the weblog of Alan Knox

It shall not be so among you

Posted by on Apr 13, 2009 in elders, office, scripture | 19 comments

These sentences, spoken by Jesus, seem so simple to understand:

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.” (Matthew 20:25-27 ESV)

So, why is this instruction by Jesus usually the first one to be set aside by the church?


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  1. 4-13-2009

    It is too impractical Alan. If I follow Jesus’ commands here, the church would soon unravel, their would be anarchy, and the church would be full of false teaching, loose living, and would do harm to itself and the glorious name of Jesus Christ. We need strong definable leadership, and the best way to have that is by having a Senior Pastor and a “Board” of Elders protecting the flock from itself and woles.

  2. 4-13-2009

    Lionel has a good sense of humor!

    Alan, this is one of my favorite verses. This not only applies to the church, but to civil government at least as much. So many Christians have been brainwashed into believing that there must be somebody at the top calling all the shots that this is exactly what happens.

    I also take this verse to mean that being ruled over by Gentiles shall not be so among us. This verse is for protection of God’s people from Gentile politicians, Christian politicians and religious leaders.

  3. 4-13-2009

    I’m not sure it applies to governments or the secular world. That isn’t, at least, what Jesus says here. We are told that governments have the power of the sword (life and death) and that certainly is the authoritarian, secular power model. That is used where God does not have access to men’s hearts, as He does among the saints. Here, in our communities, He is the living, active Head (or, as Laodicea, we throw Him outside and shut the door).

    Lack of faith in God on many levels.

    I think we set this aside because we 1. don’t trust God (we do not believe God is active or that He can and will direct and guide the church) and 2. men have always preferred to trust their own strength, cleverness, etc.

    Paul would leave new communities with very little training. He could do this because he had no problem entrusting them to God.

    We have lost the sense of who God is, of His power to act, of His wisdom, of entrusting ourselves to the authority and sufficiency of scripture. We rely instead in our own strength, in our formal education, in adopting the worldly principles of leadership and organization, in “what we can see, what works.”

  4. 4-13-2009


    The short answer: Sin.

    1. Diotrephes is alive and well amongst us, in plague proportions. As John says, ” …Diotrephes…. loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say”.

    2. Unthinking, brainwashed groups calling themselves Christian, who have no idea that under that nice, pure, wooly coat they see on their mini-pope, there is a brown furry coat of a wolf, or

    3. These same people are just too non-Berean, too plain uninterested in their own spiritual well being to study the Scriptures for themselves, taking personal responsibility for what they believe, or

    4. They are not disciples of Christ, but have simply taken out a spiritual insurance policy in the event that some preacher they heard may have been correct.

    Typical,old grumpy cynic? No! Just realistic!

  5. 4-13-2009

    It’s a good question, Alan. Not sure if it is the first thing we neglect as church. The difficulty in living out this verse and the complimentary one in John 13 where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet is to get to grips with what being a servant means. As our view of New Testament narrative is of the Great One who comes and leads these 12 men and then afterwards these 12 get the people to assign deacons to serve tables while they carry on the task of studying and praying a hierarchy is assumed. That’s sufficient especially with the ongoing examples of Paul’s leadership advice to Tim and Titus that suggests some sort of leadership model that fits a mentality that we’re used to. Then we have Peter’s comments to the shepherds that can also be read as reinforcing this division and ascension of the leadership class.

    So rather than enjoy the messy work of having servant leaders helping us to do community with examples from the bottom up we find it easier to refer to the models that ‘work’ around us. What Jesus is proposing in this verse remains a radical command to our ears as it does in the context of some rather radical instructions that Jesus left with His disciples over his lifetime. I agree with Art that we don’t exercise that sense in which who God is directs us and is the ultimate authority over us. I’m interested by the comment that we have lost the sense because I wonder where it has been evident in expressions of church in time past.

    I see these questions though as stimulants to get us acting on these verses again. Living out what Jesus instructed us, after all this would find itself as one of those commands included in the Great Commission that we are to teach disciples to observe. So we have the fun of reading these instructions and having fun and hardship living these out again. This is why sites like your own and experiences that you have are so useful and instructive to us who are still working things out in very difficult tradition-heavy based settings.

  6. 4-13-2009

    Thank you for the good comments and interaction on this short post. Thanks to Lionel for pointing me to a new book which also discusses this passage. I’ll publish a short excerpt from that book tomorrow at noon.


  7. 4-13-2009

    What’s funny about what we do with this passage is that not only do we ignore the “it shall not be so among you” statement, but we totally twist the rest of the passage to mean, “If you want to be great, start by being a servant, and then you’ll rise to greatness.”

    However, I like what my podcasting partner said about this verse. He said that Jesus is basically saying, “If you want to be great – STOP IT!”

    It’s not some strange path to climbing the ladder of authoritarian control. It’s a completely different paradigm. We don’t seek greatness, period. Servanthood is not the path to leadership. It is the antidote for the unChristlike pursuit of power.

  8. 4-14-2009

    Clearly pride is why it is set aside. As Aussie John reminds us, Diotrephes is alive and well today!

    Yet, I also see a ditch on the other side of the road where in communities of believers are amorphous, lacking a spiritual skeleton, and therefore unable to function corporately.

    In my opinion Jesus is not condemning leadership – for then Paul would have been in error several time over. Rather, it is the outworking of that leadership that is the key. The function of leading is always one of serving, never one of lording over.

    I think we must be careful that the wounds previously inflicted by inaccurate, self-centered leadership don’t cause an equally inaccurate recoil and aversion to proper functions of authority – submitting to the grace in one another as the Father leads us by His Spirit.

  9. 4-14-2009

    Recently I had someone tell me that what Jesus means here is that the Apostles were just not to be like the Pharisees, and that Jesus wasn’t saying that there should be not be hierarchy in the church….

    All I could think was, “wha????”

    – Daniel

  10. 4-14-2009

    This statement doesn’t rule out leadership or structure, simply authoritarianism and dictatorial rule.

  11. 4-14-2009

    For those who want to remind us that this passage doesn’t rule certain types of leadership out, show me one organized, institutional church where the pastor is not given authority over people. I’ve never seen it. And I’ve been involved in a multitude of churches of all different denominations and traditions. The story was always the same.

    Even in the most progressive of churches where structure is being re-thought, there is still a sense of someone having an ultimate “trump card” of their “position”. And people still look to that person as the ultimate one in authority.

    If this is not the case, then maybe we should ask ourselves why so many “pastors” feel the need to use the term “pastor” in their blog names or how they sign comments on other blogs. Should someone gifted in mercy sign their post “Mercy Susan”? Or should someone gifted in helps sign it as “Helps Bob”?

    Oh, sure, when we’re in those positions of authority, we redefine terms like “serve” and “slave” in this passage to come up with ideas such as “servant leadership”, a great way of having your cake and eating it, too. But it still ultimately ends up ignoring this statement by Jesus, which is the very question Alan asked here — why is this so often set aside?

    It always amazes me how quickly people want to say, “Well, Jesus didn’t mean what we’re doing.”

    Jesus does not only address dictatorial abuse here (“lord it over them”). He addresses authority of all kinds (“exercise authority over them”). Why? Because all authority is his, not ours.

    Before we start making all kinds of exceptions, we might want to start with what is actually stated by Jesus.

  12. 4-14-2009

    Hal Miller uses the term, “leading servant” to express this idea. Servant is the noun in this case. Servants who excel at serving are “leading” in serving.

    This, as opposed to the term, “servant leader,” where the noun is leader and servant the disguise.

    Not too many people choose the cross. Not too many people care for the emptying part necessary before we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. But God has more true servants afield than we might think, if all we see is the traditional models that get the PR.

  13. 4-14-2009

    Steve said:

    “If this is not the case, then maybe we should ask ourselves why so many “pastors” feel the need to use the term “pastor” in their blog names or how they sign comments on other blogs. Should someone gifted in mercy sign their post “Mercy Susan”? Or should someone gifted in helps sign it as “Helps Bob”?”

    Dude, I use that analogy all the time and it so funny LOL! I am going to start calling people Giving Gary or how about Tongue Speaking Tommy, or what about Prophesying Pam! LOL!!! If those sound ridiculous we should find the same ludicrousness in those who put the GIFT of shepherding before their name. It is funny that Jesus goes on to say “call no one…..” but we in turn not only enjoy it but expect it with our fancy little titles.

    So Jason I definitely don’t mean to offend you, but why do you address yourself as Pastor. I promise you I am not being antagonistic I really would like to know why people do what they do. From the previous paragraph I am sure you see that I have a problem with such a “title” but in your defense there could be a valid reason.

    I do agree that leadership exsits and from my small study of the scriptures, it seems those leaders always get the short end of the stick. However, today most church leaders, get special parking, a group of believers to serve them called “pastoral care team”, annual banquets and dinners, special recognition, and a salary, while it seems that most leaders in the scriptures find themselves in a bit of a physical pickle. Thoughts?

  14. 4-14-2009


    Great question! All that I can think is that there is no prominence in being a servant or a slave.

    Besides, Jesus would never expect a Pastor of a large evangelical mega-church, who has the financial means to where a Rolex and drive a Lexus to stoop to the level of a servant, would He?

    Sorry, sometimes cynicism gets the better of me.


  15. 4-14-2009

    This passage seems pretty clear to me. We should follow those who are serving. Period. The more they serve, they more we should follow (imitate) them. We don’t follow those who place themselves in elevated positions. Instead, we follow those who places themselves under everyone else as a slave -not just with the attitude of a slave, but who actually gives up their own rights and their own desires and their own opinions in order to lower themselves and to life up others.

    Of course, there are a multitude of problems with this pattern. 1) Its not fun to serve; its much more fun to lead. 2) Few people want to follow (imitate) a servant; but everyone wants to follow (imitate) a leader. 3) If we serve, people might not recognize our greatness or position.

    There is a type of structure in this passage. If you want to see who is most important to Jesus, look around for whoever is on their hands and knees scrubbing floors, or taking out the trash, or cooking meals, or doing other jobs normally done by the lowly slave.


  16. 4-14-2009

    Art wrote:

    “I’m not sure it applies to governments or the secular world. That isn’t, at least, what Jesus says here.”

    Looking at the context, Jesus was pointing out the political stucture of the Gentiles. Their rulers lorded it over them. So, I see a direct political application too. Christians should not be in the business of legislating to control other people, whether church or state.

    According to Romans 13, the civil government is a “servant”, that is a lowly, common table waiter. How many lowly servants get to make their own rules, much less most of the rules in society? Why would civil government be exempt from the command to not add to God’s word?

  17. 4-15-2009

    Steve, love the comment about starting with service to rise to greatness. So true.

  18. 4-16-2009

    “Loving Lionel”,

    Dude, I just about peed my pants reading your comment, that made my day…

    – “Devoted Daniel”

  19. 4-16-2009

    oh, and you too, “Servant Steve”… thanks!