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Topic 26: “Whoever would be great…”


The biblical understanding of rank and authority — or “greatness” — contrasts markedly with the world’s.

Mark 10: [42] And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  [43]  But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, [44] and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  [45]  For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

(A) The biblical understanding of leadership and authority is that of empowerment of others for service rather than one’s own exercise of power over others (Matthew 20:25-28, Matthew 23:6-12; John 13:13-17; Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 5:2-3).

(B) And such leadership is done “for the sake of the Gospel” — not for the sake of “orders of creation” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 11:11; 1 Peter 2:13-3:6).

(C) Responsibilities or roles are opportunities to God’s people for faithful service rather than occasions for an insistence on an individual’s rights.

(D) If we have been called to “wash feet” (John 13), why do we worry about who is to have power and authority?

(E) The biblical understanding of authority and leadership contrasts with that of the world’s understanding:

The World                                                           The Kingdom

(1) Focuses on function                        —          Relationship (sees a person)

(2) Rights (privilege and status)         —          Responsibility (1 Peter 5:2-3)

(3) Authority (controlling)                   —          Empowering others (Philippians 2:7)

(4) Competitive                                      —           Obedient (John 17:4)

(5) “Success” oriented                           —           Service oriented (Mark 10:45)

(6) Self-sufficient (Luke 18:11-12)      —           God-confident (2 Corinthians 3:4-5)

(7) By “divine” right                              —           Conferred as privilege (Mark 10:35-40)

(8) Hierarchy focus                               —           Service orientation

(F) Even the pastoral office is an office of service for the Gospel and to others.  One’s authority, biblically speaking, is exercised not by demanding control and insisting on superordination of one and subordination of another, as well as “rights,” but by self-giving service, as is Christ’s (Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:5-8).  Compare John 13:13-17, Galatians 5:13, and 1 Peter 5:2-3.

(G) “Masters are not directed in the Bible to have slaves submissive to them; men are not directed to have wives submissive to them.  The directive is always toward the person under authority, that they should bear it without concern.  Therefore, it is humility that is being called for on the part of both men and women” (Dentinger, Women in the Church).