by Don Watson
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus shares a cornerstone principle of all our day-to-day relationships. “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, ‘You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and those who are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant.’” Matthew 20:25-26
Interesting concept. Rarely practiced by those of us who say we follow Jesus. Whether it is one of your employees, one of your children, your spouse, your neighbor, a fellow church member, or the kids that you coach on your soccer team, Jesus calls us to use service rather than authority as the basis for all our relationships. As sons and daughters of God, we mirror Jesus Himself – the Servant of servants.
But down deep inside, I think we believe that God operates on the basis of authority. He says “Thou shalt not” and expects us to obey or suffer the consequences. In our minds, authority and fear are the ways God ultimately gets what He wants. After all, He has the thunderbolts – not to speak of hell – hence, pretty much a monopoly on the fear and authority market. So it’s no wonder that many believe authority, intimidation, and fear SHOULD be the way we operate. We have come to believe that authority and fear are not merely beneficial but necessary to accomplish what we feel is righteous or important to the success of the church, community, home, or workplace. In fact, isn’t it true that we believe the level of authority we possess enables us to accomplish more good or be more successful, because there are more people under our power and subject to our authority – a huge factor why so many of us seek out recognition and promotion. And when we get these promotions this is what our leadership all too often looks like.
An employee is late for work – we write them up (intimidation and fear). You sit comfortably on the couch supervising your curious one-year-old. He is about to grab one of your expensive Lladro figurines on the book shelf. You sternly bark out, “No!” He grabs the cat’s tail – “No!” He finds a small piece of cookie on the floor – again, “No!” In a church board meeting it is obvious that the youth department is heading in a direction that is completely in opposition to church board policies, so we let them know that their request is against policy and cannot be granted. You bench your quarterback after he goes for a “hail Mary” instead of faking a pass then executing a draw. Or your wife buys something you don’t approve of, so you close out her charge account for 6 months to teach her a lesson.
If you think about it, even our harsh, impatient words to a coworker or family member is “missing the mark” and reverting to authority rather than service. I’m not saying that discipline is never appropriate, but the intent of everything we do should be to help and serve every person we meet or do life with. Wanting to control others to accomplish our own purposes goes so far beyond our mere actions. It reaches to our deepest motives. Eliminating control from our relationships is not hard; it is not difficult, it is IMPOSSIBLE! We know we are right, they are out of line and we have the power and authority to correct them, make them change, or eliminate them. Consider Jesus, the Son of God, King of the Universe, having all the power of divinity at His disposal, yet He allowed Pilate to scourge Him, Caiaphas, the High Priest to falsely accuse Him, Judas to betray Him and Roman Soldiers to crucify Him. When Simon, the Pharisee, was judging and condemning Mary, Jesus could have publicly exposed and humiliated Him, but instead Jesus SERVED Him, and helped Him to see Mary’s value in the sight of Heaven. That’s always God’s purpose – to bring about our change and obedience because it will benefit us – not because He will hurt us. God is always about our happiness, NOT His reputation. In short, God is never about God, God is always about US! But like I said, “It is impossible for us to duplicate this kind of unselfishness. It is impossible to root out control and intimidation from the way we relate to the people around us. But Jesus did and Jesus will come inside of you and live His perfect resurrected life IN YOU! All you have to do is ask Him to show you the areas in your life where you seek to control and rule over others and then ask Him to serve these people through you instead.
For instance: I’d like to suggest that Jesus is calling us to serve our little children, patiently, explaining why the thing we ask of them is for THEIR good and THEIR happiness. Rather than controlling them, get down there and play with them. Rather than intimidating them by barking out our boundaries, take the time to explain the benefits of staying inside the fence. Be their servant. It should never be about our authority or them proving their love and loyalty to us. Never should the words come out of our mouths, “Because I said so!” God always wants us to know obedience is about us and the abundant life He wants to give to us. But remember, this is not difficult, it is impossible. So ask Jesus to come inside you and serve your little children.
Jesus is calling us to serve our co-workers, employees, and bosses. Never should the principle of authority enter into our dealings with each other. Pleasing your boss because he has power or control over you will adulterate your relationship. Find out what your boss needs to serve the people in his department or business and then serve him – join him to help him serve others. If you are the boss, then operate totally on the principle of service to your employees. Spend time with them. Show them why what you’re asking will be a means to bless and serve others. It is the only way to truly create a team where everyone seeks to serve each other and their customers. If you utilize fear and imposed accountability, employees may seem to cooperate while you’re watching or monitoring, but when you’re not there, when you’re not looking, they will do exactly as they please. If you take the time, in relationship, to discover together how you as a church or corporation or family can best serve each other and others, the entire organization will serve whether anyone is looking or not. But remember this is not difficult, it is impossible. So ask Jesus to come inside you and serve the people you work with through you.
If someone refuses to cooperate, you may need to terminate their employment, but you can do so without any threats. The two of you have a different approach to customer service. You can truly wish your employee well as they pursue their career someplace that will fit their philosophy. Even in termination you are serving your employee.
Or you may discover that your employee may not have the skills to serve effectively where they are at. They may realize they can’t do the job well, but are afraid because of your power to fire them and remove their only source of support for their family. But instead of exercising power to eliminate them, be their servant. You might want to move them or train them so they can be successful. But everything you do is for their good, but NEVER to establish your authority or power over them. Just like Jesus, everything is about others! Just keep asking Jesus to serve others through you.
What would happen as a nation if America’s foreign policy was directed at serving other nations instead of punishing them, forcing them, or destroying them. What if soldiers invaded problem nations to serve them instead of to conquer or subjugate them? Certainly, there would still be casualties, but like Jesus, those casualties would result in salvation and a more lasting peace than violence has ever accomplished. Gandhi discovered it and changed India. Martin Luther King Jr. implemented it and changed America forever. Was it expensive? Very! But it was worth the sacrifice. Jesus, of course, WAS it – He WAS love and service – and His love and service changed the entire human race. We are redeemed! We are saved! So now, He calls us NOT to establish our authority over anyone, but to serve them in love. I challenge you to explore with your own personal relationship with Jesus, how you can exercise love and serve people, rather than exercise authority in order to control them. Then ask Him to do it THROUGH YOU!