Leadership is Obedient Unto Death – part 9

Leadership requires obedience unto death if we are going to fulfill the Great Commission. It is also Christ’s command to us.

“Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be”.

(NIV, John 12:23-26)

This topic is covered in-depth in the section on the missiology of Christ. I am adding this topic in the Christian Leadership for Mission firstly because it is an important part of our Christianity that is largely unknown to many Christians. In many parts of the world, Christians are martyred and in unreached areas, you need to understand from the beginning that missions is a dangerous undertaking. We have an elderly man who reaches our missionary candidate’s Bible translation methods. He says, “the blood of the saints has to be spilled on the ground so that the seed will sprout.” If this article resonates with you, consider reading the missiology of Christ.

As servants of Jesus Christ, we will be partaking in his suffering and this includes his death. When he says you must lose your life to save it, he is not speaking figuratively. (Matthew 10:38-39; 16:24-35; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-34; Luke 17:33). Being a Christian requires you to be identified with him in his life, suffering, death, and resurrection. The kingdom of God does not depend on people doing what they love to do, it depends on people doing what they do not want to do. It depends on people who hate their own lives (Luke 14:26).

The Christian movement is in crisis because Christians that believe that Bible is truth for us to follow, just don’t want to do what Christ says. They especially do not want to identify with him in his suffering. It’s hard work. It’s not sensational. It’s not adventurous. And it’s by no means profitable. It is exactly what it says it is; dying to yourself and then taking up a cross. Jesus was emphatically telling the disciples that they would eventually have to pay with their lives to extend his Gospel throughout the world. All Christians involved in God’s purposes will have to deny themselves and take up the cross. This also means that you will have to suffer emotionally, mentally, and physically to get the true mind of Christ on leadership. If you want to be a leader in Christ’s estimation you will have to be obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8). The first death will have to be to your life of sin. The second is to your own will. In order to live in Christ, you must die to your own will. Your will is not to be done, your kingdom is not to come. You were bought at a price and are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19). God’s will is to be done and his kingdom is to come. Leadership must die to its own will in order to make room for the will of God. Jesus did not do his own will. True spiritual leadership must even die to its own understanding of leadership in order to make room for the leadership of God. Christ denied his own desires and went to the cross to die (Matthey 26:37-39). If we are to follow him, it will mean that we lose our lives as well taking Christ to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Peter told Jesus that even if he had to die with him, he would never disown him. And all the other disciples said the same (Matthey: 26:35). This shows us that they understood when Jesus told them to take up the cross. If we cannot deny ourselves we will never take the Gospel where it has not been preached before as this will require some to pay the price with their lives. If you are dead to yourself, Christ can then lead through you because your will is no longer in the way. He can lead through you because you no longer are alive. You are no longer the lord of your own life, he is. A dead person doesn’t insist on his own way. A dead person doesn’t insist on leading. A dead person is dead. When you’re dead, you’re dead. After this death to self, you now live in him and for him and he leads through you (2 Corinthians 5:15). Once you die, you can then be raised to life and become a sanctified instrument of obedience to do his will (Romans 6:4). His instructions are not an option for us. They are commanded to us and we need to obey. The words obey and obedience are not heard much in Christian circles anymore, but they are common in the New Testament.

You don’t hear the word command mentioned much either. But he does command things of us (Matthew 22:36-40). If we are part of his spiritual body, we will obey his commands because they come directly from the Father. When we submit to Jesus Christ our leader, we are submitting to the will of God the Father (John 14:23, 24; 15:10, 11; 17:5, 6; Romans 16:25-27; Hebrews 5:9, 10). Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him in obedience to his commands. Following him implies to the nations in darkness. That’s where Jesus wants to be. So, the only way to be fully obedient to God is to be fully dead to yourself. It doesn’t mean that you can’t choose the color of sox you will wear today. It just means that your life will be for the fulfillment of his commands. You won’t be living according to your will, you will be living according to his will. “Thy will be done, thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Living according to his will is a process. You won’t be living it one hundred percent today, but you will do the best you can. Here is the part most people do not understand. It’s done by faith. You walk according to his commands as best as you can and when you do, you know by faith that you are in his will.

Here is an illustration to clarify. Christ has already laid an ax at the root of your tree. The tree is dead, but it will take time for the leaves at the top of the tree to turn brown and fall off. However, the tree is still technically dead. It looks alive because there are leaves that are still green on the tree. But you know that the tree is dead. Christ died and you died with him. You must believe this and belief requires faith (Romans 6:3ff). You will not become completely perfect in your sanctification during your lifetime, but you can trust in the power of his death and resurrection did for you and in you so that you also may die to sin and life a new life for him in his righteousness. You can be sure of this with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance”.

(NIV, 1 Peter 1-2)

Being obedient to Christ requires submitting to all other members of his body

There is a reason for our sanctification. It is for obedience to Christ and to the other members of the body. Christ was obedient and we are told to be like Christ. (Mathew 23:1-3; Luke 1:51; John 14:30) Obedience to Christ comes from faith (Romans 1:5).  If you want to be a leader, you will have to submit to Christ and obey him just as he submitted to God and obeyed God. Christ gave up the right to have his life as he wanted it in order to be completely obedient to the Father so that you and I could have eternal life. Now, in this life in this material world, it is our turn to live in obedience to Christ for his purposes. We are slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:15-17). Slaves have no rights. We must obey everything he taught us (Matthew 28:20; Luke 11:28). Even our thoughts are to be obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Being obedient to Christ also means you must submit to and obey everyone else in the body of Christ as well. This will also require death to self and a resurrected life lived by faith. If you love him, you will feed his sheep (John 21:15-17), you will resist evil people, you will turn the other cheek, you will go the extra mile, you will give to anyone who asks of you and, you will love your enemies. You must love your enemies so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27). If you must love your enemies, then submitting to other members of the body of Christ should be much easier, but it isn’t. Just doing what you are told to do will be death after death after death. Once you are dead to it, you can live again. Being obedient means we must submit our will to God’s we must submit our will to others.

Today, if a stranger, who is not a Christian, asks you to carry their bags up a long flight of stairs, you must carry them up two flights of stairs and all the way to their door. If a Christian asks you to carry their bags up a long flight of stairs, you must also carry them up two flights of stairs and all the way to their door. We must be obedient to non-Christians and Christians alike (Matthew 5:43-48). So if a Christian asks you to do something, it will not necessarily be an easier task than what a non-Christian would ask. Don’t just submit to those you want to submit to. Don’t just submit to those who are over you. Submit to everyone. Submit to those you do not want to submit to. This isn’t going to be easy to do and requires obedience unto the death of yourself.

What does it mean to be in submission? It’s not complicated. If you are in submission to someone, that means that when that person asks you to do something, you do it. It also means that when you see something that needs to be done, even if it is not related to your life or the local church, you do it. You are submitting to the necessity of things that are needing to be done. Someone has to do them. When God sees your submissive heart attitude, he will lift you down into a new level of spiritual leadership. Leadership is not getting to the point when you don’t have to do any of the menial things you don’t want to do anymore. Leadership is submitting and obeying to the point that you become a submissive person. Being submissive is understanding who God is. If we understand how immense God is we will know that he is in control of all things. When we submit to Christians, pagans or to the trash that needs picking up we are submitting to God. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Once you become a more submissive person, other people will submit to God through your guidance because it will no longer be you guiding them. You will have sowed so much submission and obedience that you will reap in your own life. Also, other submissive obedient people will want to submit and obey you, because God will be guiding them toward Christ through you, and not your own desires and ambitions for this world. Those who are submitting to one another are all moving closer to Christ together.

At some point you are going to ask yourself, “What about the abusive people who just want to take advantage of me?” They could be sinners who are not saved by Christ, or they could be ones who call themselves Christians. It doesn’t matter. Those who are not Christians are your neighbors. You must submit to them with the condition that they do not cause you to sin or cause others to sin. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:37-40). Neighbors are Christians and non-Christians. There are boundaries. The ones who are supposedly saved by Christ that are abusive and living in sin are called enemies of the cross (1 Corinthians 5:11). They should have been expelled from fellowship but many times they remain among us. We still must love them, forgive them and pray for them, but we can no longer fellowship with them. Clearly we do not have to submit to them, they are no longer in fellowship with God.

However, if you have Christians around you that are just irritating, immature or demanding, you must submit to them. Just do what you are told, it won’t hurt anything but your feelings. Submitting to them will bring death to self. If their abusive attitude gets to the point that it begins to do damage to the body they too should be warned and restored or expelled. Expulsion from the Church is a rare thing in the modern church. It shouldn’t be. The modern church has placed a high importance on numbers allowing sinful Christians to gather among their masses. If they are Christians or not is not our place to judge until their sin against other members is clear. If they are not sinning, we should love them and carry their bags and help them in times of need. So if Christians are irritating or carnal we must love and submit to them as long as it doesn’t lead us into sin or carnality. If our neighbors or even our enemies are in need we must love them and submit to them as long as it doesn’t lead them to sin or us to sin or into carnality. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

When the circumstances need someone to submit to them, submit to them as well. Sometimes the dishes need to be done. Sometimes I do them and sometimes I let other people do them. Jesus says in John chapter fifteen verse twenty, “If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” But Jesus knows that the true disciples will be teaching what he has taught them. You need to let other people be obedient in the normal things of life that need to be done, but only after you yourself have learned to obey and do them no matter what the circumstances are. When other people are insisting that they do the dishes, literally taking them out of my hands, I submit and obey them. I know very well that I am willing to do the dishes any time they need to be done, especially when no one else is around to do them. If you are waiting for the day when you will no longer have to do the menial tasks because you have elevated to a higher place in leadership, you are missing the point of Christianity. You must continually lower yourself to do the menial tasks or you will not understand what Jesus has done for you. You must let him lift you to a lower place. You will never get to the point of not doing the things you do not want to do. You’ve got to serve somebody. So the sooner you start accepting this, the easier the hard parts of life will be. Just die to it. Just do what people tell you to do unless it clearly crosses the boundaries of sin. You should not submit or obey those asking you to sin or to sin against yourself or others.

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

(NIV, Hebrews 13:17)

If you actually become a leader in God’s estimation, it will be after many trials of submission and obedience. Then you will know how to let God exercise his authority, and most importantly, you will know that it is God’s. You will know that it is his authority and not yours from having submitted, humbled, suffered, sacrificed, and sown obedience. You will be able to “keep watch over others” through his authority. You will still have to give an account, but hopefully, it will not be because you exercised your own worldly authority independently of him. You will also have to do work, but it will be a joy because, as you have sown obedience, you will reap it from the disciples of Christ that you are submitting to his authority in you. They are not your disciples, they are Christ’s. And you are not guiding them to your experience or authority, Christ is guiding them to himself and to his authority. They are Christ’s disciples and we are guiding them to Christ by the example of our obedience to Christ. If we obey Christ, they will obey Christ. And if they do not, they will have to give a personal account to Christ for it. Our job is to guide people to be obedient to Christ, not to lord authority over them. Christ is a person, not a religion. He is alive and sitting at the right hand of God the Father. God is so much higher than you and I are, that it is ludicrous that we would want to be giving out orders to others. It is ridiculous to think that we would want to be leading other people. If you desire to be leading other people, you don’t know the seriousness of the account you will have to give to the living God for how you have led them. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom and if it is in you, you will want God to do all the leading (Proverbs 9:10).