First, when we serve as Jesus would, we manifest Him in this world. We may be the only encounter with Jesus some people ever have. Second, if the moment is appropriate, we can share God’s love with them or even pray with them.
Ultimately, we are called to serve as Jesus served and leave the results to God. Think about how you can move from good to great by being a servant of all.
David Jeremiah is among the best known Christian leaders in the world. He serves as senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California and is the founder and host of Turning Point. Turning Point‘s 30-minute radio program is heard on more than 2,200 radio stations daily. A New York Times bestselling author and Gold Medallion winner, he has written more than fifty books.