Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11 NIV
“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” Voice of God, Jesus’ baptism – Matthew 12:18
Jesus was, is and will forever be the perfect model of servanthood. Throughout His entire earthly ministry, He was completely involved in serving others. All questions regarding servanthood should be answered by looking to our Example.
He was a servant-leader.
Ultimately, Jesus came and gave us an example of a new and better way to live life. Studying His ministry, we see that servant-leadership pleases God, identifies us as belonging to God, is flexible, and takes us out of our comfort zone.
Throughout His ministry, He not only repeatedly vocalize His mission, but He followed through with action, showing us how to live. Matthew 20:26-28 reads “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be servant, and whoever wants to be the first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and give His life as a ransom for many.”
We see that Jesus began His ministry with an act of service. This occurs when He submits to baptism by John the Baptist, despite John’s protests. “But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering him said, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” (Matthew 3:14-15) It is after this submission on the part of Jesus that the Father made known His pleasure by stating “This is my dearly loved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (verse 17) For Jesus, doing the right thing meant not exerting His authority or position, but setting the tone for the rest of His ministry by submitting to the authority of someone else. In so doing, He fulfilled the will of the Father and brought pleasure to Him. Did Jesus need to submit Himself to the authority of a human being, who He had created? No, of course not. But He did have to set the standard for His ministry that it would not be about His agenda, His pride, or His will. Servant leaders need to follow His example.
Jesus ended His ministry with an act of service. Prior to the Last Supper we see Jesus bare himself both physically and emotionally to His friends by washing their feet. Peter is adamant that he will not allow the Lord to wash him, much as John the Baptist protested earlier; Jesus responds “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” (John 13:8) The disciples were unquestionably the followers of Jesus, and yet here was their leader serving them in a culturally humiliating way. He was again taking advantage of the opportunity to teach us that the will of the Father is service to others, regardless of position or cultural status. He thus continues the theme that God is pleased by leading by serving, and so doing identifies us as His true followers.
This theme recurs throughout the ministry of Jesus. We look at His first recorded miracle at the wedding of Cana, described in John 2:1-12. Here, Jesus and His disciples are at a wedding feast and the bridal party runs out of wine. It is during this cultural and social crisis that Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeals to Him for help. On first glance, it would appear that Jesus rebuffs her attempts to direct His ministry. “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” (v 4, NAS) Closer inspection shows that there is no disrespect on the part of Jesus, but rather that He was keenly aware of not only what He was to do on earth but also when He was supposed to do it. However, He also understood that He was presented with an opportunity to simultaneously meet a human need (saving the wedding party from cultural and communal embarrassment) and teach us something about the heart of the Father (the overarching theme of making all things new) by using the ceremonial washing pots to convert water to wine. In so doing, He shows us that He places a higher value on service and flexibility over fixed timelines and activities.
Finally, we see that servant leadership sometimes takes us out of our comfort zone. It takes a conscious effort on the part of a servant leader to put aside what they would sometimes rather not do in the interest of fulfilling the will of the Father. In Luke 22:41, Jesus again cements His desire to yield to the Father’s will: “Father, if You are willing, please take this cup of suffering from away from me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not mine.” We go on to read that it is after this declaration that an angel appeared and strengthened Jesus. Again, He teaches us that submitting to the will of the Father is the key to enduring what is necessary. He could have used His power to escape the difficult times ahead, but He didn’t. By allowing Himself to be moved out of His comfort zone, He enabled the Father to provide the strength to do what He had been called to do.
The example of servant leadership that Jesus set for us shows us God is pleased when we submit to His authority, are flexible when dealing with others, and when we are willing to be moved beyond our comfort zone. This enables Him to work in our lives, and strengthen us to do what He has called us to do. By being a servant leader, Jesus showed us a better way to reflect the character and heart of the Father to those He has placed in our lives.