This post is the third of four installments in my “Servant of All” series offering a preview of my newly-published book, Servant of All: Reframing Greatness and Leadership Through the Teachings of Jesus [2019, Kirkdale Press]. Contact email@example.com for bulk order pricing.
In his extended discourse on the subject that encompasses the entirety of Matthew 18 (as well as parts of Mark 9 and Luke 9), Jesus spells out six major propositions in support of his one-sentence declaration that anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all (Mk. 9:35). In my last post, we considered the first three:
- When you recognize you are duty bound to serve and protect those over whom you have been given charge, you exhibit the character of greatness (see Matt 18:2-7)
- Greatness does not disgrace the kingdom, seeking to elevate itself by denigrating others (see Mark 9:38-41).
- You demonstrate you are truly great to the degree you treat power as a sacred yet sometimes seductive trust (see Matt 18:8-11).
Now consider with me the latter three of Jesus’ six propositions about greatness:
Proposition #4: Greatness refuses to be distracted by the amusements of the world or the accolades of office.
Greatness refuses to be distracted by the amusements of the world or the accolades of office. Instead, it marches to the beat of God’s heart. His greatest servants share his grief over the spiritually estranged and his urgency for the rescue of the spiritually endangered (see Matt 18:12-14).
What is of greatest importance to the Father? What perspective on the state of the world is most fully aligned with his priorities? It is simply this: some of his dear ones have gone astray and are alienated, languishing in mortal and eternal danger. He is obsessed with rescuing them. Everything is secondary to that.
Jesus says there is no such thing as a greatness that marginalizes the gospel mandate. A person of high office might be tempted to curry the favor of the faithful rather than risk the danger and ridicule that a gospel-oriented life and leadership path will entail. More likely, the eternal urgency of gospel reality will simply be blunted and blurred as other contemporary voices are permitted to play the agenda-setting role.
The Father’s heart longs for the reconciliation of the lost and imperiled. How can his most trusted and esteemed under-shepherds allow their minds to be occupied with their surroundings and their hearts infatuated with their celebrity?
Proposition #5: Greatness declines to obsess over personal offenses and personal vindication.
Greatness declines to obsess over personal offenses and personal vindication. Instead, great persons humbly and tirelessly pursue reconciliation and restoration for the sake of the other (see Matt 18:15-19).
Rarely, if ever, is this text recognized to be a continuation of Jesus’ lengthy discourse on greatness. This passage, like all the others in Matthew 18 however, cannot be properly understood in isolation from its larger context.
Jesus is instructing us that greatness is a one-another affair. It is not a matter of indifference when a fellow believer sins. And greatness pursues the other gently, humbly, and persistently on behalf of their welfare, not my well-being or vindication.
Placing yourself above your peers, using your position and power as a way to get others to stop offending you, cannot be what Jesus means by greatness. The truly great, he instructs, intervene in a “Golden Rule” spirit of mutuality, humility, and perseverance. They go to great lengths. They do so in sincere hope, if at all possible, to rescue, reconcile, and restore.
Proposition #6: Greatness keeps no tally of offenses.
Greatness keeps no tally of offenses. Instead, great persons gush with gratitude toward God and, in light of God’s infinite mercy, lavish infinite forgiveness on others. Their willingness to forgive is proportional to their awareness of forgiveness (see Matt 18:20-35).
The only thing more scandalous than self-righteousness is the scandal of sovereign forgiveness.Grace recognizes that God broke the bank for our sake and the only appropriate response for us is to do the same.
Infinite forgiveness flows from those who know they are infinitely forgiven. It flows from hearts that commemorate day by day and moment by moment the mercy God bountifully imparts to me—not I to myself. It comprises a life marked by thankful worship and not by moral pride.
When I contemplate forgiveness with the face of my offender in view, it becomes duty and drudgery. When I think about forgiveness with the face of my gracious Savior in view, it produces freedom and joy. Pain gives way to pleasure. Those who withhold forgiveness do not inflict suffering on the offender. They summon it upon themselves.
Gratitude begets greatness. A great person must be, above all, a grateful person.
More to come
Well, there you have it: Jesus’ six-point commentary on the meaning of servant-of-all leadership. In my next post, the final one in this series overview of Servant of All: Reframing Greatness and Leadership Through the Teachings of Jesus, I’ll comment briefly on how true greatness, the kind of greatness about which Jesus is expounding, will ultimately require us to go to the cross—just like it did for Him.