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The Heart of a Servant and Agape Leadership

There is a children’s song that says “God gave me a treasure-the heart of a servant.” Truly, such a heart would be a great treasure, and such a heart is what God would have in each and every saint. There are two characteristic fruits of righteousness among God’s people that are common in every dispensation of God. They are: (1) Love for God and (2) Love for fellow saints. These are stated as the two great commandments of Matthew 22:38. That love is expressed in service.

The Treasure

Paul the apostle has that treasure in mind when he says to the Corinthians (II Corinthians. 9:13), “thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” The unspeakable gift is the working of God within believers to minister to the needs of each other. It is a “grace” imparted to the believer by God to be able to meet the needs of others. In II Corinthians 9:8-11, Paul writes: “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: … being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving unto God.”

Let’s catch the blessed promise of this passage: God is able (i.e., we rest on God to supply through us) to make all grace abound toward you (i.e., he can and will work in your life to enable you to be a blessing to others). Why does he impart such “grace”? That ye having all sufficiency in all things (i.e., having your needs met) may abound in every good work as you reach out to others. Such loving care for one another is God’s desire for every believer and is the hallmark of spiritual maturity.

Three Good Examples

We have three examples of such spiritual maturity in Philippians Chapter 2. The first is the apostle himself as he states: “…If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Phil. 2:17). The second example is the Philippian believers as Paul says of them: “For the same cause [i.e., they being offered in sacrifice and service to him] also do ye joy, and rejoice with me” (Phil. 2:18). The third example is Timothy, as Paul says of him: “I have no man like minded [i.e., with the mind that Paul had as described in verse 17] who will naturally care for your state.”

This young man Timothy had a genuine concern for the welfare of the Philippians (and all other believers). That was as natural as the love of the father for a son; for he learned this from none other than Paul himself. Timothy learned what true leadership really is. It is not striking out on some new course. It is rather simply following in advance of others. Paul says of him that “as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22).

The heart of a servant that was evident among the Philippians was a mindset, which appeared to the human race in Christ (Phil. 2:5-8) and was reproduced in Paul. Note his words: “According to my earnest expectation with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” Timothy in turn acquired that heart from Paul and he in turn, passed that same heart attitude on to the Philippians. The point is that a heart attitude of services is needed in leadership if such an attitude is to be evident in God’s church.

The Wrong Approach

But such is not the attitude of all who are in leadership. Even among those who Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, had under his leadership. When Philippians was written, he had no man like-minded as Timothy because “…all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” What a sad state of affairs to find self-centeredness even among regenerated men who involve themselves in the ministry of the Gospel of Grace. These brethren (who seek their own and not the things which are of Christ) would dare not say with Paul: “Brethren be ye followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example.” Rather, they might likely find themselves in the next verse: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 2:18).

It remains a fact that, though grace can and will produce in the yielded heart the highest standard of practical righteousness, grace still waits upon our volition to operate. God did not save us from sin against our will (Romans 3:25), and neither does He make us faithful against our will (Romans 6:1-13 cf. Galatians 2:20).

Our Lord’s Instruction

There is much instruction in the Word of God on leadership that will bear fruit. We are all made of the same stuff and we all have the same potential for success or failure in leadership. Our Lord gave instruction on what leadership and rulership among His people should be and also instruction on what it should not be.

One important principle on leadership is given in Matthew 20:20-26. The mother of James and John asked of the Lord, “Grant that these two sons may sit, the one on they right hand, and the other on thy left, in the kingdom.” After informing them that such was not His to give but that authority rested with His Father, He seized upon the opportunity to call the twelve together and give this instruction: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority and power upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Here the Lord is contrasting the Gentile world system that we know today as a system that runs largely on greed, selfishness, pride, and the desire for individual power and influence. It is a system which lacks mutual concern for one another, as opposed to that which will characterize the coming Kingdom of Heaven. The instruction that Christ gives us today through Paul is much the same. Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 2:2: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” The Roman centurion in Matthew 8 explained that Gentile system will when he said: “…I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man go, and he goeth; and to another, come, and he cometh; and to my servant, do this, and he doeth it…” But he also knew that he was talking to the One who had the final authority as Lord of all – the Messiah of Israel. This passage and the passage in Matthew 20 are talking about two different types of authority and power. The type of authority described by the centurion describes authority that one has and held solely by virtue of the position one holds. That is a powerful authority because it usually carries with it consequences for defiance of it. The centurion, as a military leader, had that authority. The type of authority described in Matthew 20 exists by virtue of demonstrated loving concern of one believer for one another. That is not only powerful, but also effective. Under the Gentile system, authority goes with position and those who aspire to position gain authority. Under the system our Lord describes, those who aspire to service to fellow believers, end up with authority according to the degree of their loving concern for others.

Religion Won’t Do It

In Matthew 23, the Lord again addresses the subject of leadership by pointing to a system of religious leadership which had run a muck. As he describes it in Matthew 23:4-7, we see a system a lot like what exists in much of the professing church today. As we read His words, we find that He not only points out the problem, but He gives instruction to His disciples on how to avoid the problem themselves. Let’s pay attention as he presents the sad state of the religious leaders of that day: “…they make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments [i.e., they wear special clothing to separate them from “the laity”] and love the upper most rooms of feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogue, and greetings in the markets [i.e. they are addicted to the special treatment of privilege and position], and to be called of men Rabbi; Rabbi [i.e., they love titles which separates them from the “laity”].

Reading this, we note that the root of the problem was that they held themselves aloof from the people. They wore clothing that separated themselves from the people. They occupied positions that were separated from the people; they enjoyed special greetings separate from the people; and they earned titles that set them apart from the people. A title is a name that is used before or in lieu of a person’s own name. They could be greeted at the market, “Hello Rabbi” or “Greetings master” or “Good afternoon, Father.” Yet, the Lord Himself instructs His twelve to take not such titles lest they be led to such a state as these Pharisees. They were to avoid that ever present danger by not assuming titles, positions, privileges, and attire which separated themselves from those they were to serve. “But be not ye called Rabbi [i.e., equivalent to our Doctor] for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no one your Father [see Judges 17:8-10] upon the earth for one is your Father which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: [as one who rules in spiritual things] for one is your Master even Christ.”

In light of this instruction it is interesting to note that the apostles did not put titles on any but The Lord Jesus Christ when they communicated among believers. Paul did accord titles to the political rulers who he addressed (e.g., Acts 26:27). But in address and reference to fellow believers, he was always on a first name basis. It is apparent then that the double honor in I Timothy 5:7 which is due to those “who labor in the word and doctrine” does not deal with the issuing of titles but rather firstly with respect and moral support for their labor of love (I Thess. 5:12-13) and secondly with financial support.

Paul would have us draw the parallel between the ox which is so harnessed to the tread mill that he can not even forage for his own feed and the elder who is so yoked to the service of the church that he cannot provide for his own financial welfare (I Timothy 5:17-18 cf. I Timothy 5:3). What elders need is not to have their egos inflated by title bearing (Job 32:21-22), but to be esteemed “very highly in love for their work’s sake.”

The Point

Going back to the instruction of Matthew 20, our Lord states, “But whosoever is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Then He added a warning that has the justice of the Kingdom of Heaven in view saying: “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”

Paul, in addressing the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:28, tells them to: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Even Peter in writing to the elders of the circumcision believers of the earthly Kingdom of God says: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Peter 5:1-3).

It is a trans-dispensational principle that leadership is needed if God’s work in the world is to go forward. The work of redemption, which God the Father planned and which God the Son earned and which God the Holy Spirit administers today, still needs the active involvement of God’s people. It takes a focused church with focused leadership to do that. To sharpen that focus, we offer the following:

  1. There must be men who see what needs to be done (i.e., they have vision) and then proceed to do it.
  2. What needs to be done is simply to communicate the Word of Truth rightly divided to men and women and boys and girls that they might be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth and that they might be established according to Paul’s gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery.
  3. Leadership which will be effective in meeting that need must be according to the pattern laid out by Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. Paul wrote in Phil. 2:3: “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
  4. That leadership must then be duplicated according to the principle of II Timothy 2:2: “And the things that though hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
  5. Such leadership will endeavor to make all men see what is the blessed fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.
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