Servant Leaders–A Mark of Christian Culture

Crowns Poster

The rulers of the nations…

The New Testament makes clear that the followers of King Jesus make up a distinct and different nation. In past posts we have examined how being born into this new nation places claims on our allegiance and transforms our national identity. This transformation does not eliminate the vestiges of our previous national cultures, but it does start a transformation that over time reveals the mark of Christian culture. We will consider a number of these marks, but today we look at the mark of servant leaders.

It is often argued that there is no such thing as a “Christian culture.” Rather it is held that any culture can be “Christianized.” I can see the truth in that statement, but it is usually part of an argument that does not recognize the existence of the distinct Christian nation we have discussed.The fact is that the Christian nation does indeed have its own distinct culture, and we will examine some of its marks in future posts.

It is important to remember the distinction between nation and State. A nation is a people group with a distinct sense of identity–a culture. A State is the governmental authority over a region.  In the North American melting pot, we can see the influence of many cultures. The now diminishing impact of the New Testament has led many to mistakenly identify some North American States with the Christian nation. The United States, Canada, and other States in the world which give evidence of a Christian cultural influence should not be confused with the Christian nation itself.

In Douglas Adams’ sci-fi spoof The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy we are introduced to a civilization which has determined that no one who has any desire to rule is fit to do so. As a result, the method of choosing the the Galactic president is to decide who wants the position least. This sets up the humorous plot line wherein Zaphod Beeblebrox is hunted down in order to enforce his assumption of a position he does not want. It is the fact that this is so contrary to common human experience that sets the backdrop for Adams’ humor. It also highlights one of the primary differences between the culture of the Christian nation and the other nations of the world. Servant leaders are present wherever true Christian culture is expressed.

The 3rd-century Christian view of servant leaders

A while back we had a guest blog post by our 3rd-century friend, and fellow RadicalFish, Origen of Alexandria. In it he said:

 But we recognize in each state the existence of another national organization [another organized government of a country] founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation–that is, the Church–rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy.

Notice that while Origen does not express either the extremes, or humor modeled by Adams’ Zaphod Beeblebrox, we do see some similarities. Note that Origen says that the Christian nation of the 3rd-century considered those “ambitious of ruling” as unqualified for leadership.

Jesus’ view of servant leaders

This is to be expected in any group which is serious about following King Jesus. He Himself dealt with this very issue and gave very clear teaching on the subject. Listen:

Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 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: 42-45 NASB

It is clear in this passage that Jesus expects his followers to be different from the “Gentiles,” in their attitudes and practice of leadership. But wait a second–Gentile means “non-Jew.” If His followers are not supposed to be like the leaders of the non-Jews, should they be like the leaders of the Jews of His day? Certainly not! We saw in an earlier post how Jesus declared that the “ruling power” of God was going to be taken from those rulers, and their nation, and be given to “a nation producing its fruit.”

Once we remember that the Greek word ethnos, here rendered “Gentile” does not mean non-Jew, but “nation” in the singular, and “other nations” in the plural; the passage makes perfect sense. The wisdom of translating ethnos as Gentile is questionable when we look at passages such as this one. It becomes ludicrous when we realize that every time the ambassador John uses this word in his Gospel or letters–it refers to Israel! Of course scripture translators realize that it makes no sense in those cases to translate ethnos as Gentile, so in those cases they do translate it as nation.

I have not found any reason translators do not treat ethnos in a consistent manner. Whatever the reason it is not an isolated phenomenon.  When we examine the 20 parallel passages of Mark 10:42 displayed on Biblehub.com we find that 14 translate ethnos as Gentile, one as people, one as unbelievers, and only four as nations.

What’s up with ethnos?

What I find particularly interesting is that if we look up John 11:50 on Biblehub we find that all 20 translations render ethnos as nation. Even though “people” works grammatically and semantically here, not one translation uses that word in this passage.  That tells me that when ethnos is rendered as “people” by translators it is not simply because the word fits in the context. It is because they have some objection to using nation.

I am not suggesting that the objection is even conscious, but clearly something strange is going on when most translators decline to use the accepted gloss for the word in a passage. Especially when that passage makes perfect sense when that gloss is used, and makes no sense with the word that is used in its place.

… not this way among you.

Jesus said members of His kingdom were to be different from the rulers of the other nations–but how? The answer is quite simple: the great men of the other nations “exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you…” In our kingdom we are all to model the behavior of our king who came not to be served, but to serve.

In our upside down kingdom we are in a race to the bottom. If you want to rule; serve. If you want to be great in this kingdom you must become the slave of all. Due to the influence of Christian culture on many of the States of the world, it has become cliche to refer to government officials as “public servants.” It does not require close observation to see that this is often more akin to irony than truth.

Submit, submit, blah, blah, blah

Those who wish to criticize Christian culture are often quick to point to some of the explicit commands found in our guide, the New Testament.  Statements such as “slaves submit to your masters,” or “wives submit to your husbands,” are often taken as examples of the oppressive nature of Christian culture.

How sad it is that many who claim to be followers of King Jesus have subverted these statements to mean “It is fine for me to have slaves,” or “God expects me to be the authority over my wife.” Those instructions were never given! I find it amazing the extent to which the simple statements of scripture have been obscured. For example look again at Biblehub, this time at Colossians 4:1. Not one of these translations reads like what I see in my Greek New Testament. They all come close, but critically miss the point.  Here is my translation, and I would love to hear comment from some real experts as to whether it is me or the translations which are missing the point..

Masters grant justice and equality to your slaves…

I see this as a clear call that Christian slave owners were to release their slaves. The other translations use almost the same words but my, what a different meaning. Here is the KJV for example:

“Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal…”

Fortunately while slavery remains a far more common blight than we might think, the impact of Christian culture on the world has rendered it illegal almost everywhere.

The fact is that the New Testament consistently gives the command to submit to others, even in oppressive and unjust situations. Those commands are in no way to be understood as justifying the systems and situations which are unjust. Telling wives to submit to their husbands does not legitimatize husbands bossing their wives around, any more than the command for slaves to obey their masters legitimatizes slavery.

This is clearly seen in Ephesians 5:21 which says “submit to one another in reverence to the king.” Because I revere my King Jesus, I submit to you.  Nowhere do we see the corollary expressed in scripture–“assume authority over one another…” It is not a zero-sum game where for every winner there is a looser–where for every submitter there is an authority figure. We have one authority figure, our king, lover, servant, and brother–Jesus.

It is only after laying down this constraining principle that we read in Ephesians 5:22 “wives submit yourselves to your own husbands as unto the Lord.” He then goes on to explain that this is a picture of our relationship to our King Jesus. Nowhere does Paul imply, let alone state outright, that husbands should exercise authority over their wives.

In fact his fellow ambassador Peter says quite the opposite. We have already examined Peter’s statement that the followers of King Jesus constitute a separate nation. After explaining this and the awesome position we hold due to our king’s work in our lives; Peter goes to great lengths to enure that his readers not misconstrue their new position in the king as a basis for rebellion against terrestrial authorities. This is the context for Peter’s instructions to submit to human kings, masters, and husbands.

All these commands to submit are framed as modeling our king’s behavior.

For you have been called for this purpose, since the king also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously… 1 Peter 2:21-23

Peter then goes on to explain “In the same way, you wives, be submissive…” In the same way as what? The answer is, in the same way that our king suffered unjustly! In verse seven Peter repeats himself yet again, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way…” Again I ask–the same way as what?” The answer is the same–The same way Jesus suffered unjustly.

So we see that the New Testament instructions to submit are not inspired by an understanding of the legitimacy of the existing authority structures but flow out of a desire to imitate our king in suffering unjustly.

How do servants become leaders?

Quite simply, by excelling in service. As we show our willingness to serve, and exercise the gifts our king has given us through His Spirit, others will volunteer to follow our example, and receive our advice. Consider this blog as an example. I have not, nor will I ever have the right to demand that you accept the point of view, or specific recommendations that I present here.

If the Spirit of our king impresses you of its truth, then you submit to Him, not to me. My goal is to serve you by sharing the truths I think He has shared with me. It is not my place to demand anything of you. The truth is I may be deceived. I certainly don’t think that is the case, but then nobody who is deceived ever thinks that it is.

In closing, if you choose to follow King Jesus, I urge you to serve as He served. Submit yourself as unto Him, when others make unjust demands of you. And when those demands include things contrary to His instructions to us, be willing to suffer as He did for doing what is right.

Express the Christian culture–Be a servant leader!

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