Pastor John, you recently tweeted: “Serving is the measure of greatness (Matt. 20:26) because it takes greater power to conquer selfishness than to command service.” Take a moment to explain that Tweet.
I had in mind the normal view of power that includes the ability to command somebody to get you way. If somebody has power, they can tell others what to do and that serves them. That is what Jesus had in mind. He refers to it in Luke 22:25 when he says, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.” He knows the normal, on the street meaning, of power. And, of course, in one sense, that is true. But what makes it not power is that we are born this way. Children are born demanding. They want momma to do everything for them right away, and we stay that way unless we are converted. We are a very demanding people. We have a sense of entitlement.
“We are very demanding people; we have a sense of entitlement, and we stay that way unless we are converted.”
In one sense, it takes as much power to command people as it does to fall off a cliff. It is like falling off a log. It doesn't take any effort at all to be selfish and have power in that way. So, Jesus comes along and he says, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).” So he reverses that. As I look at my own heart and as I look at the history of the world, it takes a huge power to not act powerfully.
Proverbs 16:32 says, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” The proverb and Jesus are thinking of another kind of power — a power over your selfish love of power. That is rare; therefore, Jesus wants it to happen for his glory.
I was just looking at the trailer of J. I. Packer’s new book, Weakness is the Way. What struck me is the subtitle of the book, Life with Christ our Strength. I think that gets at the key to what Jesus is really after, and what is really new with Jesus. Jesus isn’t just resurrecting a proverb and saying, “I am your new wise man, and I have more proverbs to tell you.” He was saying, “I intend to be your strength now. I have come to die for your sins, to sever the root of the control of the love of selfishness in your life, and to be for you what you thought you had to be for yourself.”
“When Jesus is calling us to be servants he means he is going to sever that horrible love of demanding selfish entitlement.”
When you read commands from Paul he says things like, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). And he says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). Or, the one that I love the most, 1 Peter 4:11, where Peter says, “Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
So, when Jesus is calling us to be servants, contrary to the world’s way of thinking about power, he means he is going to sever that horrible love of demanding selfish entitlement. He is going to be our portion. He is going to give us strength so that when we act against those natural inclinations by faith in him, he gets the glory — not us. That is what I meant when I said there is a kind of greatness and a kind of power that is much greater than the power to command service.