Preview

In August 2005, I had one of the unique and most enjoyable and uplifting experiences of my life. It was aesthetic, and not spiritual. I attended a writer’s conference in Columbus, Ohio, to see whether I could jumpstart my fiction writing. That was not to be at that time, but I was privileged to be able to meet, to spend time with and to hear Ted Kooser. Ted was then ending his time as the Poet Laureate of the United States. He had actually spent almost his entire career in the insurance industry, and he had retired as an insurance executive. Yet he never forgot his dedication to poetry, and I found it extremely impressive how much effort  he put in over the years to learn and improve his poetry, and I was privileged to be able to spend some time simply talking with him and one evening to hear him recite his own poetry. Over the decades this tremendous care and effort put his poetry resulted in a unique achievement, a modern day poetry that reaches ordinary people and speaks to their experiences. His books of poetry sold at ten times the number that were usual for books of modern poetry, and it was because of this that he was honored with the Poet Laureate title.

In the Bible there are many poetic passages, and other than David, the prophet Isaiah could be known as a Poet Laureate of the Old Testament. Isaiah had a ministry in Jerusalem, in close contact with the kings, for at least 60 years. It may be that his actual seal has been recently found in Jerusalem; the name on it is actually Isaiah, and several letters from the Hebrew word for prophet follow. It was as if this seal would have read in English, “Isaiah the proph . . .”. His poetic prophecies came first of all for the guidance and comfort for Israel after the defeat of the Assyrian army on the doorstep of Jerusalem, in 701 B.C.E. Yet after this historically attested devastation of the immense army from the world empire of the time, God have Isaiah spiritual awareness of a different world power that would threaten the people of God in the future. Isaiah prophesied, in some of the most beautiful and memorable poetry of the Bible, about the survival of the remnant from the Babylonian exile after the destruction of Jerusalem. In this section of prophecy, the book of comfort from chapters 40-66, gives four Servant songs for the comfort and spiritual awareness of the people of God for what was then the future and for all the people of God for all time. In these songs he was speaking about someone special who would be coming, in the future, the virtual representative of the nation in one person. The first Servant Song established that this special Servant was the ruling Son promised to the house of David far earlier in the book and the ministry in 9:-17, and the one on whom the Spirit would dwell in 11:1 and following. All these Songs came together to provide pieces of a preview of what was to come, and the cumulative effect of the pieces of the previews was to give a picture of the Messiah to come. Among all the Servant Songs, the fourth Servant Song is and remains the most familiar and the most influential, among the most beautiful and well known.


Messianic prophecy is in a way like the previews and trailers for upcoming movies that we see in our day. In Messianic prophecy God gives a brief series of word images as a preview of what he would do through the Messiah who was to come to a prophet, and the prophet describes what God had shown him. In this fourth Servant Song telling the people of God for all time what was to come. His previews of the Messiah to come were not not a series of videos but word dramas, and previews, in most beautiful, highly crafted poetry, with metaphors, similes, verses, stanzas, rhythm and all the other aspects that distinguish what we call poetry from prose. Most often in the ancient world prophecy was expected to be poetic, and it fully met this expectation in the Old Testament and in the work of Isaiah, to convey God’s words strikingly and memorably. Ancient Hebrew poetry was not so much rhyme as in popular poetry and songs in English, but parallelism and rhythm. Though modern rap is somewhat lost on me, the parallelism and rhythm might have seemed somewhat like rap. In a way it seems like the fourth Servant Song was the masterpiece of the great prophet. It seems evident to me that he put great care and love put into fabrication of the prophecy of the Messiah as the suffering and exalted Servant – and if there’s anything that Ted Kooser taught me, it’s that quality poetry that speaks to people is very hard work and takes great loving care and concern. This, shows how precious the truth was to him, how much he wished to communicate it appropriately, and how much the Holy Spirit was working within him to bring it to us in his writing as the inspired Word of God. But we now live after the fulfillment of this prophecy, in the New Testament, and the fulfillment of this prophecy in the New Testament is like having in front of us the whole spoiler alert, of the whole drama as the whole fourth Servant Song was enacted before us now. What was then a prophecy is now a  reality for all of us now on the other side of the prophecy, for those of us who have already seen the preview for the entire drama of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. And we can now live with the realization that this was not a drama for our entertainment, enjoyment and distraction but for the fulfillment of our deepest needs now and forever.


“Look! My servant will achieve success;
He will be lofty, lifted up and exalted.
Just as so many were amazed at him,
So was he abused beyond even appearing to be a human being,
More than the children of Adam,
So has he sprinkled many Gentiles!
Kings have shut their mouths at him,
Because just as it was not told to them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.”


“Who, then, has come to believe what they have heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord explained this?
He rose up before us like a sprouting plant,
Like a sapling from dry ground.
He had no visage or beauty to draw us to him,
Nor an outward appearance that we would find compelling.
Rather, he was despised and rejected by mankind —
A man of sorrows and acquainted with what breaks our hearts.
We hid our faces from him; he was despised
And we were not impressed by him.”


“Certainly he has shouldered what breaks our hearts,
And he has taken our sicknesses upon himself.
We regarded him as someone who was suffered;
Struck down by God and utterly beaten down.
He was pierced for our transgressions,
Beaten to a pulp for our wickedness.
The punishment to bring us peace was upon him,
And by the whipping marks on his back we have been healed.
All of us, just like sheep, have wandered off;
Each one of us have rebelled to follow our own way,
And the LORD has brought down upon him the iniquities of us all.”


“He suffered oppression and suffering,
Yet he did not open his mouth!
Like a lamb to the slaughter he was brought out to trial,
So he did not open his mouth!
By oppression and from trial he he was brought out —
And who can discover any of his descendants?
Because he was cut off from the land of the living.
And for the transgressions of my people the death blow came upon him.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
And was with a rich man in his death,
Though he himself had committed no crimes,
And no deception was found in him.”

“Yet God was satisfied when he was crushed and when he suffered,
Though he makes his life a guilt offering,
He will see his offspring, he will stretch out his days.
After the suffering of his soul he will see light;

By his knowledge my Servant will justify many;
And he will carry away their sins.
Therefore I will assign to him his place among the great ones,
And he will divide up the prizes with the strong,
Because he poured out his life to the death,
And he was numbered with the transgressors,
Because he bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for sinners.”

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Dale’s own translation; see here for other translations)


The salvation which God brings is the ultimate shock to this world. The salvation that God brings amazes to silence the greatest that the world has to offer; the high and mighty shrink to insignificance before the person who brings this salvation. The person who brings the salvation, the suffering servant, has brought it about in total contradiction to the conventional wisdom of this world. The salvation of God, despite all the expectations of this world, would come about through a servant who had experienced the ultimate suffering.


The exaltation of the suffering Messiah is the ultimate wonder of the world. All the world of mankind diminishes with nothing in itself beside the suffering and exaltation in triumph of the suffering Servant of God. The preview that the prophet gives, that he had seen, and then explained and celebrated, was about a shocking disfigurement and a shocking exaltation to power and authority.


Ancient poetry is divided into strophes (pronounced strof –ee). The word comes from Greek, and is a common term in the study of ancient Greek poetry as well. The first strophe – or stanza, or first verse of the fourth Servant Song – is in Isaiah 52: 12-15:

“Look! My servant will achieve success;
He will be lofty, lifted up and exalted.
Just as so many were amazed at him,
So was he abused beyond even appearing to be a human being,
More than the children of Adam,
So has he sprinkled many Gentiles!
Kings have shut their mouths at him,
Because just as it was not told to them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.”

In accord with much literature, and in ancient literature particularly, Isaiah begins the fourth Servant Song at the conclusion. He describes the wise success and exaltation of the suffering Servant, after his suffering has taken place. Through the prophecy of the fourth Servant Song, then, God calls the world to behold the exaltation of his Servant. This song starts with the wonder of the world at the ultimate wonder of this world, the exaltation of the Servant after his suffering. Though he was upon the hill of Zion, behind the walls of the city of Jerusalem, the vision of the Suffering Servant in the fourth Servant Song goes far beyond the Jewish nation. What would happen with the Suffering Servant would astonish the world to speechlessness and it would be something spectacular about which the world had no clue. What would come about from him would even be a priestly work even to sprinkle the vast nations and hordes of Gentiles, which would be entirely the action of a High Priest to sanctify but entirely unprecedented in that no High Priest of the line of Aaron of the nation of Israel every came close to doing such a thing, let alone at the cost of severe personal suffering. And in the context of the previous prophecies about that Suffering Servant would be the ruling Son of the House of David, this tells that the path to the fulfillment of these promises of rule would be his severe suffering! Rather than taking up political rule, this establishes that suffering would be the path to the promises of the rule for the ruling Son of David. For a nation which had experienced severe setbacks and reduction from the past glories of political power in the ancient Middle East, the expectation would be that military and political power would be the path to triumph against the imperial war machines of that day. Yet this establishes that the shocking work of the wisdom of God, in the suffering of the royal Son of David, would follow after the return from the captivity in Babylon – which had just been mentioned in the previous context in the earlier verses of chapter 52 of Isaiah.


The preview of the coming attraction shows something that no one of this world would consider attractive from the start. The worldly wise who do not begin from the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:7) would never have figured it out beforehand. The great reversals characteristic of how God works through the coming of Jesus into our world, to bring the rulers and authorities of this world to bow down before the pierced feet of the Messiah in wonder and outright astonishment that such a thing could happen, and how it would show them to be next to nothing besides him.


Even more, the life and times of the suffering Servant would not be what the world as a whole would ever find as a suitable beginning of God’s ruler of this world. The path of the Suffering Servant to supreme power and authority over the universe would never be the path of someone that they would ever consider for the person who would become vastly superior to all of them with all authority and power in heaven and earth. So this is what we find in the second verse – not the same as the first! The second stanza and the second strophe, in Isaiah 53:1-3, goes like this:

“Who, then, has come to believe what they have heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord explained this?

He rose up before us like a sprouting plant,
Like a sapling from dry ground.
He had no visage or beauty to draw us to him,
Nor an outward appearance that we would find compelling.
Rather, he was despised and rejected by mankind —
A man of sorrows and acquainted with what breaks our hearts.
We hid our faces from him; he was despised
And we were not impressed by him.”

Again, the fourth Servant Song centers on the life of a single person. The previous astonishment of the entire world at the exaltation of the suffering Messiah gives way to the utter; astonishment of the Prophet at the few who believe and receive the news about the suffering Servant. The suffering Servant would be someone who would come from humble beginnings, yet he would be ultimately and exclusively ‘the arm of the Lord’. This world looked for the beautiful person with the aura of power and magnetism. But this world could not and would not realize the real power was in the life and ministry of the man who dealt with people who had griefs and sicknesses, and that very man who received the disdain and rejection of the high and mighty at the culmination of his ministry.


The people of this world seek often enough the attractive, dominating, attractive and magnetic persons to lead. From them often arise the false Messiahs of this world, the earthly figures of politics, entertainment and human religion. But God continues throughout history with the great reversals of value that come with Jesus, when he changes the price tags on so much that this world has held to be of value. In the ultimate reign of God over our world and over the course of time that we dare to call human history it all comes down at the end to be the history of the Son of Man, the Jesus of the scriptures. There is ultimately nothing compared with the Savior who came and lived among us already. This certainly gives us sufficient reason never to lift up any human being on a pedestal, to see another person as the Messiah for us when the true Messiah has often come. This was once brought home tragically to the frontier hero Kit Carson. He was part of the rescue mission for a woman named Annie White who had been captured by the Apaches, and she tragically did not survive. He later wrote, “In camp was found a book, the first of the kind I had ever seen, in which I was made a great hero, slaying Indians by the hundreds … I have often thought that Mrs. White read the same … [and prayed] for my appearance that she might be saved.”


The suffering of the Suffering Servant, though, is not at all suffering for the sake of suffering. It is by no means the infliction of suffering of a vengeful God upon an helpless and unwilling victim. Rather the suffering Servant suffers entirely and willingly for the ultimate good of his people. He came as the deliverer who delivers not by conquest of evildoers but by being delivered to the worst that the evil doers could do, and yet through that conquering the evil of this world by providing the path of peace and reconciliation for the entire world. This is what the prophet celebrates in the third verse, the third stanza or the third strophe (53:4-6):

“Certainly he has shouldered what breaks our hearts,
And he has taken our sicknesses upon himself.
We regarded him as someone who was suffered;
Struck down by God and utterly beaten down.
He was pierced for our transgressions,
Beaten to a pulp for our wickedness.
The punishment to bring us peace was upon him,
And by the whipping marks on his back we have been healed.
All of us, just like sheep, have wandered off;
Each one of us have rebelled to follow our own way,
And the LORD has brought down upon him the iniquities of us all.”

The prophet now includes himself among the people of God. Here he is speaking of the reason for the suffering of the Servant before he describes the suffering. He describes the suffering of the servant as bearing sickness and sins, as one who takes it and bears it away. Certainly his affliction and torment came as divine punishment, but not for anything he had done wrong at all. In fact, the prophet emphasizes the innocence of the Servant here emphasized as he describes how he was pierced and pulverized. Again, all this was totally unprecedented and totally contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day. In this fourth Servant Song the Suffering Servant then provided the satisfaction of justice to bring about peace and reconciliation between mankind and God – an amazing, unbelievable accomplishment in a world where all people were regarded as separated from each other by their national cultures, families and clans and national god and myths. Here is the image of mankind as sheep who were going astray, since like sheep we are all prone to wander off and get lost, and find ourselves in need of someone stronger and wiser to save us from where our ignorance, follies and transgressions have taken us. So many of us see it as justice for the fools that we see around us to suffer the consequences for their folly, but here the prophet tells us all that the penalty for the single-minded, hard headed wandering around which is the life of sin, which is the way of all of us, has been taken entirely by the Suffering Servant of the fourth Servant Song.

So then, this is what we find out here, and it should be terribly shocking and eye opening to each one of us: in a world where you don’t get what you deserve, someone else got what you deserved. In this world which is stuck on stupid, stuck on hardheaded, stuck on defiant, it ended up with someone else getting what everyone in this world deserved. But this not something that we find as meaning anything for us without a real personal connection to what it was all about. It falls to each one of us to be one of those who realizes what it’s all about and makes that personal reception of it for ourselves. For someone raised in church, or comes to church through marriage or family, this is often the step not taken in that person’s life, to take it for himself or herself. For with what the Messiah has done for each one of us, there is still that personal connection to him that is needed, that there is no secondhand faith that can save, but that each of us rather need to make one’s own peace with God, to receive the gift that came when that Suffering Servant took what you deserved and what he did not deserve.


This is something like my personal connection to several Marvel movies that were extremely popular. With the first Avengers movie that was filmed in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, I went downtown on a Saturday to watch and take some personal photographs of the filming. It gave me the chance to be close to the set, see the extras, even to be considered a part of the crew. Then I also was extremely surprised as I recognized a number of scenes in the Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie, since I had already photographed them and had the images of those locations in my personal albums. There was even a scene in the Spiderman III movie where I could point out the place where I had waited for the Regional Transit Authority bus on my commute to and from my suburban home. But with all that, I was a witness to the locations and some of the filming but not a part of the films; even when I was close to the Avengers set I didn’t have the Marvel name tag that meant I was a part of the production. Many who are part of our churches and with whom we rub shoulders every day are close to our churches and believers, and may even be mistaken for a genuine believer, but they have never received that name tag, to be tagged with the name of Jesus Christ because one has put his or her faith in him for one’s own eternal salvation. This is what it means to have saving faith, like the testimony of John Wesley, who describes that moment came to faith in Jesus. When he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate, someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans and then, about 8:45 p.m. ” . . . while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”


But then, the effect of the suffering of the Servant is described in the fourth Servant Song before the cause of the suffering of the Servant. The earthly machinery of injustice would bring about the suffering and death of the suffering Servant. The innocent but suffering Servant would be caught up in the suffering of the innocent in this world, and would be the ultimate example of the suffering of the innocent as he suffered to the uttermost. This is what the prophet told about in the fourth strophe (53:7-9). So here’s the fourth stanza, the fourth verse:

“He suffered oppression and suffering,
Yet he did not open his mouth!
Like a lamb to the slaughter he was brought out to trial,
So he did not open his mouth!
By oppression and from trial he he was brought out —
And who can discover any of his descendants?
Because he was cut off from the land of the living.
And for the transgressions of my people the death blow came upon him.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
And was with a rich man in his death,
Though he himself had committed no crimes,
And no deception was found in him.”

So then, the prophet comes to the prophecy of the the earthly circumstances of the suffering of the Servant. He describes what was to come and gives the preview of the suffering and death of the Suffering Servant, through terrible miscarriages of human injustice. The Suffering Servant would be known for his meekness and patience throughout the oppressive, unjust judicial proceedings, and ultimately he would be led away after arrest and sentencing to execution. He would be treated as one of the criminals of this world, and yet he would not buried as a criminal but as a rich man. The mention of no posterity pointed to the young age of the Servant, that the worthless and futile miscarriage of justice in that day and age would deprive him of marriage and children; his would be a life short changed of what he deserved and cut short of a normal human existence, of the rewards of marriage, children and a ripe and pleasant old age. Instead, he took the blow, the plague, the curse upon himself, for the sin and transgressions of the people of God, and, though totally innocent himself, the innocent Servant would subjected to the ultimate injustice of this world, of the machinery of human justice gone insane and fatally dysfunctional.


This would ultimately be for the comfort for the people of God. In this world the innocent and the innocent among the people of God suffer, and this tells us that that their subjection to injusice and oppression is not in vain. Though the righteous people of God who suffer innocently, through no fault of their own, they have before them the  ultimate example in the Savior who already suffered the ultimate in oppression and injustice. But, though, the prophet didn’t end here with the suffering of the Servant; rather he concluded just as he began with the victory of the Servant.


The salvation which God brings comes as the victory of the Savior. The salvation of God is the the salvation which exalts and glorifies the Savior by the will of God, and it is the utter triumph of the suffering Servant of God. This is the happy ending of the song which is the happy ending of the Servant and and the happy ending for those for whom he suffered.


Finally, the ultimate prize for the universe goes to the suffering Servant of God. Though that is a contest that no one would want to enter, yet the one who endured such humiliation and suffering would receive as his reward more than anything that the high and mighty would ever manage to take for themselves by force or command. He would be the ultimate conqueror who conquered ultimately by allowing himself to be treated as if he was conquered completely. This is the triumph of the fifth strophe (53:10-12). So this is the conclusion, the fifth stanza and the fifth verse:

“Yet God was satisfied when he was crushed and when he suffered,
Though he makes his life a guilt offering,
He will see his offspring, he will stretch out his days.
After the suffering of his soul he will see light;

By his knowledge my Servant will justify many;
And he will carry away their sins.
Therefore I will assign to him his place among the great ones,
And he will divide up the prizes with the strong,
Because he poured out his life to the death,
And he was numbered with the transgressors,
Because he bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for sinners.”

So the fourth Servant Song repeats the theme of unexpected exaltation and triumph as it returns back to the conclusion; in many songs we see this and call it the familiar A-B-C-B-A structure. And then here at the conclusion there is the return to the exaltation of the suffering Servant. The conclusion of the song is all about his victory, and it centers on his victory over sin and death more than his unexpected exaltation before the powers and authorities of this world. The Suffering Servant had  literally had become a guilt offering for this world, and what happened was the will of the God of Israel. In fact, the Suffering Servant provided way for sinful people to be accounted righteous by personal knowledge of him. Even more, he performed the High Priestly duty of making intercession for the wrongdoers, and even more he played the part of the priest who was himself the sacrifice. His suffering, then, preceded his ascension to the power and authority to deal with the mighty and powerful of this earth as he pleases, To him alone came the results of great victory, the spoils, the booty and the prize for which all the high and mighty of this earth were seeking and striving. The description sounds as if he were leading all his enemies in a victory parade – and that is a very New Testament depiction of the victory of Jesus (Ephesians 4:11-12). And in this passage resurrection definitely implied if not indicated by the textual variant which was preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript of Isaiah (“he shall see light”). But even if the actual text of Isaiah was different, the whole description implies resurrection of the Suffering Servant, since his suffering was suffering to death and the victory means that he must be alive afterwards.


The conclusion is that the ultimate victory is that of Jesus, who suffered and died according to the will and predetermination of God. Understand that all the rivals, such as Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna and Joseph Smith did not die for you; they are in their graves, they cannot save you, and they will not judge you at the end. Ultimately we will all face Jesus, and this will be the reversal for those who turn out at the end to have been on the wrong end of the machinery of injustice of this world. And with this comes the need for each one of us, the need to turn to Jesus, to be on the right side of the Son of God. For those who are not on the side of Jesus, they will find themselves in a worse predicament than the German soldiers in World War II who invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. They believed from the promises of the false Messiah Adolf Hitler that they would be in a victory parade in Moscow after the invasion of the Soviet Union, and they were; but as it happened, but they were there as the prisoners of the other side.


So the preview of the suffering of the ultimate Servant of God came to us as a carefully crafted song. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit it came not as a rant against injustice but a song of sadness and beauty which ended in the ultimate victory. It remains even if we are unaware of its poetic nature and beauty as one of the ultimate hit songs of all time, since it previews the ultimate happy ending for the people of God that came through the Suffering Servant. In our age, then the believer in Christ should definitely read and meditate on this song with the under stand that he or she knows exactly who the prophet was writing about. It may be that for us a modern song speaks to our hearts, but this one can and should speak to our hearts in a deeper way if we recognize who it is speaking about. This one came from the prophet through the Holy Spirit about the most precious realities that we can understand experience now and in the future. This song is the preview of what would happen through Jesus Christ in his life and ministry, death and resurrection. This song leads us to the ultimate, unshakeable hope in this world that has no hope in itself.

First of all, it should lead us all to recognize that all of us need a Savior, the Suffering Servant of this song. If you are reading this, your time is now to believe and receive eternal life through the Son of God. And just as much it should mean that we give no human being anything close to the worship and admiration that we give the Savior, since they will all fade to nothing, like the picture in an old television that shrinks to a dot and disappear, before the glory of the risen Savior, to whom all power and authority has been given in heaven and on earth. And finally this should mean that we also bow before the Savior in submission to him, for he has died and is risen again, and he is worthy!

Fool Proofing Our Churches

A few weeks ago, I read through Jan Silvious’s book Foolproofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life. It is a wonderful book, based in the scriptures, and it does have a lot to say about dealing with a person, even a Christian or a Christian leader, who fits the Biblical definition of a fool in some way.

The question that I came away with was: Why are there so many in our churches who live like the Biblical definition of a fool? Why do they find it easy to live like fools in the middle of a church which ostensibly believes the Bible and follows the Bible? Is there some sense in which our churches function as fool factories?

I confess that I do not have much of an answer at this point to that question, but there is a situation from my pastoral experience which comes to mind. Some years ago, a young husband attended my church who was experiencing deep problems in his life and marriage. It came out over the course of time that he had had at one time a connection with a fellowship of believers and had even been on at least one overseas mission trip with that fellowship, though he had left any kind of regular church attendance and involvement before he was married. His profession of being a Christian was quite over-the-top, we may say; it was beyond assertive to be quite defiant, oppositional and antagonistic to be a kind of personal power trip, that when he went into a kind of short term self immersion in what he thought was Christian behavior that he felt strong and powerful and superior. Naturally, this kind of behavior was a tremendous provocation to his wife, since it was almost as if he was trying to be a Christian version of the cartoon character He-Man and his Christianity was a kind of strutting, crowing and and immersing himself in an in-your-face psycho-drama that ‘I have the power!’

It came out that when I shared the two diagnostic questions from Evangelism Explosion that he had never really come to a Biblically based saving faith. His outward profession of faith was all about him living up to what he thought was a manly, powerful Christian, but no trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and for eternal life. This was no conclusion that I had to force upon him at all, but when I gently and caringly shared the questions and then led him to such passages as Ephesians 2:8-9 he came to that conclusion himself. He was visibly shocked and astonished when he himself realized that he had never really even understood the gospel in the first place and what it meant to be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There were some hopeful signs at first, since he did pray with me to express repentance for his sins and trust in Christ as his Savior, and there was enough of a change at first for his wife to show up at church wondering what had happened and wanting to know for herself. Unfortunately, someone who attended my church with ambitions to be a pastor and an elder (but who would not submit to any educational course of pastoral preparation nor to any evaluation by any established denominational licensing and ordaining council but who would simply try to copy little things he saw pastors doing) showed up at his door, and we never saw him again at church, and my efforts to visit him again were unavailing.

I’m not losing any sleep over my church losing the attendance of a grown man who had all the resources of any number of easily understandable Bibles and the gospel preaching churches of North America to get the gospel straight and follow Jesus. I have prayed for him and his wife and I would rejoice in the news that he and his wife found a stable, Bible believing church and have been growing in Christ. Rather, I think that there are several things right here which indicate why our churches may seem to be fool factories.

First, we often seem to accept people who show up and say some of the correct things to have been truly saved. It is neither intrusive nor rude to ask someone gently and lovingly  who attends our church and seeks to be a part of the fellowship about the nature and history of his or her profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that our body language can be of great help to draw people out to disclose what is really in their hearts; if we don’t stand in front of them and stare right into their eyes with an expectant, pressurizing smile that seems to be demanding an immediate answer, but sit beside them and let them speak freely, we can often find out their basis of trust for salvation. It’s usually possible to find out fairly easily those who have experienced a change of opinions and association from those who have experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ by faith in him alone for their eternal salvation. Jan Silvious does mention in her Foolproofing book that many fools who profess to be Christians were probably never saved to begin with, and I would definitely agree. I know that there are risks in putting numbers to this, but I would personally estimate that probably about a third, if not more, of the fools who profess to be Christians fall into this category. (And this brings up a problem that I think there has not been sufficient prayer and scriptural discussion: the problem of North American evangelical nominalism. I’ll leave the pastors and other Christian leaders who read this to chew on that for a while.)

Second, in addition, I don’t think that we say it often enough and loudly enough that our reception of the salvation of Jesus Christ does not make us in ourselves better than any other human being. The very heart of true repentance, the abject humility of the broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), which is part of the Biblical reception of salvation, in itself entails the renunciation of any self pretensions of superiority, since it involves the admission of personal sinfulness, and this cannot include any pretensions to be a better person than any other sinner on this earth. In the classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, in fact, John Bunyan made this awareness of personal sinfulness as the difference between a Mr. Faithful and a Mr. Talkative, and someone who came into the kingdom of Jesus by the Wicket-Gate of repentance and faith and someone who tried to slip in by some other way.

Even more, we need to say it much more often and much more assertively that  the fruit in our lives which comes after we have received salvation by faith in Christ is not something that we can crow about, but it is for the glory of God, to demonstrate his power and glory and not our own (John 15:6, Ephesians 2:10). Even more, if we find ourselves in a position of leadership in the church, it can never be about ourselves and our personal glory (“looking good” in front of fellow believers). This was something that I tried to make clear in my earlier post Who Is the Greatest?, and I would repeat: In Christ we are blessed with all his spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and there is no indication that there’s anything in being a leader that adds anything on to all the spiritual blessings in Christ with which we have already been blessed.

As a final note, I want to go back to a point that I was making in my earlier post, Called to Follow, Not to Be Radical, that we need to back off of the hype and rhetoric about being radical and extreme as Christians. Quite frankly, I think that such hype may very well feed an underlying sense of self superiority and a foolish power and superiority trip such as I described earlier. It may well be a good idea for youth pastors and other leaders in the church now to issue an apology and disclaimer to the previously fashionable rhetoric and hype about being extreme and radical. It’s not about being radical or extreme – and no believer can find anything to crow about in whether he or she thinks that he or she is a radical or extreme Christian, and especially not if this includes any sense of being superior to any other believer or any other human being. Rather, it’s about denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following him (Luke 9:23).

Who Is the Greatest?

Booker T. Washington was a shining example of integrity and humility throughout his career as an educator and his presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Shortly after his taking up the presidency, he was walking in an exclusive section of town, and was asked to chop some wood at one of the houses. After he had finished, the lady of the house recognized him and apologized profusely. His reply was, “It’s all right, Madam. Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.”

The wealthy woman was deeply impressed with his humble and gracious attitude, and she was instrumental in persuading some other wealthy acquaintances to provide the Institute with some sizable contributions. So, the path of gracious humility by a leader who could have asserted his identity and his rights led to the enrichment of the institution which he served and to the elevation of other who had been born into slavery and who had recently been freed.

There is often a tension in many modern churches between who are the leaders and who are the followers, and how the leaders should lead and how the followers should follow. Jesus addressed this directly in his own teaching, and his words formed the basis of New Testament teaching on leadership as a whole. He directed the desire for leadership away from the pursuit of personal and social ambition and control, and established the model of servanthood leadership after his own example. Even more, though, he set the model for sound respect for the scriptural guidance of the leader as the representative of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

These two aspects of the New Testament teaching on leadership, based in the words of Jesus Christ himself, are in an incident found in the gospel of Mark. This incident shows the two different sides of leading and following in the body of Christ, in accord with the teaching of the rest of the New Testament. In this incident, Jesus rebuked the way that the twelve disciples tried to sound out the pecking order among themselves. At this time he gave them clear directions on the style of leadership that made their entire approach to and understanding of leadership mistaken and wrong. And this is often, as it turns out, to be a key factor in the blessing and growth of a church or its stagnation and decline.

“And they came to Capernaum. And when they had entered the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ And they were silent, because they had been arguing among themselves on the way about who was the greater. And he said down and said to the twelve, ‘If any one of you wants to be first, he will be the last of all and the servant of all.’ And he took aside a child and had him stand in the middle of them, and as he took him in his arms he told them, ‘Whoever receives one of such children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me does not just receive me but the One who sent me’” (Mark 9:33-37).

Jesus Christ calls the leaders of his church to be servants. That is the expression of leadership: servanthood. It is not to be for their own advantage, but for the building up of others. This is to be their attitude toward their positions of leadership: they are not there to be somebody, to be a big shot, but to serve others out of love for Jesus Christ and after the example of Jesus Christ.

The disciples’ argument about who was greater among them was the cause of this. Jesus asked them that question, “What were you arguing about on the way?” He knew the answer, but he wanted to get them to own up to it. But they remained silent, as so many are when Jesus asks us these kinds of questions, though he knows the answer and we know the answer. “And they were silent, because they had been arguing among themselves on the way about who was the greater.” This may have been a jockeying for position and prestige by the three – Peter, James and John – who had witnessed the transfiguration over those who had not been there. It may have been that the experience had started to build up some pride in their hearts, that they had had that special experience, and that made them special, over the other disciples, who had not had that same special experience. This kind of discussion was also like the discussions that rabbis often had among themselves, as to who would get the greater positions of rank and privilege in the synagogues. So it was normal to have this kind of jockeying for position, since they had seen it among the religious leaders in their own experience.

Jesus may not be walking physically with us now, but we cannot live as if he were not aware of our hidden desires, drives and agendas. We cannot expect that we can have ulterior motives and be pursuing personal aggrandizement in some way and not find him putting the question to us about it. Even more, we cannot expect that if we have come to saving faith in Christ and have been born again of his Spirit, that we not find his Spirit convicting us if we try to use a position of leadership as a place to stand in superiority to other believers. It should be one of the most terrifying prospects to a leader in the church of Jesus Christ to harden his or her heart against the strivings of the Spirit of God if he is convicting any one of us of abusing our position to make ourselves appear and feel superior to any other believer in Christ. But even more, it should be a real deterrent to us to realize that at the very least, we will face his questions about the conducts of our leadership face to face, and every excuse that we give ourselves for our motives and our behavior will melt away into silence.

The tendency in this vain quest of leadership sought from pride, rivalry and ambition is toward leadership by intimidation, deceit and exploitation. And the consequences in the church becomes dissension, departures and personality cults. This is what happens when a person such as Diotrephes (III John 9), who  “. . . loves to be first . . .” comes into leadership. And then we see this in our churches with the personal shipwreck of leaders who began to think that their office and attainments meant a special exemption for them from following the clear directions of scripture. I have known some people who in fact idolized such leaders, and their faith was led near to, and in some cases, into actual shipwreck. But sometimes the consequences are less spectacular – there is just simply a steady decline, since the leader who starts to live with the idea that he or she is greater than anyone else is going directly contrary to the will of the Lord of the church. Indeed, he or she is walking directly in a path where he or she can expect to find God directly in opposition to their goals, plans and undertakings, since “ . . . God resists the proud . . .” (Proverbs 3:34, I Peter 5:5).

Somehow it needs to be seared into the hearts of leaders in the church, if our churches are truly to prosper spiritually, that every step I may take toward self aggrandizement or with the underlying motive or agenda that I am special, that I deserve special privileges or that I am greater in myself or because of anything that I have done than the least of all saints in the church, that I am taking a step away from God and starting down a path away from his will, his fellowship and his blessing. And there needs to be this continued realization also within our churches that when we attempt to emphasize or glorify the position, office, virtues or talents of anyone, that we are in fact introducing an enticing but slowly acting toxin into our community that may end up in the shipwreck of the faith of many and the demise of previously living and growing churches.

There’s a story about two elderly sisters who were having an argument. It amounted to them saying back and forth to each other, “I’m closer to the Lord than you are.” Their brother finally stopped it by saying, “Ain’t neither of you pushing him any.” In our hearts, therefore, let there be this realization that when when we take that attitude of sibling rivalry within our churches, that we are in fact demonstrating how far from the Lord we really are and how much closer to him we really need to become. We need continually to be reminded that in the body of Jesus Christ the pursuit of leadership out of personal and social ambition is a vain quest. Rather, leadership in the Kingdom of God does not make anyone any greater than he or she was before. Anyone who has already entered the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ being born again of his Spirit has already finally and once and for all received the greatest gift and highest status possible, that of having received salvation from sin and acceptance with God for all eternity through Jesus Christ, of “ . . . every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ . . .”  (Ephesians 1:3). And much more could be said on that, but let us continue on in this same passage.

The opposite picture of leadership, that of being a servant, is the command of Jesus Christ. His own example entirely backs up that command; it was one that he fulfilled far beyond what any one of us could hope to approach. In this picture, he gives us the pattern of genuine leadership which he has truly called, commissioned and empowered to be the leaders of his church.

In verse 35 Jesus called together the twelve and delivers what seems to have been the first of his calls to them. He would have to repeat it again, in the gospel of Mark, in 10:35-44: “Whoever among you wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all – for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in the Upper Room, on the night of his betrayal, he acted it out before them, in a kind of spiritual performance art, when he took the place of the lowliest slave and washed the feet of each one of them (John 13:1-20). But before the meal was even over, the old argument about who was greatest burst out again, and Jesus had to bring back the same lesson to them again (Luke 22:24-30). So it looks like Jesus had to bring this lesson before the disciples at least four times. He was going against the way of the pride of human nature and of the way that they had seen leadership modeled during their lifetimes – and, perhaps, the way that some people have, of not letting go of an argument until they think that they have won and gotten their way, which may well have been characteristic of several of the disciples.

Note that Jesus didn’t give the leader of his church a set of instructions nor a curriculum for leadership as much as he gave them a totally unexpected image: that of the servant. It is as if he took a piece of paper, drew a sketch, and said, “This is the kind of person you are to be.” So many times when people in our world and in the church come into positions of leadership, the pattern of leadership they follow is that which they have already seen, and the image that they follow is the one that they have seen.  And they, like the disciples, may be extremely stubborn and reluctant to let go of that path of pursuing leadership. And doubtless that is the reason that may people seek positions of leadership in the world and in the church is because they have seen others exploit their offices for personal satisfaction, power, recognition and affluence, and they want some of that for themselves.  But Jesus didn’t give anyone as the picture of his leader the image of a lord in his castle, nor a CEO in his office, nor someone who had all the answers and was always telling others what to do nor someone who was living on the perks and privileges of his or her office. He gave them the picture of a servant – someone who had no expectation of receiving any gain from passing on a message for his master nor of receiving anything more from his master than his food, clothing and shelter, and someone who could expect hard work and hardship throughout his or her life of service. His direction was to aim at servanthood and humility, and not at the other trappings that people may see associated with leadership and position in our world.

Even more, we must consider the picture Jesus drew of the type of leader that he called for like the rendering of a police sketch artist. It is as if he drew the picture, presented it to his church and said, “This is the kind of person that you are to be looking for.” And this is the kind of people that we are to be looking for for leaders – not those who boast about being leaders, nor those who try to act out their own sense of personal greatness, but those who seek and live out servanthood after the example of Jesus Christ himself.  Those who start on the path of leadership with a lot of boasts about what they can do and accomplish should be viewed with suspicion of their motives at the very outset – but too often they are simply plugged into whatever offices are available. This striving for leadership for reasons other than Christlike servanthood definitely lies at the root of much of what may be termed inter-church and intra-church politics – but these really come down to euphemisms for bad behavior such as exploitation and abuse of position, corruption of office, nepotism and cronyism. What does a striving for my glory and the trappings of my office, an attitude of ‘Rules are for others’ and using a position to pass on favors to my family and friends and to punish the people I don’t like – what does that have to do with being a servant after the example of Jesus Christ?

Even more, this attitude of servanthood must more generally be recognized as a mark of a secure and humble walk with Jesus and the mark of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This Christlike humility is, then, the foundation of an example that will back up preaching and teaching with moral consistency with what has been preached and taught. Even more, it provides and example that others can follow without fear, because it is the example of the Master who sacrificed his all for his followers. Seen in the light of the example of Jesus, servanthood leadership turns out to be simply a different way of following the will of God, and of loving God and loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. And therefore it to be received as a responsibility and pursued out of the conviction of God’s will with all the love and humility of Christ.

So then, the entrance into leadership in the body of Christ comes through serving God, and the church should look for those who are servants for leaders. They will be found not boasting of their qualifications but serving their brothers and sisters in Christ with pure motives and pure intentions through the path of humility in the Holy Spirit. They will be seen through a willingness to do small things and unnoticed things conscientiously out of faithfulness and out of love for God. This path then leads easily to the development of scriptural qualifications for eldership (I Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:7-9), and to the scriptural place of leadership, to equip the body of Christ for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).

There’s a story of a young ensign in the United States Coast Guard who was giving a 4th grade class the tour of his station. One of his friends slapped him on the back and said, “I see they finally gave you your own command.” But that’s the way that leadership in the body of Christ starts – with taking on the lesser tasks that may not bring much recognition with humility, enthusiasm and care to follow Christ.

The attitude of servanthood after the example of Jesus Christ, though, is not optional for believers in general. It is commanded especially for the leaders, but there is no place where other believers who are not leaders can live in their pride and ambition as well, and pretend to be doing well spiritually.  Rather, this is what scripture commands generally: “If there any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if there is any compassion and mercy, then fulfill my joy that you think on the same thing, as you have the same kind of love and share one soul, that you think on nothing from selfish ambition and conceit, but in humility you consider each other more than yourselves, as you look not to you own concerns but also to those of others. Think on the same think which is in Christ Jesus, who, though the was in the form of God, did not consider being equal to God as something to use for his own advantage, but who emptied himself as he took the form of a slave, having taken the form of mankind; and having been found in the form of a man he humbled himself as he became obedient to death, even the death on a cross. Therefore God has exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11).

More and more I’m hearing about what I can only call a rising tide of spiritual tyranny in our churches and among believers in Christ, and servanthood leadership and serving each other after the example of Jesus Christ is part of what is necessary to combat this ugly poison. This may in fact clinically be called and have its roots in either narcissism or  codependency but I think that there are many times that the roots come from what people in our churches see and hear from some leaders in our churches. Sibling rivalry among brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, though, becomes sibling tyranny where any of us thinks that we have the right and responsibility to try to rule and control any other believer in the body of Christ. It is the way of the ostensibly Christian control freak, and this behavior in fact poisons and defiles the loving fellowship of the church of Jesus Christ. It happens when we stand by while extraordinarily selfish, deceitful and ruthless behavior aimed to get another believer to knuckle under to the selfish and conceited demands of someone else and impose their personal preferences upon others takes place. This is the exact opposite of scriptural servanthood.

So therefore there needs to be a real caution and firm refusal to take or to cooperate with any leader or fellow believer who takes the attitude of spiritual tyranny toward anyone else in the body of Christ, and refuse to take it up ourselves. We must refuse to take up the attitude toward any other believer in Christ which amounts to “I am your Lord and Master” or “I own you” and “You report to me, you are responsible to me, and you serve me.” Rather, we could expect that Jesus Christ will say back about that person, “I am the Lord and Master of that person – not you. I own him or her – not you. And that person reports to me, is responsible to me, and serves me – not you.” And we could expect that Jesus will assert back to the person that attempts to take that attitude, “I am to be YOUR Lord and Master, I own you, and you are to follow me. You are to report to me, you are responsible to me, and you  are to serve me.”

So then, Jesus set forth the example of servanthood leadership as his direction as to how leadership is to conduct itself in his church. And our churches are to follow the direction of the Lord Jesus if they are to be his church. The direction of the church is not necessarily to follow the will of the leader nor of the congregation but the Lord Jesus himself. And he himself, as he draws the picture of servant leadership, provides as well the security for his leaders to live and act as servant leaders.

Jesus Christ stands by his leaders as his representatives. The security for leaders to be servant leaders is that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Defender. And this forms the basis for how the church is to treat the leaders that he has called, sent and equipped. The church of Jesus Christ is to accept and follow his servant leaders as his representatives. They are his most visible spokesmen and messengers, and they deliver God’s Word and watch that God’s will is performed in his church.

When Jesus took the child and put him in their midst, and embraced the child, that was what we could call an enacted parable, a kind of performance art by the Son of God. He was playing on a double meaning, where servant and child are the same word, which would have been evident in the original Aramaic of the original conversation, and which carries through as well in the original Greek in which the gospel of Mark was written. And just as the disciples more than once had that discussion about who was the greatest, Jesus more than once made that assertion that he stands by his leaders as his representatives (Luke 10:16, John 13:20). This would mean his call for his church to receive his leaders as his messengers, and this would  mean following the words of the Lord with love and respect for the message and the messenger, because the servant leader is, like Jesus showed them bringing in the child before them and putting his arms around him, bringing in the servant leader and covering him with his authority, power, love and care.

This, then, is the security for a leader to be a servant: the realization that as he is  brought in by Jesus in the place of humility, as a child and as a servant, and placed in the midst of the disciples of Jesus, that he is surrounded by the loving arms of Jesus. This is what should deter anyone ever in our churches from ever seeing or treating a leader in the place of servanthood and humility as a target for unending exploitation. Rather, the arms of Jesus around his servant leaders means that they need to see his leaders as being under the call, leading and protection of the Lord Jesus himself, and that they are to follow that leader respectfully. And this will then furnish the security for servant leaders to stick their necks out and pour themselves out for those whom they are responsible to lead by the Word of God. And this also contradicts a common platitude that a test of our servanthood leadership comes when others begin to treat us as their servants; it’s nowhere justified in the Word of God for anyone in the body of Christ to treat a leader in the path of servanthood with disdain, contempt or exploitation. Rather, the call of the Word of God is for respect and submission as far as they are leading according to the plain guidance of the Word of God.

But Jesus, when he gave this wonderful picture with his arms around the child, showing his guidance, leading, protection, love and care for his servant leaders, also concluded with a solemn declaration. The acceptance or rejection of a leader called, sent and protected by Jesus Christ amounts to the acceptance or rejection of the authority of Jesus Christ, and of God the Father himself. In other words, he takes personally how his servants are treated: “Whoever receives one of such children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me does not just receive me but the One who sent me.”

It should be unquestioned that the place of the blessing of the believer and of the church of a whole is with the acceptance of the authority of Jesus Christ and the following of his will. This statement of Jesus, then, about his taking personally how his leaders are treated, is a way to understand the way to personal blessing , through treating his leaders with proper respect as submission as messengers of God. Certainly this assumes that the leader is acting in submission to Christ and living out his leadership as a servant with the humility of a young child. But this means a right attitude of respect toward leaders, toward following leaders out of love to God and showing a proper attitude of respect to the Lord whose messenger he is. This means that the respect carries through to the leader who is acting as a servant under the leadership of Jesus with the humility of a young child.

It’s been noted that disrespect for the servant leader, and sabotage and resistance of his guidance for the church, is a strong factor in church decline and stagnation. It’s noteworthy how many times a church without a pastor will pray fervently for a pastor, but then treat the pastor that then comes with complaints, dissension, disdain and disrespect. Did they think that God had not answered their prayer in sending them a pastor? Did they think that they knew better than God what kind of pastor they needed? This is one strong factor in church blessing or decline, as David Mains, pastor of the radio show Chapel of the Air once noted: “My observance of thriving congregations is that a common factor in congregations where the Spirit is alive is the willingness of the people to follow godly leaders. Conversely, one key factor in withering local bodies, far more often than not, is the refusal of the people to be truly supportive of godly leaders.”

So then, Jesus Christ stands behind his servant leaders. He calls them and gives them his Word and his power, and therefore the church needs to treat them with respect and love because of his close identification with the servant leader, and his appointment of them as his representatives and his spokesmen. Love and respect for his leaders on behalf of Christ means that the people of the church, the others in position of leadership, must renounce any attempts at subversion of his direction as backed up by the Word, and of any manipulation to try to fit him into your personal specifications, of trying to become an ‘amateur Providence’ in the life of a leader whom God has called. While there is nothing in what Jesus said to give the impression that the servant leader has any justification to act as if he had in himself any personal authority independent of God, to play God in the lives of others, there is also nothing in what Jesus said to give any justification to anyone else within the church to act as if he or she had any justification to try to play God in the life of the servant leader. Servant leaders themselves are not to be the targets for spiritual tyranny by anyone else either! Rather, realize that the servant leader has been called, prepared, and empowered by God, and if he humbly continues in the Word, continues under the protection and guidance of God as well. Realize that that is something that you have no justification before God or man to try to control or interfere with.

Even more, love and respect for the servant leader means listening to what they say as the message of God, as far as it is in accord with what the Bible says and as it is in accord with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Consider and follow it as far as it is in accord with the Bible, and follow his godly example as far as possible. And when a leader needs correction, let it be not be with anger, but with love, gentleness and respect, and let it be based on the Word of God. Moreover, pray for the leader, and give conscientious feedback as far as possible.

The Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, has given instructions in his Word for the style and expression of leadership in his church. He has also given instructions for the proper treatment of leaders in his church. The manner of leadership and the proper treatment of leaders are marks of the submission to Christ and the proper following of the Word of God in the fellowship of the church. This will not show itself in personal charisma, talents or gifts but rather in being like Christ.

The great need of the church today and in all ages is servant leaders who follow the servanthood example of the Lord Jesus. Pray for such leaders to be called and prepared, and for those who are in leadership responsibilities to take up their responsibilities as servant leaders. And pray for a resurgence of servanthood leadership in the body of Christ, by the call and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And if you are a leader, or you are seeking leadership out of a sense of God’s call, serve faithfully and conscientiously. Live the life of servanthood that God vindicates by giving a place of leadership, blessing and vindication while in leadership.

And if you have indulged in spiritual rivalry and tyranny, and have thus walked out of close fellowship with God, even, perhaps, while telling yourself all the time that you were following what you thought God wanted, walk away from that path with all your might. And take the way back to walking closely with Jesus out of these sins of rivalry and tyranny into humility and servanthood. Take the path back to closeness through confession to God and to man of the sins you have committed in your pride, arrogance and rivalry, and attempts to control, manipulate another person in tyranny and not in servanthood love after the example of Jesus Christ. Make that confession in private and in person if possible, or on the phone or in letter,with no excuses, no claims of having good intentions all the time you were attempting to dominate and tyrannize another person into your will – your hot pursuit of what was not the will of God in the life of another person. There is no quick and easy path back to close fellowship with Christ out of what may be years and, for some people, decades of spiritual rivalry and tyranny. Don’t expect instant and complete restoration of the relationships that have been abused and broken on that path but rather live out that attitude of repentance in humility of Christ, and let him provide the healing and reconciliation as you demonstrate deeds that demonstrate true repentance and truly trustworthy character.

For there to be servant leaders, then, the church must also recognize the call, guidance, protection and loving care of God behind his leaders. This calls for doing them no harm in the path of leadership, and even more giving them proper respect as the messengers of God called by God. Avoid the malicious gossip and unloving criticism and undue complaining when they don’t do what you think that they should have done or what you would have done in their situation; that’s wrong toward any brother or sister in Christ as well. But rather forgive, forbear, accept and love them anyway, and receive blessing from their strengths and the blessings they have received from God, and be as merciful toward their shortcomings as you would expect to receive as if you were in the same situation. And pay special attention to make sure that they receive proper financial support for themselves and their families, as servant leaders, since God honors those who follow his Word and who honor his messengers.