Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Humility, Servant Leader
Volume 6 No. 363 August 19, 2016
II. Lectionary Reflections

Contemporary Commentary on Mark 10:35-45

by Dr. Matt Skinner

Associate Professor of New Testament
Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise."

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36 And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

38 Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 39 And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

This passage plays a key role in the Gospel according to Mark's understanding of why Jesus dies and what his death means.

It describes the Christian gospel and the community it creates as utterly different from the "business as usual" we encounter all around us.

James and John (Mark 10:35-40)

In the preceding scene (Mark 10:32-34), Jesus gives his final and most detailed prediction of his trial, suffering, death, and resurrection (compare the less formal references to death yet to come in Mark 14:8, 17-28). He is about to enter Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11) and confront the temple-based aristocracy. James and John request privileged places of authority in seats at Jesus' right and left. In doing so, the sons of Zebedee appear to have missed everything Jesus has said and done since Mark 8:27, except maybe for the transfiguration in Mark 9:2-8. They recognize that glorification awaits Jesus. The authority he has exhibited in his ministry will lead to something big, perhaps to a royal rule, and they conspire to capitalize on that.

When Jesus softly chastises the two for their ignorance and speaks about "the cup" he must drink (see Mark 14:36) and "the baptism" he must undergo, he reiterates that violence and death await him in Jerusalem. Such is his role, corresponding to the paradoxical nature of his kingship, according to which he will die as an utterly despised and powerless "king." Mark's Gospel emphasizes that such rejection and death are inevitable and required, because of who Jesus is, because of the boundary-breaking character of his ministry, and because those who wield power in the world will do all they can to protect themselves and their prerogatives from the implications of that ministry.

Tyrants, Servants, and Freedom (Mark 10:41-45)

Although James and John affirm their willingness to endure suffering with Jesus, he waits until later to explain that they will fail to do so in the immediate future (Mark 14:26-50). Instead, in Mark 10:41-45, he addresses their desire for power and prestige. He comments on the nature of human power - the kind of power that will soon crush him in the political spectacle of his trial and execution - and on the meaning of his death. He puts his life and death, along with the lives and sufferings of his followers, in complete opposition to such expressions of power. (1)

James and John are not the only disciples enticed by visions of a triumphant reign, for the rest of the Twelve fume over the brothers' bid to outflank them in prominence. Jesus corrects their vision by holding up the conventions of gentile (Roman) sociopolitical authorities as negative examples. They regularly "overpower" and "tyrannize" others (Mark 10:42). They rely on coercion and control to maintain their dominance and prerogatives. Mark has already provided a stark example in the story of John the Baptizer's death (Mark 6:14-29), in which self-interest and self-protection trump justice to ensure John's demise. Jesus' trial in Mark 14:53-15:15 will manifest a similar kind of strong-armed political theater.

In absolute contrast, greatness among Jesus' followers is measured by their ability to live as servants and slaves, even if that life means suffering oppression at the hands of those who wield power. Jesus has spoken in similar terms in Mark 9:33-37, where he compares himself to a child, an image of powerlessness and vulnerability. He will embody such subjection in his passion, when he affirms the promise of his glorification (Mark 14:62) but nevertheless forgoes the power to control his fate or to prevail over others.

Jesus' final line - "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" - connects to his preceding words about service and enslavement, indicating that his death will be exemplary for such a way of living. His death will exemplify the violence and resistance his teaching and ministry elicit from those who hold power over society, and it will exemplify a radical renunciation of authority and privilege, as these things are normally constructed (see Mark 8:34-36). What makes the renunciation so radical is the identity of the one who does it: Jesus, God's own uniquely authorized agent.

At the same time, Jesus' mention of a "ransom" indicates that his death will be more than just an inspiring example or a martyr's tragic protest against an unjust system. The word in question (in Greek, lytron) indicates that his death does something; it secures a release. This verse often sparks lively debates, and it has a history of, in my opinion, being misunderstood by those who take the notion of a "ransom" to mean a specific type of payment. In those readings, Jesus' death is transactional, a payment made to satisfy the penalties accrued by human sin or to repay something owed to God.

However, the explicit context in which this statement appears is about power and servitude, not the problem of sin or the need to secure forgiveness. Furthermore, the Old Testament (Septuagint) usage of lytron and its cognates, while sometimes referring to a redemption or purchased freedom, just as frequently refers to God's acting to deliver people. A lytron is a liberation wrought by divine strength, not by payment (see examples of lytron cognates in Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 15:15; 2 Samuel 7:23; Psalm 69:18; Isaiah 43:14).

Jesus therefore declares (without stopping to clarify precisely how) that God, through Jesus' death, will free people from oppression and captivity to another power, restoring them to membership in the community that corresponds to God's reign.

All this provokes a few questions:

From whom or what does Jesus' death deliver people?

According to the immediate context, it delivers from the constellations of social and political power that human beings concoct to control each other. According to the wider sweep of Mark's Gospel, it delivers from demonic powers that enslave the world and resist God's purposes (Mark 1:23-24; 3:27). According to the story of the passion and resurrection, God defeats the power of death itself.

What about sin and forgiveness?

The Gospel of Mark promises forgiveness, to be sure. Repentance and forgiveness are part of Jesus' proclamation and ministry (Mark 1:4; 2:5; 3:38). But Mark presents these topics as subordinate pieces in a more comprehensive apocalyptic showdown that sees the cosmos and human existence transformed by the incursion of God's reign and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Who benefits?

The mention of Jesus as a ransom on behalf of many emphasizes the contrast between many and the one who acts on their behalf. Here, "many" has the sense of "all" or "everyone," which is in keeping with the cosmic scope of Mark's apocalyptic drama.


1 For a very good concise analysis of Mark's treatment of Jesus' death, see: Sharyn Dowd and Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, "The Significance of Jesus' Death in Mark: Narrative Context and Authorial Audience," Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (2006): 271-97; available online: My reading of Mark 10:41-45 shares much in common with this essay's.

© 2010 Luther Seminary

When Jesus Gives His Life as a Ransom, He Frees Us to Serve Others as Slaves of Christ

by Dr. Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman

Gospel: Mark 10:32-45

Technically, Mark 10: 32-34 repeat what Jesus had already said in Mark 8:31 and 9:31, viz., predicting his suffering, death, and resurrection. From a simple story perspective, only one of these three predictions is necessary to confirm Jesus' awareness of what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. From a narrative perspective, however, the threefold pronouncements are a way of asserting its reliability and inevitability, and each one individually is important in providing a stark contrast to what precedes or follows it.

The first instance in Mark 8:31 is sandwiched between Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Peter's rebuke of Jesus for announcing his death. The second in Mark 9:31 is immediately followed by the disciples' argument about who was the greatest. We are prepared, therefore to expect some contrasting misunderstanding following Jesus' statement in Mark 10:33f.

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.

This time, it is James and John who follow Jesus' pronouncement with a request that shows how little they have learned. Instead of acknowledging Jesus' anticipation of suffering and death, they imagine a triumphant, regal scene with themselves sitting in positions of honor and power at King Jesus' right and left. It is not a matter of leaping to an expectation of the glory of the post-resurrection Jesus. (According to Mark 9:10, they do not understand what a "rising from the dead" means.) They simply have not heard Jesus at all -- or refused to hear the dire news -- even though he has repeated the prediction three times.

Jesus replies, doubtless with considerable exasperation, that they don't have a clue what they are asking for. Can they drink the same "cup" of suffering and death he must drink, a cup that he himself will later ask be removed if possible? (14:36) Can they be baptized with the same baptism Jesus is to endure? (Beyond a metaphorical symbol for suffering, Jesus' reference to a "baptism" is unclear. Perhaps Mark's audience would understand it in the same way that Paul talks about being baptized into Christ Jesus' death in Romans 6:3f.) Still clueless, James and John affirm that they can, but, surprisingly, Jesus says that they will. (By the time that Mark is written, James will have been killed by Herod Agrippa I in 44 C.E. for his role as a leader in the Jerusalem church. The fate of John is uncertain, though traditionally it was reported that he lived into old age in Ephesus.) Nonetheless, positions of honor are not Jesus' to give. James and John may have been thinking of something along the lines of being with Jesus in glory like Moses and Elijah were at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8), but in Mark, the only ones to be at Jesus' left and right will be the bandits crucified with him when he is "enthroned" as "The King of the Jews." (Mark 15:27)

Predictably, and rehashing the disciples' dispute about greatness in Mark 9:33-37, when the others hear what James and John did, they get angry. Jesus has to call them together and tries to describe how the dominion of God is different than the dominions of the world. He refers to those who are regarded as rulers in the pagan world of the Roman Empire. (The text specifically adds the "regarded as" modifier.) They "lord it over" their subjects, and the verb here uses the same root as is used to refer to the real "Lord." Their great ones exercise authority as tyrants, an authority that stands in contrast to the edifying and restorative authority displayed by Jesus. (1:22, 27; 2:10)

Once again, Jesus tries to redefine what it means to be first and great. In Mark 9:35 and 10:31 Jesus had said that to be first required being last and servant of all. In Mark 9:36-37 and 10:13-16 he had demonstrated what this looks like in God's dominion as he welcomed children. Here in Mark 10:43-44 he repeats the concept. To be great is to be a servant (diakonos). That certainly challenges normal expectations, but even in antiquity, there was appreciation for rulers who provided public service. Jesus pushes matters to an extreme, however, when he goes on to say that to be first is to be a slave (doulos) of all. Slaves were at the bottom of the social ladder, and there was no honor or reward in working for others as a slave.

This concept is not simply a theoretical proposition, nor is it given as a command only to Jesus' disciples. In 10:45 Jesus indicates what it means for himself. Like his disciples, he did not come to be served but to serve. But Jesus is more than an exemplary servant. He also came "to give his life as a ransom for many." This phrase is important for thinking about how Jesus understood his ministry. It has often been read in comparison with the "servant" in Isaiah 53 and used to think of Jesus' death in terms of a substitutionary atonement or as a guilt offering for the sins of the world. Perhaps, but there is nothing here about appeasing God or providing a sacrifice. Rather, it's better to think of Jesus as one who takes the form of a slave himself and was obedient to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2.6-8!) thereby providing the ransom that frees us who were slaves of this world and captive to death.

Bob Dylan was right. "You're gonna have to serve somebody." When Jesus gives his life as a ransom, he frees us not to become great as the world understands greatness, but to serve others as slaves of Christ. And that really is great for us!

About The Author:

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman is the Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Gettysburg, Penn.

Greatness, Humility, Servanthood

by John Piper

Gospel: Mark 10:32–45

Gospel Humility

This message is about the humility that defines a person who is transformed by the gospel of Jesus. It's about gospel humility.

The reason I am talking about it is that I want to be humble and to see this church marked by humility. As a church, we are human, we are large, we are widely known, and we are sinners. That's a very dangerous mix. It has almost all the ingredients that go into the recipe of pride.

Humility That God Sees

I know that the best and humblest person who has walked the earth was tortured to death because he was accused of blasphemous arrogance. "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him because . . . he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18). So I don't expect his followers will ever be able to avoid the accusation of arrogance. If you are the humblest outspoken witness for Jesus as the only way to God, you will be accused of arrogance.

So avoiding that is not my aim in this message. What I want to avoid is the reality of pride. I want there to be real humility in me, and in this staff and these elders and this church - the kind of humility that God sees and that spiritually discerning people see, even if the world doesn't see it.

Getting a Sense of What Humility Is

What I would like to do first is not to start with a definition of humility but with six passages of Scripture and a brief comment about each. I think what will come out of these texts is a sense of what humility is. Then I will draw out some implications for us as a church. And close with the question why this is so important and try to answer some objections that the world has to humility.

First, then, six texts that open us up to what God means by humility.

1. 1 Corinthians 1:26–31

Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

My point here is that humility agrees and is glad that God gets all the credit for choosing us and calling us according to his purposes, not our merit. And he does this (v. 29) "so that no human being might boast in the presence of God," but that (v. 31) the one who boasts might boast in the Lord. Humility agrees and is glad that God acts in a way to take the focus of all boasting away from man and put it on himself. Are you happy about that? Are you glad God does it that way? Humility is glad about that.

2. 1 Corinthians 4:6–7

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Humility agrees and is glad that everything we have is a free gift of God, and that this severs the root of boasting in our distinctives. Whatever talents, whatever intelligence, what ever skills, whatever gifts, whatever looks, whatever pedigree, whatever possessions, whatever wit, whatever influence you have, put away all pride because it is a gift, and put away all despair because it is a gift from God.

3. James 4:13–17

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" - 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Humility agrees and is glad that God governs the beating of our hearts and our safe arrival at every destination. If we get there, God got us there. And if we don't get there, God willed that we not get there. Humility gets down under this sovereign providence and nestles there gladly.

4. Colossians 3:12–13

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

One of the implications of this text is that our humble willingness to forgive others their offenses is rooted in God's forgiveness of us through Jesus. In other words, Christian humility is rooted in the gospel. True humility is gospel humility. It is not just copying Jesus in his willingness to die for others; it is enabled by Jesus because he died for us. Humility is rooted in the gospel.

5. Philippians 2:3–8

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Humility serves. Humility gets down low and lifts others up. Humility looks to the needs of others and gives time and effort to help with those needs. Jesus took the form of a servant and humbled himself, even to the point of death. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Humility measures everything it does by whether it serves the good of other people. Am I feeding my ego or am I feeding the faith of others? Humility serves.

6. Mark 10:42–44

Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Humility agrees and is glad that this servanthood is true greatness. Verses 43–44: "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all."

In Sum

So to sum up,

1. Humility is glad that God gets all the credit for choosing us so that we boast only in him and not man.

2. Humility happily admits that everything we have is a free gift from God, so that we can't boast in it.

3. Humility is glad to affirm that God sovereignly governs our heartbeats and safe arrivals, or non-arrivals.

4. The root of Christian humility is the gospel that Christ died for our sins. That's how sinful I was. That's how dependent I am.

5. Humility gives itself away in serving everyone, rather than seeking to be served.

6. And humility is glad to affirm that this service is true greatness.

If God would work this humility in us - O how freely we would serve each other. One of the reasons I am praying and preaching toward humility is that the church survives and thrives by servanthood. Every member of Christ is gifted in someway to serve.

The All-Pervasive Effects of Humility

Without humility we won't serve, or we will serve for the wrong reasons. It seems almost impossible to overstate how pervasive are the effects of humility in our lives. Listen to the way John Calvin describes the importance of humility:

I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, "The foundation of our philosophy is humility;" and still more with those of Augustine, "As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility."
(John Calvin, Institutes 2.2.11)

Why is that? Why is humility so pervasive as to be the first, second, and third precept of Christianity? It is the work of God under everything that makes all other good things in Christianity possible. For example:


Would anyone depend on Christ as a needy, weak, and sinful person, if God hadn't made him humble?


Would anyone earnestly make much of the worth of God, instead of craving to be made much of himself, if God hadn't made him humble?


Would anyone surrender his autonomy and submit obediently to the absolute authority of Scripture, if God had not made him humble?


Would anyone seek the good of others at great cost to himself, if God hadn't made him humble?

And on and on it goes. Every good thing in the Christian life grows in the soil of humility. Without humility, every virtue and every grace withers. That's why Calvin said humility is first, second, and third in the Christian faith. And he could have said fourth, fifth, sixth, and more. It is pervasively effective.

Answering the World's Objections

So in closing, and to give you a fuller flavor of what the humble life is like, let me try to answer briefly a few objections that the world may have to this emphasis on humility.

Objection 1: Humility makes a person gloomy, dismal, downcast, unhappy

Answer: No. Gospel humility frees you from the need to posture and pose and calculate what others think, so that you are free to laugh at what is really funny with the biggest belly laugh. Proud people don't really let themselves go in laughter. They don't get red in the face and fall off chairs and twist their faces into the contortions of real free laughter. Proud people need to keep their dignity. The humble are free to howl with laughter.

Objection 2: Humility makes you fearful and timid

Answer: No. The world thinks that, because they think the best source of courage is self-confidence. It's not. God-confidence is the best source of courage. And only humble people lean on God for confidence. "I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker" (Isaiah 51:12–13). In other words, fear of man is a sign of pride, not gospel humility.

Objection 3: Humility makes you passive and removes the driving motor of achievement

Answer: No. The world thinks that, because for them the driving motor of achievement is feeding the ego with accomplishments. But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "By the grace of God I am what I am . . . I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

The power of God's grace in the heart of the humble believer who depends utterly on God produces incredible energy and industry. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12–13).

Joy, Courage, and Industry

Gospel humility, grace-based humility, Jesus-exalting humility, does not make you gloomy, or timid, or passive. It makes you joyful, and courageous and industrious.

It makes you a servant - like Jesus. Only God can do it. And he does it through Jesus in the gospel. May he work this in us and unleash a tidal wave of service in our church and in the world. Amen.

©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

The Greatness of Service

by R.C. Sproul

Gospel: Mark 10:41–44

"Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all'"
(Mark 10: 42–44).

Greatness—at one level or another, it is something that almost everyone aspires to. We seek to make our marks on this world, to be known for our accomplishments as parents, employees, and citizens. So important to human beings is the pursuit of greatness that many people fall into deep depression when they believe themselves unable to obtain personal greatness. James and John, sons of Zebedee and two of Jesus' original disciples, aspired to greatness, asking our Savior to give them positions of honor in His kingdom (Mark 10:35–37). Few people can tolerate those who blatantly seek to advance themselves. Unsurprisingly, then, the other disciples were indignant with James and John after hearing the brothers' request (v. 41).

Christ, at least in the interchange recorded in Mark 10:35–44, never condemned James and John for their desire to be great. Neither did He tell the other disciples that James and John were wrong to pursue greatness. This reveals that greatness in itself is not a bad thing. Indeed, we should aspire to greatness. After all, Christ does all things well, and He is the supreme model for Christians to imitate (7:37; 1 Cor. 11:1).

The pursuit of greatness is not inherently wrong; we sin by not understanding or pursuing what Jesus defines as true greatness. The citizens of Christ's kingdom do not seek greatness in order to achieve power over others—that is what citizens of worldly kingdoms do (Mark 10:42–43a). Instead, Christians pursue greatness in order to better serve others, to meet the needs of other believers. Greatness in the kingdom of God comes by submitting ourselves to one another, by looking for what we can give and not for what we can gain (v. 44b). John Calvin comments, "Let the only greatness, eminence, and rank, which you desire, be, to submit to your brethren; and let this be your primacy, to be the servants of all."

Of course, Christ Himself provides the supreme example of what it means to serve others (v. 45). His willingness to pay the ransom to free us from our sins is the greatest act of service in all of history. He had every right to refuse to come to our rescue. He could have used His power and glory to advance Himself at the expense of others. But He humbled Himself and paid the price of justice that God demanded for us to be freed from our sins (Rom. 2:5–11). Though we cannot atone for sin, we can serve others according to our distinct callings. In so doing, we will find greatness.

Coram Deo

Are we seeking self-promotion? Do we aspire to greatness and think that the way to get there is to step on people on our way up the ladder? If so, then we have not understood Jesus' teaching on true greatness. Whatever authority we have, we must exercise it in order to meet the needs of others. We should be asking what we can do for others, not what we can do for ourselves.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 39:1–6
Matthew 23:1–11
Galatians 5:13–15
1 Peter 5:1–4

Source: Ligonier.Org

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective S.E.R.V.A.N.T Leader

by Eyriche Cortez

Scripture: Mark 10:42-10:43

One of the songs we sang today is "Make Me a Servant." I pray that that is our prayer. "Lord, make me a servant today." Last time I preached, we saw that serving is a high calling. We are to lead different from this world. Jesus told us that, though the world seeks power leadership, we are to seek servant-leadership.

"Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant".[1]

We are to serve in order to lead. We lead by serving. We are called to be servant-leaders.

Now what does a servant-leader look like? What should come to our mind when we think of servant-leaders? I believe there are at least seven habits or practices of a highly effective servant leader. I came up with these seven habits when I sought to identify what qualities should be seen in a member of our church.

There are so many qualities mentioned in the Bible. We have to admit we can't develop all of them in our lives. We can get so overwhelmed we don't even know where to start.

When the core of the English Worship came up with our mission statement, we also came up with seven key result areas so we can measure how we are fulfilling our mission. These key result areas gave us ideas on what qualities we want to develop in a member of Makati Gospel Church. Based on those key result areas, I came up with the acrostic S-E-R-V-A-N-T. As we go through each habit, let us rate ourselves 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

The first habit is SERVES the Lord.

We see here a person who serves the needs of others with all his heart. Philippians 2:4 describes this person: "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." He makes the most of his time, talents and treasures in serving the Lord through serving others.

When we talk about serving the Lord, we are talking about "full-time" service. But I am not just talking about resigning from your present job and becoming a pastor. If that's the leading of the Lord for you, fine. But that's not what I am talking about. I believe all of us are called to "full-time" service because we are all "full-time" Christians in our present spheres of influence, where we are right now. Colossians 3:23 command us, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men". Note the word "whatever." Whether you are a CEO, a manager, a supervisor, or one of the employees, you serve the Lord by excelling in your work. I was sad when a businessman-friend told me he had to fire a Christian because he was not performing well. In fact, he even told me that it seems it is not a guarantee that you can trust a person to do his job well just because he is a believer. That should change. It is my dream that you would even receive a model employee of the year award. So, rate yourselves 1 to 10 on this habit.

The second habit is EMPOWERS others.

We see here a person who intentionally helps others to grow in their faith to the point that they would build others also. 2 Timothy 2:2 tells us, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." In the corporate world, this is called "mentoring" or "coaching." Of course, before you can mentor somebody, you have to find a mentor yourself. A mentor is basically a trusted friend or counselor who is usually one who has more experience.[2] In a company, a newcomer is paired with a more experienced employee to set an example to him and give advice as needed as he moves up the corporate ladder.

We need to find godly, more experienced people who would help us grow spiritually. Titus 2:3 to 5 give us an example: "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." Mentors keep us accountable and challenge us to go beyond ourselves. I have my mentors like Rev. Philip Tarroja and Rev. Clem Guillermo who helped me a lot in my ministry as a pastor. Now you don't have to be way ahead before you mentor somebody. You just have to be a step ahead. You don't even have to be older than the person you are mentoring. We can also have peer-to-peer mentoring. Is there such a person in your life? Other than rating yourself 1 to 10, do you already have a mentor? If you don't have one, find one. If you think you already can, do you have somebody to mentor? I personally mentor some people inside and even outside the church in preaching.

The third habit is REACHES the seekers.

She is a person who strategically shares the Gospel with seekers in her sphere of influence through words and works. First Peter 3:15 commands us, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect". Have you ever led somebody to put his or her trust in the Lord for salvation?

Now, when we think of evangelism, we usually think of actually sharing the Gospel as in opening a Four Spiritual Laws booklet. Some of us enjoy doing that. There are excellent trainings available for us if we want to learn how to share the Gospel to others. I personally believe every believer has to learn at least one Gospel presentation. But, there are times, we have to admit, we find it hard to start a conversation about spiritual matters.

There's more to evangelism than presenting the Gospel. We can partner together to reach people for the Lord. We can do the "Invest and Invite" strategy.[3] You do what we find hard to do. Invite your friends and relatives. We can't do that for you. They don't know us. They know you. So, invest yourself in developing meaningful relationships with them with the intent to invite them to an event like our English Worship Service or our Youth or Couples' Saturday Fellowship where we expose them to the Good News. Then we do what you find hard to do. We share the Gospel to them. That's our "Invest and Invite" partnership. We don't have to know everything. We don't have to know all the answers to their questions. We just have to be there for them. We just have to know them more. Of course, that doesn't mean we do all the talking. We provide you a message discussion guide every Sunday. After the worship service, invite your friend for lunch and then use the discussion guide to talk to your friend about what he heard here in our service. You can also help us in following them up. You can call or text them and invite them again to our worship service. If your friend needs counseling, connect your friend to one of people in the care team. Write the name of the person you would do the "Invest and Invite" strategy. So, what's your rating on this habit?

The fourth habit is VALUES the Word.

Here's a person who consistently grows in obeying the Bible in his daily life and ministry. John 8:31 to 32 tell us, "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" Note that we are His disciples not when we know a lot about His Word. We are really His disciples when we hold on His teachings. When we obey His Word then and only then we will know the truth. When we obey the truth then and only then the truth sets us free. Knowing the truth has to do with obedience, not just with understanding it. I have always taught you that God gave us His Word to change our lives, not just to increase our knowledge. God gave us the Bible for transformation, not just information.

One area where we can gauge if we really value the Word is when we make decisions. It's not as simple as asking, "What does the Bible say about this or that issue?" We tend to assume that if we can't find a verse about it, then we can do it. But the Bible does not work like a fortune cookie. It is not as simple as asking, "Is there a verse that talks about my problem?" The Bible teaches us to ask, "What is the wise thing to do?" We are to value the Word. Again, rate yourselves 1 to 10 on this habit.

The fifth habit is ADORES God in worship.

He is a person who faithfully participates in the corporate worship of God. Like David, he declares, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'"[4] He makes worship time with the Lord and with the brethren a priority. One of the Ten Commandments is, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God."[5] Now, because the Lord Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, we now reserve Sunday as a day of worship instead of Saturday. But the principle of the Sabbath commandment still holds true. We are to set apart a day of worship. We always excuse ourselves when we are absent, "The Lord will understand." I just wonder how come it is always the Lord Who have to adjust and not us, Who have to understand and not us? I know that there are some occasions that we need to be absent in the worship service. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we can always find such an occasion to miss the worship service. All of us need a vacation. But keep in mind that the Lord is more interested in our character than in our comfort.

I'm glad there are some of you here who went to the extent of not opening their store on a Sunday to honor the Lord's Day. I even heard of a dear sister who told her boss that she can't work on Sundays at the risk of her promotion. Let me clarify that those are personal convictions. I believe God will honor your commitments. I will not judge those of you who have to conduct business on a Sunday. We have to personally settle those issues with God. Ultimately, our public worship is a reflection of our private worship. We are to live lives of worship, growing in our love for God more and more. So, how do we rate ourselves on this habit?

The sixth habit is NETWORKS with believers.

Here's a person who actively builds relationships with fellow believers through mutual encouragement in the context of a small group. Hebrews 10:24-25 tell us, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Such encouraging one another happens more effectively in the context of a small group.

We ask you to join a small group of up to 12 people where we can discuss how we can apply what we are learning and where we can be held accountable. That is the reason why we provide a message discussion guide every Sunday. You can agree to meet with two other people, have a meal or coffee together, share concerns, pray for one another, and discuss our action plans in response to the message. Our couples' fellowship for example watches the "I Promise" video series by Gary Smalley every Saturday and then break into groups to share their thoughts. If you and your spouse are also available on Tuesday nights, around 8PM, I just started a couples' small group in Binondo. Just approach me after the service if you are interested. So, do you already have a small group? If you don't have one, then you can only rate yourself zero. But if you do have one, rate your involvement from 1 to 10.

The last habit is THRIVES in prayer.

We see here a person who regularly devotes time to prayer in personal and group settings. James 5:16 commands us, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." When our Lord Jesus cleansed the Temple, He said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer".[6] Yes, we have so many activities going on in our church. But, I just wonder, if the Lord visits us, will He see us as a house of prayer?

We invite you to plug in. We have a prayer meeting here in the church building every Tuesday night at 6PM and every Sunday morning at 930AM after the worship service and before our Sunday school. We also hold special prayer events. I pray that most, if not all, of us will be involved in the prayer life of our church. Again, our corporate prayer is a reflection of our private prayer. Do you see prayer as a burden or a blessing? A task rather than a thrill? An obligation rather than a passion? So, how do we rate ourselves?

Now, look at the seven habits. Which is your weakest habit? Let us ask ourselves, "What can we do to strengthen this weak habit? What can we do in the next 30 days to work on this area?" In the next months, we will look at a habit per month. Every message will be geared towards a particular habit. It is our prayer that all of us will become a highly effective servant leader. Let us pray…


[1] Mark 10:42-43. All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.


[3] Thanks to Andy Stanley for this evangelistic strategy. For more info, read "Can We Do That?" a book he co-authored with Ed Young.

[4] Psalm 122:1

[5] Exodus 20:8-10.

[6] Matthew 22:13

Copyright 2003-2010 Outreach Inc., All rights reserved.

James, John, Jesus and my Great Aunt Esther

by Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word

Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

When I was a child, my imagination had painted a picture of heaven --- one which may well have been informed by the interaction between James and John and Jesus shared today.

Now it is so that before the age of eight, I had little reason to think much of heaven. And then my Great Aunt Esther died.

Now Esther was my grandmother's sister. Grandma Anderson had died just a few months before I was born, so Aunt Esther was the closest thing I ever knew to a grandmother.

This is what I knew of Esther:

  • She was not educated by the world's standards. Like many in her generation, she had only completed eight years of formal schooling.

  • Her husband, Glenn, was a laborer --- all of his life he worked hard.

  • They lived in a small gray house by the railroad tracks. As a child, I loved to lie on the couch in their living room and listen to the trains rumble by. (This, of course, is only 'magic' to a child!)

  • I can close my eyes to this day, almost fifty years later, and see the hutch in the dining room which held a thousand treasures for small hands. Indeed, I can still feel the nubs on that brown couch against my face.

  • Esther was a person of deep faith. She lived out that faith in many ways, I'm certain, but I especially remember when we went to visit, my sisters and I would clamor to go to her Sunday School class at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Waukesha. It didn't matter if we were older than the other children in her classroom, it was where we wanted to be. In fact, Esther taught that class for more than forty years.

And I remember this: an emergency trip to Wisconsin when my cousin, Michael, was killed in Viet Nam. My mother was urgently trying to get there to be with her sister. I insisted on going along.

The grief that marked that journey was lost on the six year old I was then. I just knew I didn't want to stay at home with my sisters and the inevitable 'baby-sitter' who would watch over us while my dad had to be at work. And I knew there would be people who loved me well on the other end of that drive. In fact, perhaps it would be forgotten altogether if not for this. In that time before seat belts and child car seats, my mother had to come to a sudden stop and my face had an abrupt meeting with the dashboard, blackening an eye and loosening some teeth. After having me checked out by her old doctor (no doubt, a detour that was not appreciated that day), my mother dropped me off at Esther's who sat with me on the couch and held ice wrapped in a towel against my face. These many years later I remember her tenderness.

Aunt Esther was a servant --- not only to me, but to many. When she died, I had my first taste of grief. And when picturing what had become of her, I was confident she was sitting at the right hand of Jesus.

Now it is so that I shake my head a little bit today at my childhood conclusions. For I don't really believe any more that heaven is the kind of place where God has kept track and your assigned 'seat' depends on the score you had accumulated over a lifetime on earth. And even if this were so, probably every one of us has an Aunt Esther who we are certain deserves that special place of honor at Jesus' right hand.

It is also so that even as James and John spoke, they were probably not thinking of some kind of afterlife. No, we can be pretty certain that they were imagining a time in the then not too far distant future here on earth where they might just be rewarded with seats of honor for being among the first to follow after Jesus.

And yet, even having said all this, as I hear Jesus' response to James and John today, it is possible that as an eight year old, perhaps I was on to something --- even if my picture of 'heaven' reflected the imagination of a small child. Indeed, from what I knew of her, Aunt Esther was exactly what Jesus calls us to be. She followed Jesus with the simple gifts and ordinary life she had been given. And in doing so, she simply served. Indeed, as you can tell, I was the recipient of her devotion. From my own experience I knew that she made small children feel safe and loved.

Not that it was probably as easy as she made it appear.

  • For of course, I have no way of knowing this for sure, but don't you think she would have liked to have at least finished high school?

  • Don't you imagine there were days when she wished she didn't have to work so hard to get her husband's work clothes clean? Or that he had a job which paid just a little more?

  • Don't you suppose she wished for a house that didn't shake with every passing train?

  • Don't you think she thought from time to time that she deserved more? Perhaps she even wondered if it wasn't about time someone started serving her.

Maybe Esther thought all these things at one time or another --- even as James and John appear to be doing today. Maybe she carried those disappointments deep in her heart. All I know is they never showed. She must have learned to let them go. For all we remember of her is that she loved us well. Indeed, over time, it seems to me, Esther became exactly the sort of follower Jesus calls us to today.

Perhaps it is so that like James and John, you and I are only at the beginning of understanding the demands of this call to follow Jesus. And no, maybe none of us will ever get it completely right. At the same time, we are so blessed to have in Jesus the perfect model of what this journey looks like at its most faithful. And yes, we are also fortunate to be able to look back on our lives to see others like my Great Aunt Esther, who embraced what it was to serve.

And so I wonder now:

  • Who is your "Aunt Esther?" Who taught you what it is to serve?

  • What other examples can you offer of those who have drunk the cup that Jesus drank or were baptized with his baptism? How does their witness inform your life?

  • How do the words of Jesus now shape your understanding of what it is to follow him? What will it mean to you to be baptized with his baptism or to drink the cup that Jesus drank? How shall you be a servant?


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