Jesus Was Establishing Another Kind of Leadership – part 4

The work of evangelism, discipleship, and pastoring in the remote unreached peoples and places of the world is just work that the body of Christ has not done yet. We need to make disciples of all nations and to the ends of the earth and we are not done. Most Christians now don’t make disciples. They don’t know what that means. They have never led anyone to Christ. We need to get into our New Testaments, more specifically the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and see what Jesus has to say about what we are still down on the earth for.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him”.

(NIV, Matthew 4:18-22)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

(NIV, Acts 1:8)

Jesus is telling his apostles what they are going to be trained to do (Matthew 4:18-22) and later he tells them to go and do it (Acts 1:8). It’s all about a message that needs to get out. Without this message, others will not be being built up into the spiritual kingdom of Christ. These verses above are Jesus’s first and his last words to his disciples. He is not telling them that they will great leaders of the Church or ones who command the masses. He is not telling them that they will be high seated spiritual guides, leading thousands from glass pulpits. He was not preparing them to take his place and surely he didn’t intend for them to make a name for themselves. He tells them that they will be lowly fishers of men. They will become carriers of a message that will turn men from their sins. They will fish for men with this message. Some fish will be caught others will get away. He later commanded that they teach others to fish men. Can you think of any other message that is as important as the one that can save the souls of mankind? Can you think of any other goal or task that is as important as the spreading of that message? Jesus needed people to accomplish a task. We can call them leaders, but it would be an error. They were simply following Jesus’s instructions. They were men under orders. And the orders were not all that complicated. They were servants of Christ to accomplish a simple task. It was simple, not easy. They would spread the message if they themselves did not get in their own way with the desire to take charge and send other people to do the hard work.

Nations (ethnos; ἔθνους)

If only the Church had followed these simple instructions with the power and authority to drive out evil spirits and heal every disease and sickness (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:7), they would have discipled all the nations by now. Men, with their worldly ambitions to be the leaders by the world’s methods, came into the early Church and divided the movement. This division removed their spiritual power and stopped the natural extension of the message. The evidence is that Christ did not return then. Christ has not returned still (Matthey 24:14). These men used the worldly model of leadership that seemed to be correct. They lorded over and exercised authority over others because they thought they knew more than others. They took charge without the servant’s attitude and lost the little authority that Christ gave. The only authority Christ gave was the authority and the power to heal and deliver. They placed themselves higher and more important than the other members of the body claiming to have superior wisdom. This was not God’s wisdom but human wisdom. But never-the-less they gained what they were after; followers that gave them recognition, attention, praise, and last but not least, money (NIV, 1 Corinthians 1:12-31).

The leaders of Jesus’s day were expecting another kind of Messiah. They were expecting one like the world, one like themselves. The leaders of Jesus’ day were the ones that gave him the most trouble. They were anticipating the coming of the Messiah, but they did not recognize him at all. He didn’t fit their profile of the one true leader of the faith. They were expecting someone who would agree with their man-made authority structure. They might have even expected that Jesus submit to their authority or at least acknowledge it. But they never expected that he would undermine their leadership and choose common uneducated fisherman as his disciples (Acts 4:13). This is one reason they rejected his claim of Messiah. Jesus did not accept or acknowledge their claim to leadership. He did not agree with it and rebuked them on many occasions. He did not condone their haughty attitudes and arrogance. He referred to them a as brood of vipers and whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:33; Luke 3:7). 

“As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely”.

(NIV, Mark 12:38-40)

Jesus teaches his disciples over and over not to be like the religious leaders of the day in their style of leadership (Matthew 5:20; 6:1-16). The religious leaders hated him for his words. They didn’t kill him because of his miracles, or because he claimed to be the son of God. They killed him because of what he said about them. They were self-deluded, and he exposed their hypocrisy and embarrassed them. He told them that they were in error and that they were sons of hell (Matthew 23:13-36). He exposed the sin in their hearts. They killed him because they were offended that he did not submit to their leadership. After all, an unknown profit that walks through the countryside with lowly fishermen should have been submissive to their authority. Jesus was teaching his disciples every minute that he rebuked the Jewish leaders. They did not recognize THE Messiah because they were blinded by their own sense of importance. They expected that he too would appear very important. If you are angry when people don’t recognize your leadership or authority, you are not rightly submitted to Christ and you do not understand true spiritual authority. If you are rightly submitted to Christ, the religious people will not see you as important. But they will be threatened by the true spiritual authority in you. It is also likely that they will want to get rid of you if not kill you. They will call you a heretic and a rebel (Matthew 10:22; 23:1; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17).

Look at the modern-day leaders. Are they much different than those of Jesus day? Never before in history has the Christian Church been so full of itself, division, and sin. And because of it, we are nowhere near completing the great commission of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Ultimately this is proof that we do not understand Christ’s leadership: We have not completed his commands. Somewhere we have missed it. Jesus did not fail to teach us how to disciple all the nations. We have failed to follow his teaching and his leadership. As we study the way that Jesus led his disciples, we find that they did not act at all like the leaders of their day. Once in a while, you hear someone say that the Church would not recognize Jesus if he were to come among us today. It’s true. We assume that Jesus and the apostles were our kinds of leaders, but they weren’t. Their actions were not at all like the actions of the leaders of their day nor of today’s leaders. I don’t think we would even recognize his disciples if they were to come among us today. The modern leader reads about Christ and his disciples in their Bibles, but they lead very differently. They lead like the world leads. They may not be looking for the high places of honor, but they fill them. The verse above says that they like to walk around in nice clothes and they like to be greeted in public being recognized as someone who is well known, and they like to have the most important seats in the meeting places and they like to have the places of honor at important gatherings.

It is clear in the book of Acts that Jesus’s disciples were not trying to be in charge or in command of others. They were not trying to be the people up front leading and guiding the rest. They were simply trying to carry the message of the one true leader. Jesus was still in charge of the body, leading and guiding them through the Holy Spirit. They were to go and make disciples, nothing more (NIV, Matthew 28:20). It is obvious that the disciples were humble servants that did not think more highly of themselves than they ought (Romans 12:3). These were the very disciples of Jesus Christ. If anyone in history could have had the authority to take charge after Jesus had left the earth, it would have been his apostles. If anyone should have been able to place themselves in a position of being served, it was the apostles. They, of all people, could have acted like the senior pastor of a modern megachurch, but they didn’t. The things they did and said were nothing like what we hear and see modern leaders saying and doing today. They did and said the opposite of what we hear today because Jesus taught them true spiritual leadership. He gave them true spiritual authority because they humbled themselves. And after being with Jesus for three years, what do we find them doing? We find them waiting on tables.

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables”.

(NIV, Acts 6:2)

The apostles did not quit serving altogether. They just took on a different role and got help so that they would not neglect the ministry of the word of God. The reason was that certain widows were not getting the food they needed. This made them realize that they needed to expand the ministry of waiting on tables. The ministry of the word of God is to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:42) and that is what the apostles were sent to do. In no way were they beginning to look down on the ministry of waiting on tables. In fact, they were specific about who would take over this responsibility (Acts 6:3). Waiting on tables was then, and is still a responsibility. If you cannot wait on tables, you will not be walking in the power of God. The power of God is given to those who have first learned to serve tables with humility. The power of God is given to those who will not let it go to their heads. Stephen waited on tables, then did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people  (Acts 6:8). The apostles were not concerned anymore about who would be the greatest. They were not arguing anymore about who would be the main leaders of all this new activity. They had finally understood that they were servants and that serving meant literally to serve. They were found serving the tables. They were so busy doing the work of the ministry and serving the body that they began to neglect the widows.

One of the few places in the New Testament where the word leadership is mentioned is in Acts chapter 1:20 where Peter is stating that someone should take the place of Judas.

The word for leadership in the Acts is episkopēn (ἐπισκοπὴν) — Only 1
Occurrence in the New Testament.

GRK: καί Τὴν ἐπισκοπὴν αὐτοῦ λαβέτω
NIV: May another take his place of leadership.
NAS: take his office
KJV: and his bishoprick let another
INT: and the overseership of him let take

Soon after in Acts 1:25 Peter mentions the word apostleship referring to the same position. apostolēs (ἀποστολῆς)

GRK: ταύτης καὶ ἀποστολῆς ἀφ’ ἧς
NIV: to take over this apostolic ministry
NAS: ministry and apostleship from which
KJV: ministry and apostleship, from which
INT: this and apostleship from which

Paul refers to himself as an apostle appointed by Christ, (1 Corinthians 9:1) and that the people to whom Paul had ministered were the seal of his apostleship; apostolēs (ἀποστολῆς). Paul was not the replacement for Judas. The replacement’s name was Matthias (Acts 1:26). And the other apostles did not choose this apostle based on their personal estimation of who he was. They did not choose him at all. They prayed for the Lord to show them who was to be chosen and it fell to Matthias. Jesus was still in charge of appointing apostles while in heaven. He is still in charge to this day. Later on, Jesus personally appoints Paul as an apostle (Acts 26:13). The apostles and many others literally saw Jesus after his resurrection. Then they saw his ascent but knew that Jesus was still leading them and guiding them from above. Possibly Jesus ascended in this fashion to leave them with this impression. There was a great awareness that Jesus was still present in the first church. The personal disciples of Jesus did not do all of the appointing of leadership but relied on Jesus to do it. The Lord continued to appoint these positions without the prayers of the apostles as we see in the life of Paul. In Acts 9:20 Paul begins to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the act of apostolēs (ἀποστολῆς).

The evidence clearly shows that the apostles are explicitly obeying the teaching of Christ. It is in the fact that, even though they had been directly appointed by Christ, they are found waiting tables. These were the men who experienced firsthand Jesus in all his glory, and yet, they were serving just as Jesus had taught them to do. What is clear is that they were not taking on the attitude of exercising authority over others. It is also clear that those they assigned to wait on tables were not subordinate leaders underneath them. Had they continued to serve the tables in order to meet the need of getting enough food to all the windows, they would have had to neglect the ministry of the word. This act of waiting on tables speaks very loudly about the way the authority structure works in the kingdom of God. Appointed apostles had a very practical down to earth attitude. They saw a job that needed doing, and, because Jesus had discipled this attitude into their lives, it is exactly what they did. They did not consider the fact that they were the appointed apostle’s something superior. They served as a common house servant would serve. They served tables and I would suspect that they served in any other thing that needed doing. Serving tables is actually several jobs. It includes bringing food to the people, clearing off the dirty dishes, and cleaning the tables and floors when the people are gone. These are all lowly tasks of a common house servant. The appointed apostles of Jesus, who held the fate of the entire world in their hands, were doing the jobs of common house servants. I am going to lengths to emphasize this point for a reason. Why were they literally waiting on tables? Because this is what appointed ones do. Jesus did it (John 22:27). Doing lowly tasks makes you great in the kingdom. They see the job that needs to be done and they do it. Also when they finally decide to dedicate their time to the ministry of the word of God and prayer, who do they choose to wait on the tables? Men full of faith and the Holy Spirit like Stephen. They also choose Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, who were also full of faith and the Holy Spirit. They were chosen to become the next servants, and the apostles laid hands on them and prayed for them (Acts 6:3-6). The ones who waited on the tables, literally serving others were not your everyday people. They were to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Those who then served in this low act were in the position to be appointed to be sent.

One of Jesus’s last acts before his crucifixion was to serve those sitting at a table before the main meal. He removed his garment, exposing himself, and then wrapped a towel around his waist and washed His disciple’s feet (John 13:4). He then explains about the cup and the bread representing his blood and his broken body. It’s hard to believe that at this table, Jesus’s personally appointed apostles were still arguing among themselves over who would be the greatest (Luke 22:24). It must have been disappointing to Jesus to hear them talking like this after all he had taught them. This is another passage that must be examined thoroughly. Listen carefully to what Jesus says.

“Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”.

(NIV, Luke 22:24-30)

Jesus claims that he is among them as one who serves as a common house servant would serve. Then he tells them that a day will come when they will sit on thrones judging which is a position of authority, but not in this life on this earth. He also tells them that he is conferring on them a kingdom. Confer means to bestow from or as if from a position of superiority or to give (as a property or characteristic) to someone. But until their physical bodies die and this material world has ended, that authority will not be given. And even when it does, they will be given thrones of authority because they too have served as a common house servant serves. Immediately after they were talking about who was the greatest among them, Jesus explicitly tells them that they are not to be like that. They are prohibited from being like leaders in the world. The one who rules must become like the one who serves as a common house servant would serve. The disciple’s view of leadership had to change. They had to know that only Jesus was going to be the main leader on this earth. Think about this for a moment. The disciples had seen the worldly model of one main leader during their lives. This same model had been seen throughout the history of the Jewish people. Hebrew law established the Sanhedrin or counsels that were led by one main leader called a Nasi, which means Prince (of the Sanhedrin) in Mishnaic Hebrew, or president in modern Hebrew. God sent Jesus and he was the number one main leader to the disciples. They saw him as the number one main leader of the movement and they thought that he would set up his kingdom over Israel, on earth. The Jews were supposed to have recognized the Messiah and then followed him as the number one main leader. If that were to happen, the disciples also, in the authority structure of the world would have been second in command.

They were looking forward to the day when Jesus would continue his rule on earth. They were especially looking forward to being second in command under the number one main leader. The greatest among the disciples would be Christ’s number two main leader in the earthly kingdom. They were very discouraged when they found out that Jesus was not only going to die, but leave the earth and leave them and return to the Father (John 14:12). In their minds, if Jesus were to leave it might mean that one of the twelve should become the number one main leader in charge of the rest. A dispute arose among them as to which one was the greatest because the greatest would either become the number two in charge in Christ’s earthly kingdom, or the number one main leader taking over once Jesus left. Why were they needing to quarrel amongst themselves about who was the greatest? Because Jesus was not telling them which one would be in charge. Jesus was leaving, so in their minds, someone had to take his place. But Jesus was going to establish another kind of leadership. Not because their worldview was so distorted, but because worldly leadership authority structures had to change so that the message would extend without hindrance.