The Bible has a lot to say about leadership—especially in the Gospels. So, resources like the NIV Leadership Bible Notes are great tools for helping you process these passages and apply them to your own leadership style. In Matthew 20:20-26, Jesus makes one of the most profound statements on being a great leader, clearly defining his view of power. The four steps below, taken directly from the NIV Leadership Bible Notes, will assist you in this effort:
“Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!'”
Reread the passage and envision the scene. Imagine the disciples and Jesus walking along on their way to Jerusalem. What mood does the paragraph in verses 17–19 cast on the scene?
“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
‘What is it you want?’ he asked.
She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’
‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’
‘We can,’ they answered.
Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.'”
Now, notice the conversation between Jesus and Zebedee’s family in verses 20–23. Imagine the Son of God asking you the question he asked in verse 21!
What would you say?
What were they really asking for?
Think beyond the obvious answer and imagine their dreams. From your knowledge of situations like this, what might have been their (good and not-so-good) motives?
“When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Now, notice the other disciples’ response in verse 24. What generated their indignation?
In verse 25, Jesus identified the disciples’ understanding of power positions: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” And in verse 26 he informed them of his approach to power and leadership. Put this approach into your own words.
JESUS’ LEADERSHIP TECHNIQUE
Think about this for a bit. After Jesus’ ascension, these men would be in charge. The disciples would need to be the highest-profile and most authoritative leaders in all of Christian history. They were to take over this ministry with no historical precedent, no written documentation that they could follow. They were the only disciples. However, their highest qualification was being personally groomed by Jesus. They had his example as a point of reference. And here he tells them not to lord it over others or exercise authority in a negative way.
Notice what Jesus told them in verses 25 and 26. He said that the highly visible uses of power around them, namely “lording it over” and “exercising authority over,” were not options. How, then, were they to get people to do what needed to get done? Jesus said, essentially: To be great, be a servant; to be first, be a slave. “First” is higher than “great” and “slave” is more servile than “servant.” Think about it!
Anticipating their confusion about whether this approach would work (actually, most hearers would be quite convinced that it wouldn’t work), Jesus gave a simple and solid closing argument. To those with whom he had lived and worked he concluded that they should serve “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 28).
LEADERSHIP FOR TODAY
Today, countless articles and journals report on hours of empirical research and careful thinking about what makes leadership work. Increasingly, experts compile theories that affirm and explain what Jesus taught: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (vv. 26–27).
Jesus taught it, and then he went out and lived it.
COMMENT BELOW: How have you seen this leadership technique work for yourself?
NIV LEADERSHIP STUDY BIBLE NOTES
Wondering how to be a godly leader? Let the NIV Leadership Bible Notes assist you in applying the Bible to your leadership strategy—whether you’ve been in leadership for ages or are looking for an opportunity to start.