Sermon: Eternal Servant Leadership


Given 24-Dec-11; 36 minutes

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If we stand firm in God's commandments, expressing them spiritually as well as in the letter, we are exercising the love of God the Father and the Son. We are commanded to love one another as Jesus Christ has loved us, being willing to lay down our lives for those who will follow us. In order to stand firm, we must reciprocate the love given to us, doing the works He has given us, using the gifts He has given us, becoming profitable servants. The prayer Jesus offered on the eve of His crucifixion demonstrates the degree of intimacy and love Jesus intended for all of His called-out ones. We must cultivate the sacrificial agape love, replacing self-will with God's will, continually producing spiritual fruit. Our responsibility should be to learn to serve rather than to emulate the pompous gentile leaders who love to domineer over their subjects. In our preparation for priests and kings serving under Christ, it behooves us to learn to: (1) recognize the needs, but not wants of others, fulfilling the needs of those we serve, (2) setting our will according to God's divine purpose, (3) mirroring the attributes of I Corinthians 13, including patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, and honesty, all attributes of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual success depends upon emulating these attributes of agape love, bringing glory to our Great God.



Please turn to John 15:9-10:

John 15:9-10 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue you in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

With the very same love the Father has for the Son, the Son has for us and we can only continue in that love as we abide in their commandments. The word “continue” in verse 9 is the same word used for “abide” in verse 10, “mevnw,” number 3306 in Strong’s which means to abide, continue, dwell, endure, remain, stand firm. Continuing in the love of the Father and the Son means standing firm within their commandments. This is the base from which all true disciples of Jesus Christ must operate. They will continue within the love of the Father and the Son so long as they will stand firm within their commandments. The very basic outline of those commandments is found in the Ten Commandments that fundamentally express the mind, character, and love of God. Standing firm within these is rudimentary to our love of the Father and the Son. As we know from the words of Jesus expressed most prominently in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, these must be filled out with an ever- growing understanding of the spirit of these commandments; by the way we apply them to every aspect of our daily lives under the direction of the holy spirit of the Father and the Son that dwells within each of us. However, that spirit can only dwell in each of us as we are continuing to apply the ever-expanding understanding the Father and the Son have guaranteed to provide us. This is a bit of a conundrum, but nonetheless the truth of God’s word as the apostle Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:21. We must prove it and then live it. In other words, prove it, and then use it or lose it.

John 15:11-16 These things have I spoken unto you [this is Jesus speaking to His disciples], that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant does not know what the lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

We are commanded to love one another just as Jesus loves us, laying down our lives for one another and for those who will come after us by following the perfect example He left for us in every aspect of what He lived and taught as the exact radiating image of the Father. He was the physical living word of God and we are given enough recorded information of the life He led, so that we could follow His example in word and deed, so that we can know the very mind of the Father.

The consequences of not continually working to grow this way are disastrous because as we read in verses 13 and 14, He only died for those who would live as He lives, within every aspect of the letter and the spirit of the law as the Father revealed it to us; these are those who would be His friends. Living within the letter and the spirit of the law under the grace of God is the only way the Father and the Son can dwell in us and produce the fruit, which is necessary to continue living in us. This is the way they make sure that their way of life becomes engraved in our hearts. It is only through the grace of God through Jesus Christ that any of this becomes possible. However, in order to keep moving forward and to stand firm within their love, we must reciprocate their act of sacrificial love by doing the things we have been led to do in order to keep moving.

Those who say there is no work involved and that there is no potential loss of our salvation do not really believe the words and the example of our very Messiah. For instance, Jesus Christ commanded our active participation in a number of things by His word and His own example. Things like full immersion baptism as a sign of our covenant agreement with God, a commanded outward sign of our faith in God’s word to apply the blood of our Savior to wash away the penalty of our previous sins and our commitment to be raised anew to live as He lives. The foot washing and the observance of the Holy Days are a couple of other ones—all physical works to be sure, but steps deemed necessary by our great sovereign Creator as the physical part of what should be a tremendous growth in filling out the whole picture of the love of God that must dwell within us and motivate us to fulfill the purpose of our calling and election to the glory of God.

I am spending most of the time in the introduction of this sermon repeating to you something that we in God’s church already know because I wanted to remind us how critical it is to give due diligence to the gifts God has given us to be profitable servants unto Him; and through this process to continue to develop our relationships with Him and with each other.

Here is another interesting enigma in the Christian life. We are to be profitable servants but Jesus himself said, “I call you no more servants but friends.” We will get back to that in a minute, but first I would like you to turn with me forward two chapters to John 17:1-8.

John 17:1-8 These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said , Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you: As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which you gave me to do. And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world was. I have manifested your name unto the men which you gave me out of the world: yours they were, and you gave them me; and they have kept your word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever you have given me are of yours. For I have given unto them the words which you gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from you, and they have believed that you did send me.

Here Christ is allowing us the privilege of listening in on the most intimate of conversations He was having with His Father about us in the most pivotal moment of their plan and purpose. Jesus had finished the work the Father had given Him to do to that point and was making it absolutely clear to those few that the Father had entrusted into His care who God is and what He is doing.

John 17:12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name: those that you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

John 17:15-22 I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as you, Father, art in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.

We need to be constantly reminded of this high calling and what God expects from us. Those disciples and all those called who would believe on Him through their word, including us, are sanctified through the Father by living according to the truth of God in a world driven by the spirit of self-centered contention and deceit.

What I want to do for the remainder of this sermon is look at an aspect of our duty before God to be faithful servants in working to remain within the friendship of the Father and the Son. Within the bounds of this short sermon today, we will not be able to see any more than a snapshot of what we can do to begin to fill in our love for God and neighbor and a couple of examples of what should be our daily work to become more of the servant leaders that God expects us to become.

We are going to look at servant leadership but to start we need to look back at John 15 for a quick look at the words “love,” “servant,” and “friends.” Most of you know that the word for love throughout this section is “agape” or “agapao” depending upon whether it is the noun or verb form, and the word for friends is “philos” which is the noun form of the Greek verb for love, “phileo.” Vines Expository Dictionary writes the following about agape love:

This word is an exercise of divine will and a deliberate choice made without designable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself.

A clear example of this as God Himself has described in Deuteronomy 7.

Deuteronomy 7:6-9 For you art an holy people unto the LORD your God: the LORD your God has chosen you to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, has the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

Vines continues:

Christian love has God for its primary object and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandment. Self-will, that is self-pleasing, is the negation of the love of God.

This love that Jesus therefore requires of us is a carefully thought out, sacrificial love which requires that we set our will, thinking it through and then applying it to our behavior toward God and each other that is according to His will in the letter and the spirit of the law. “Phileo” love on the other hand is the affectionate love that conveys the thought of cherishing the object of affection above all else. Bullinger’s Companion Bible writes “agapao is the cause or ground of phileo.” This is the intimate relationship that comes from setting one’s will to live according to God’s will while at the same time faithfully growing in spiritual acuity as to the very character and purpose of the Father and Son as they dwell in us. Jesus told the apostles, and by extension us, that He no longer called His faithful disciples servants but friends for two reasons: because His friends would be those faithfully seeking to live the letter of the spirit of the law in their own lives, and they would be producing fruit because they would be doing it for the right reasons with continued growth in the grace and knowledge of the plan and purpose of the Lord. However, this assurance of friendship does not negate the role as a servant but rather increases the need for sacrificial service that is the hallmark of the outgoing concern, as Mr. Armstrong used to call it, of God Himself.

Psalm 113:1 Praise you the LORD. Praise, O you servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.

Psalm 113:4-8 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwells on high, who humbles himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth! He raised up the poor out of the dust, and lifted the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.

Our great God is constantly serving His own creation in order to give us everything we need to succeed. There is nothing that He himself does not provide, and this should drive us to do the same. Matthew 20 is the section that records the incident of James’ and John’s mother asking for her two sons to be given places of authority alongside Jesus when He rules; so this really goes beyond just this life and into our work in the Kingdom of God. We see His response to the apostles in verses 25-28. I am going to read this out of the ESV because the words give an emphatic sense of the duty of being a servant, especially in light of the example we have of God himself:

Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV) But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 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 your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

A second word for servant that is translated “slave” is exactly the same word that Christ used for servant in John 15. With this in mind, I would like to spend the short time remaining in this message to talk about servant leaders and our responsibility now to thoughtfully learn to serve; because as I said, it is one of the hallmark qualities of God Himself, and we will be working this way for eternity. Because of the spirit in man, the men of this world often recognize the right way to live and live by it because they see it as a valuable commodity to their own success. This is the case with the idea of servant leadership.

One of the most notable stories of servant leadership is one of the largest and most consistently profitable major airlines in the United States, Southwest Airlines. Under their co-founder and former CEO, Herb Kelleher, servant leadership became an intrinsic part of their corporate culture and they determined at the outset in 1971 that as a vital part of their business model they needed to develop in all their managers leaders who would serve the people who served their customers. One of the three core values of that company became “a servant’s heart” or to put others first. Their business success is legendary because of a number of things, but perhaps most importantly it is because of their commitment to servant leadership. A number of successful companies have developed the same strategy over the years, devoting much time and energy to it.

When I was working, the corporation for which I worked spent many hours and money in training our management teams to learn to become servant leaders. I spent many weeks in classes and seminars learning what needed to be done to be a successful servant leader of the people that were under my responsibility, and much of my time both at work and at home were spent in trying to think through and apply those lessons in everyday situations in order to create an environment that helped motivate success in our business.

Recently I was reading through one of the books that had been part of my required reading in learning this role of a servant leader in the corporate world. As I read through it, I consider that although I had worked at applying many of those principals…how much better I should have done at enhancing the relationships with the people around me at work, and I regretted no longer having that opportunity to use those tools to produce more than I had at the time. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing, but I realized that this is the same thing that God is giving us the opportunity to do right now. However, not doing it now or doing it poorly will have much greater consequences than a marginalized corporate edict does.

I want us to ask ourselves how well we are learning and practicing the very important, holy job of real servant leadership today in preparation for our roles to lead with Christ tomorrow. James C. Hunter in his book The Servant writes:

The foundation of leadership is not power but authority, which is built upon relationships of love, service, and sacrifice. Power can be bought and sold, given and taken away. People can be put into positions of power for right and for wrong reasons because they are someone’s brother-in-law, somebody’s bail, because they inherited money or power. This is never true of authority. Authority is about who you are as a person, your character and the influence you have built with people.

Although this is a business leadership book, the dedication page of James Hunter’s book simply states “To the Glory of God.” How much more should we be actively seeking and practicing servant leadership right now to the glory of God? With this in mind, we will take a look at the principles of this service while understanding that we must practice daily the use of these God-given tools to make an impact now on how we treat one another for the glory of God. I want to use some of the conclusions that these people have reached especially from the book by James Hunter and try to relate them more closely to our responsibilities before God in preparation for our leadership roles with Jesus Christ.

However, I would like to make one thing absolutely clear. Even though these people have reached the profitable conclusion, they are eventually bound for failure to some degree or another because their ultimate focus, no matter how seemingly noble or right, is wrong. Most everything I have been taught in the business sector about servant leadership is to produce something that is ultimately self-serving, even if it extends beyond the bottom line returns and enhances the growth and well-being of others. It actually falls far short of the true agape love, which is ultimately to bring glory to God. Also the world view of servant leadership does not take into account the move from the exercise of deliberate choice and service to others without tender affection to a love that includes the most tender affection and friendship with Jesus Christ and each other because of the revealed mind of God working in us.

Getting back to the basic understanding of servant leadership as proposed in this world…one of the main ways that most men think of leadership is of a business, military, church structure from the top down. Like a pyramid with leadership on the top passing down orders from generals to colonels to majors to captains to lieutenants to sergeants to corporals to foot soldiers doing the fighting.

Servant leadership flips the pyramid over and shows a structure that indicates a leadership support system expanding out from the base up, showing each level of leadership serving the needs of the next. The general, CEO, supports the colonels, vice presidents, who in turn support the majors, captains, lieutenants, middle managers who support the sergeants, corporals, supervisors, who support those on the front lines. Each is working to give to the next group.

They stand under all the tools and support they need in order to get any obstacles out of the way so that those they support can succeed. They are there to meet the needs, not the wants, of those they serve in order to create the best environment for everyone to produce the best results possible for all involved. One of the main ideas of this business model is that it builds a relationship of trust in those who actively participate in its maintenance. It is built on the premise that those in leadership diligently work in considering what those they lead truly need and then supply it.

Notice that they are duty bound to seek and fill the needs, not the wants, of the people, of those they serve because if they provided no more than their individual wishes, this would make them slaves and produce nothing except satisfying everyone’s individual desires, and that certainly does not lead to success working together but fractionalization. It is therefore a servant leader’s obligation to set boundaries and standards and hold those they lead accountable to those standards in order to maintain unity and progress. These all should be very familiar grounds for us, all from the body of Christ. This is the same way that God works with us and expects us to work with others through clearly defined standards and all the tools necessary to keep moving forward. God serves us in supplying our needs, not our wants, and works diligently to keep us on the right track, and He has made it our responsibility to do the same thing for each other.

Getting back to the business model of servant leaders—the people who have developed the framework of the building blocks for good leadership have established a foundation that looks very similar to what God expects from each of us in our work to develop the servant leadership qualities. However, as I said before, without the proper starting point, it is doomed for failure; and this is the major point where we make the right change to the model of servant leadership. The steps that are the building blocks of leadership according to these men are will, upon which is built love, upon which is built service and sacrifice upon which is built authority upon which is leadership. In discussing these qualities, James Hunter writes:

Leadership begins with the will, which is our unique ability as human beings to align our intentions with our actions and choose our behavior. With proper will we can choose to love, which is about identifying and meeting the legitimate needs, not the wants, of those we lead. When we meet the needs of others we will by definition be called upon to serve, even sacrifice. When we serve and sacrifice for others we build authority, or influence, and when we build authority with people then we have earned the right to be called a leader. Leadership boils down to a simple four word definition: “identify and meet needs.”

Here is where the initial step off in the wrong direction is going to end up in some place totally different from where we need to go. The overall process is correct, but with this carnally motivated process, we will only end up in the same place Satan and the demons eventually did. There can be no lasting commitment to this process because eventually it will break down; because the real goal is ultimately self-centered, and when some of the conditions change, so will the commitment. A good example of this is going on right now with the current economic conditions which have changed the employment picture from one of an employees’ market to an employers’ market and has put many workers at the mercy of those who would employ them.

When I was working, many companies were looking for what would give them the edge over other companies. Because of the need for well-motivated employees, many of them chose the course of servant leadership, even though it cost plenty to prepare their teams to do this because it takes a dedicated effort. Now, many corporations that are now basically people driven by human nature, as Mike Ford mentioned last week in his sermonette, have deemed bottom line wealth for the few as the obvious purpose; and with the change in the job market they are abandoning the expensive servant leader commitment and are replacing it, in many instances, with the “owing my soul to the company store” mentality. Because the economic conditions changed, so did the direction of corporate time, money, and energy away from the servant leadership way of business, which has been losing intrinsic value to the profitability of many corporations.

Our commitment to the servant leadership way of life must be founded on the eternal plan and purpose of God. The building blocks of true servant leadership must begin with setting the will, just as laid out in the business model, but with an extremely different focus for us. Here is where we exercise our faith in Christ and John 15 assurance of phileos love, by setting our will according to the revealed plan and purpose of our master within the clear boundaries of His commandments in order to faithfully fulfill all of our obligations of service toward Him and the brethren. This cannot be just another way of doing the business of this world, but an actual inside-out way of life.

Going back to the business model once again, it is going to be a sterling example to us if we remember that our end result needs to be the glory of God. James Hunters book states:

The best teachers, bosses, and mentors all exhibited practically the same qualities that made them have an impact. They were honest and trustworthy, a good role model, caring, committed, a good listener, held people accountable, treated people with respect, gave people encouragement, positive with enthusiastic attitude, appreciated people and created a healthy environment for people to grow and thrive.

These are the exact same things God wants from each of us, and He expects nothing less. Even James Hunter in the book on business management strategy draws the conclusion that these attributes of the most impactful leaders mirror God’s instructions to the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13 (we know it as the love chapter). Turn to that scripture and we will see what he is referring to as the most needed qualities of a servant leader.

I Corinthians 13:4-8 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Here is the list from the book that he draws in the comparison of this description of love to the qualities of leadership. Patience, showing self control; kindness equals giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement; humility equals being authentic and without pretense or arrogance; respectfulness, treating others as important people; selflessness, meeting the needs of others; forgiveness, giving up resentment when wronged; honesty, being free from deception; commitment, sticking to your choices; results, service and sacrifice, setting aside your own wants and needs seeking the greater good for others.

His point throughout the book is that although these are all simple enough attributes, they are only attained and maintained through careful thought and application. Are we as men, women, husbands, wives, children, neighbors, brothers, sisters, workers, employers, and all the other relations, committed to think through and do these things in all of our daily lives, as we are instructed in so many places in the epistles and in the word of Jesus Christ himself?

Are we going to do this because we know God and want to act like He does for His glory? It is interesting in the parable of the talents, as recorded in Matthew 25:14-30—the unprofitable servant is the one who had the false understanding of his master. He was condemned because of his own false image of his master. He could not be a friend of his master because he could not understand or apparently had no desire to put forth the effort to find out the truth. It is also interesting that Jesus reveals the keys to His judgment on the nations following this parable in verses 31-42. The righteous were separated from the unrighteous by acts of service and sacrifice that they had exercised toward others as if unto Christ himself.

The daily Berean this morning was cited from an article by Clyde Finklea having to do with Proverbs 3:5-6 which reads:

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

Clyde’s conclusion at the end of this particular section was that He shall direct your path, suggesting that God will smooth or make straight the road of our lives. This is a promise that God will go before us and remove many of the obstacles from our path. He wants us to be successful so that if we trust Him and follow His instructions, He will lead us forward, sweeping many of our potential problems to the side. How encouraging that we have the opportunity to know our great God and follow His example of servant leadership now and through eternity. The world sees the law of God as an overbearing chain of commands from the top down, but we have been given the privilege to understand that the law of God is the essence of His love and our opportunity to continue to abide in the way of the Father and the Son. We are now preparing to be servant leaders with Jesus Christ by being servant leaders now in all of our relationship to bring glory to our great God.