extract from the book "Biblical Eldership from Alexander Strauch" page 26-31; Lewis and Roth Publishers, P.O. Box 569, Littleton, Colorado 80160-0569 U.S.A. ISBN 0-936083-03-4
If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. John 13:14,15
Just as Christianity influenced the Roman empire, the GrecoRoman world affected the course of Christianity.
The Roman concepts of power and rule corrupted the organization and life of the early churches.
The Church was penetrated by ideals which were quite contrary to the Gospel, especially the conception and use of power which were in absolut contrast to the kind exhibited in the life and teaching of Jesus.
The organizational changes that occurred during the early centuries of Christianity were disastrous.
Christianity, the humblest of all faiths, degenerated into the most power-hungry and elaborate hierarchical religion on the face of the earth.
After the emperor Constantine elevated Christianity to the status of a state religion in A.D. 312, the once-persecuted faith became the fiercest persecutor of all its opposition.
An unscriptural clerical and priestly caste arose that was consumed by questions of power and authority. Even Roman emperors had a guiding hand in the care of God's churches.
Nearly everything Jesus Christ had taught and lived was distorted; the pure character of Christianity was lost. Particularly relevant ... was the loss of the humble, servant character of Christianity.
The principles of humility and servanthood are at the very heart of Christ's teaching.
Unfortunately, like many of the early Christians, we have been slow to understand these great virtues, especially their application to church structure and leadership. Worldly concepts of power, success, and prominence are easily perpetuated and hard to break, even among Bible-believing Christians. Because these principles of humility and servanthood are essential to Christian leadership and community life, let us briefly survey our Lord's teaching on the subject.
Matthew 5:3. This verse is the key to understanding the Beatitudes.
Jesus declares that only those who are "poor in spirit" will enter the kingdom of heaven.
To be poor in spirit means that we see our utter spiritual poverty apart from God and recognize our total dependence on Him for help. Being poor in spirit is acknowledging, like the tax collector in Luke 18:13, our spiritual destitution, helplessness, and unworthiness before an infinite and holy God.
It is the opposite of pride, self-reliance, and self-satisfaction.
The psalmist confesses an attitude of being poor in spirit in Psalm 51:17: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, o God, Thou wilt not despise."
Matthew 11:29. In contrast to the instruction of the oppressive religious leaders of His day, Jesus tells the people to "take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart." In this verse, Jesus explicitly tells us what He is like as a person: meek and lowly in heart.
His followers - especially those who would lead His people - are to be humble and gentle like He is.
Mark 9:33-35. On the first recorded occasion of the disciples' struggle for position among themselves, Jesus teaches, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all".
By means of this paradoxical statement, our Lord begins to transform His disciples, thinking, about greatness. He declares that true greatness is not achieved by striving for prominence over others or grasping for power, but by a humble, self-effacing attitude of service to all - even the most lowly people.
An enormous amount of literature today tells people how to become "number one," how to be self-fulfilled, and how to achieve personal happiness and success. "Me-ism" is the idol of modem man. But we find that the teaching of Jesus Christ is in stark contrast to this attitude. He tells us to be "servant of all. Being a servant of all is an attitude that inflicts a deathblow to selfishness and "me-ism" It is a disposition that leads one to genuinely and generously care for the welfare and interests of others. It is a lowly attitude that reflects our position as people under our Master's authority. Thus we must submit to our Master Who calls us to lovingly sacrifice ourselves for the advancement and care of others.
In Matthew's parallel account of the Mark 9:33-35 incident, Jesus states the supreme importance of humility even more explicitly: "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4).
We must seek to be humble.
Humility does not come like lightning out of the sky; it is something we must actively pursue.
We must submit our thoughts and lives to His will. We must agree and submit to God's judgment of ourselves as revealed in His Word. We must see that, like a child, we are small and helpless. We must see our complete dependence on God for everything and realize that all gifts we possess come from His hand. We must not be jealous of others who are more gifted or prominent than we are. Rather, we must use our God-given talents and gifts to glorify Him and to serve others.
Matthew 20.-20-28. In bold display of selfish ambition, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to give her sons the two more prominent seats in His kingdom. She says, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left".
We could almost laugh at her crass selfishness, but at heart we know that we are like her.
We, too, want the best places for ourselves.
We want to climb the ladder of success.
We want to be known.
We want to be a part of something big and successful.
We want to secure a good, comfortable place for ourselves.
Jesus knows how much we desire importance and how contrary it is to His ways.
So as He answers the mother of James and John, He teaches about true greatness in God's kingdom.
He says, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant." Our Lord reminds His disciples that His principles of success and greatness are different from those of this godless world's. So He summons His disciples to be truly distinct.
How distressing that so many Christians strive to be important in the eyes of their fellowchristians and not as their lowly, obedient Savior. In the age to come, such Christians will lose rich rewards and true praise from God.
Matthew 23:1-12. In this emotionally charged passage, Jesus castigates the awful pride, selfishness, and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day. As totally self-centered men, they separated and exalted themselves above the people. They lusted after titles, special clothes, special treatment, and the chief seats among their fellow men. They loved to have a high-profile public ministry; they loved the limelight. They demanded special greetings from ordinary people.
In marked contrast, Jesus prohibits His disciples from using honorific titles; from calling one another Rabbi, Father, or Master; from elevating themselves in any way that would diminish their brotherly relationship; or from usurping the unique place that Christ and the Father have over each believer. These words are as needed and applicable to today's religious scene as when they were first spoken.
Luke 22:24-27 During the last Passover meal, the disciples strive for the most prominent place at the table. Again, we witness how our Lord patiently teaches them not to act like worldly leaders: "But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant" (Luke 22:26).
This rivalry among his disciples was a constant thorn in the side of Jesus.
It was endemic in the church at Corinth (cf. I Cor. 3:1-15). It is frequently found today among and within large evangelical congregations which strive to be larger, better and more famous than each other. The very size of these congregations often produces an envious attitude among not-so large churches, an attitude which reveals precisely the same competitive spirit in those churches also. ... Competitiveness is a cancer. Jesus recognized it as completely hostile to the reality of power which he was teaching and demonstrating.
John 13:3-17 Jesus further illustrates His humble, servant role during the last Passover meal by washing His disciples' feet. Here we see that the symbol of our Lord is the towel, not elaborate clerical garments. Only when we learn what it means to wash one another's feet and clothe ourselves in humility will we be able to live together in peace and unity.
It is impossible to correctly understand true Christian community without grasping Jesus teaching on humility and servanthood.
Our Lord's repeated insistence on humility and servanthood teaches us at least three important truths.
1° God hates pride.
Proverbs says, "Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 16:5a). Those are strong words.
In the list of seven sins that God especially hates, pride is at the top (Proverbs 6:16-19).
James says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
God hates pride so much that He gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him from exalting himself and to force him to be dependent on his Creator (2 Corinthians 12).
One of the awful things about pride is that it deceives us; we may think we are serving God, when in reality we are serving ourselves.
2° Christ's repeated teaching on humble servanthood proves how difficult it is for the human heart to understand humility.
Our Lord often repeated His teaching on humble servanthood because the disciples failed to understand what He was saying. Pride and selfishness continually strive to dominate and deceive the human heart. Many of the ugly divisions, power struggles, wounded feelings, and petty jealousies in our churches and personal relationships exist because we are not truly humble, loving servants.
We may talk about humble servanthood, but pride and selfishness guide much of our thinking and behavior.
The history of Christianity clearly reveals that those who lose sight of Christ's spirit of humility, love, and servanthood quickly revert to the world's proud, selfish, and authoritarian ways.
So we need to constantly pray that we will be humble minded.
We need to gladly accept the situations and problems that God allows in our lives so that He can break us of our pride and selfishness.
3° Our Lord's repeated teaching shows us the ideal characteristics of the Christian community and its leadership.
Humility and servanthood are vital qualities because they express the mind and disposition of God's beloved Son.
God calls upon us to emulate His Son’s character: "Do nothing from selfish or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, . . . taking the form of a bond-servant, . . . humbled Himself ..." (Philippians 2:3-8).
Despite these wonderful words, we have to admit that too much of the Lord's work is marked by pride and strife. Many Christians are characterized by an independent spirit.