Prologue | Table of Contents | Chapter 4

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men 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." (Matthew 20:25-28, RSV).
Jesus Washing Feet

Jesus started with what His disciples already knew. He began with the vertical hierarchical model of the Gentile kings. Throughout its four thousand-year history, the world had rarely known any other form of authority than that authority which is taken, grasped and enforced by clever arguments and enticements, and where that fails, the edge of the sword. Even Israel, who had God as their king, grieved Him by asking for a king like the Gentile nations around them. Jesus was about to correct that error. He was about to present a concept of authority and leadership that would literally turn this earthly model on its head.

"The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them"

The Greek word for rulers is archon [758]. IN the KJV, this word translated as ruler 22 times; prince 11 times; chief twice; magistrate and chief ruler one each. This is the word that gave us the English word arch, which means chief or principal, such as archbishop, arch-nemesis, and arch-enemy or arch-rival.

In Christ's day an archon was a ruler or commander in the world system. Archon is the present participle of archo [757], which means "to rule over or reign over," emphasis being on over. Throughout the scriptures, archon is used of world rulers, of Satan, the prince of this world, and of Christ, but it is never used to describe believers. Below are the key passages in which archon is used, as compiled by W.E. Vine.

". . . the present participle of the verb archo, "to rule;" denotes "a ruler, a prince." It is used as follows (denoting "prince," or "princes;" "ruler" or "rulers"): (a) of Christ, as "the Ruler (AV, Prince) of the kings of the earth," Rev 1:5; (b) of rulers of nations, Mat 20:25, RV, AV, Acts 4:26, Acts 7:27, Acts 7:35, (twice); (c) of judges and magistrates, Acts 16:19, Rom 13:3, (d) of members of the Sanhedrin, Luke 14:1, RV, (AV, "chief"); Luke 23:13, Luke 23:35, Luke 24:20; John 3:1; John 7:26, John 7:48; John 12:42, (RV, "rulers") (AV, "chief rulers."); in Acts 3:17; Acts 4:5, Acts 4:8; Acts 13:27; Acts 14:5; (e) of rulers of synagogues, Mat 9:18, Mat 9:23, Luke 8:41; Luke 18:18; (f) of the Devil, as "prince" of this world, John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; of the power of the air, Eph 2:2, "the air" being that sphere in which the inhabitants of the world live and which, through the rebellious and godless condition of humanity, constitutes the seat of his authority; (g) of Beelzebub, the "prince" of the demons, Mat 9:24; Mat 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15. See CHIEF, B, No. 10."

Again, archon is never used in regard to the community of believers because there is only one archon of the Church, and that is Christ, the Ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5). He alone is King of kings and Lord of lords. The conclusion is inescapable. There is only one rightful ruler in the body of Christ, the Head, Christ Jesus. We must therefore subtract all that is implied by the Greek word archon from our definition of authority as it relates to the members of Christ's body. There is only one Lord or Archon of the church. (Ephesians 4:50)

Archon was also used of rulers of synagogues (Matthew 9:18,23). We are convinced that this is one of the reasons that Jesus did not choose the synagogue as the model for the New Testament Church. Instead he chose the Greek ekklesia, which stood for freedom of speech and every-member-participation. Unlike the synagogue, the ekklesia was a purely non-religious gathering. What do the kings of the Gentiles do? By their very natures they ". . .lord it over (katakurieuo) them."

katakurieuo [2634] means, "To bring under one's power, to subject one's self, to subdue, master, to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over" (Thayer's Lexicon)

Peter later revealed that he had indeed come to understand the mystery of foot-washing. He reminded the elders or senior members of the Church of the Lord's teaching on the evils of lording over God's heritage. "Neither as being lords (katakurieuo) over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:3). Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm" (2 Corinthians 1:24 NIV). Note here that a true leader works with the believer in all joy, knowing that it is only by his own faith that a believer can stand, not by abject subjugation to the will of the leadership.

The objective here is standing. Paul is contrasting two ways that people are supposedly made to stand. One is purely humanistic and the other is divine. Religious man tries to cause people to stand--which means conform to his religious standard--by propping them up through expectations, looking over their shoulders and making sure that everything is done up to their standards. So reads The Message Bible, "We're not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We're partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours (2 Corinthians 1:24 MSG).

In truth, the only way that people are enabled to stand is by personal faith and personal spiritual growth in God. We can be helpers (examples) or fellow-laborers but we cannot be lords over God's heritage. It is by their faith, not ours, that each individual in Christ's body stands. The faith spoken of here is not adherence to articles of faith but that faith that brings one into a living and viable relationship with God, so close that they are taught by Him and made to stand by Him. Of Christ's servants Paul wrote, "To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord (and only the Lord) is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4 NIV).

Any notion of domination and manipulation, even for a seemingly good purpose, whether it is called accountability or submission to authority, must also be stricken from our definition of authority if we are to be obedient to Christ in this all-important matter.

Jesus continues down the chain of command of this worldly paradigm in our Matthew 20 passage.

". . . and their great men (megas) exercise authority over (katexousiazo) them"

When used of worldly authority, the Greek word megas [3173] speaks of greatness and loudness (thus the English words megaphone, megaton bomb, mega-church, etc.). It speaks of the external form and appearance of a person or thing. It is used of persons or things esteemed highly for their importance. This kind of admiration does not belong in Christ's Church. Why? God esteems everyone alike. He is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, James 2:1) nor should we be. Paul wrote of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, "And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me" (Galatians 2:6 RSV). Doesn't that seem a little rebellious on Paul's part? Not really. Paul was simply assuming the posture of God toward these men of repute. His reason for what may appear to be indifference toward status is this simple logic, "God shows no partiality and neither should I."

Jesus continues by explaining what the megas of the Gentiles do: they exercise authority, or enforce the edicts that come down from the archon.

The word for authority here is the compound Greek verb [2715] katexousiazo. Kata means down, or down from, and exousiazo [1850] means to exercise power or authority. The megas of the Gentiles exercised authority downward or over, which implies a hierarchical eminence. As we shall see, such authority is strictly prohibited in Christ's Church.

After rehearsing the chain of command of the worldly authority structures, Jesus then declared all such authoritarian constructs, without exception, unfit for His Church. Jesus issued the following imperative,

"But it shall not (ou) be so among you." (verse 26)

The Greek word for not is ou [3756], the absolute negative, which is also translated cannot. This proposes a new thought for our consideration. If it is maintained through over-lording and control, any institution, however godly it may appear, cannot be Christ's Church, because it is going a different direction than Jesus did and therefore cannot have part with Him. It simply will not be so among those who make up the true body of Christ.

Jesus continues, "But whosoever will be great (megas) among you, let him be your minister (diakonos, "servant, a waiter, one who serves food and drink.")

When the five thousand followed Jesus and the disciples out into a barren place, Jesus told the disciples to feed them. After He multiplied the loaves and fishes belonging to a little boy, He commanded them to distribute the food to all who were there. He was teaching them by making them act out what a true servant of God does. He feeds the hungry and gives, expecting nothing in return.

Today the word minister has taken on an elevated meaning that is almost opposite of what Jesus originally was commanding of His servants here.

And whosoever will be chief (protos) among you, let him be your servant (1401 doulos- the most servile term in the Greek language - a slave, bondman, man of servile condition--devoted to another to the disregard of his own interests.) Notice that Jesus refused to use the word archon.

In a family context, megas is used of those who are older or elder. This is how megas is used in our text relative to Christ's Church. This becomes very clear when we see how Luke interpreted it in Luke 22: 26. "But not so with you; rather let the greatest (meizon - the superlative degree of megas) among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves" (RSV).

Luke used meizon in contrast to the youngest. The opposite of young is old. Paul used Esau and Jacob as an example when he wrote, "It was said unto her, "The elder (meizon) shall serve the younger'" (Romans 9:12). The greatness Christ was speaking of was greatness of years as well as spiritual maturity, wisdom and servanthood. In a family context, such greatness is duly and rightfully honored as it should be. In many churches there has been an effort to appeal to the spirit of this age, so church leadership has put young people with no spiritual experience in positions of authority and prominence in their congregations in an effort to appeal to the rebellious youth of our day. All honor and respect for those who have long walked with our Lord is rapidly being undermined. We are building youth centered cults, not the kingdom of God.

A distinction must be made. Jesus was not saying that those holding the highest positions, i.e., archbishop, bishop, cardinal or deacon etc., should stoop to serve in some condescending fashion, but that the seniors who usually sit in honored seats at the family table being served, would now be the waiters and slaves of all. The older members would now do the service that was normally expected of the younger family members or servants. The Church of Christ is distinguished beyond any earthly institution in that it is not governed by hierarchy, but is instead a society of younger and older members, knit together by the Spirit of the lowly Christ. Notice that service goes both ways in the kingdom of the Lamb.

And I said unto him, "Sir, thou knowest." And he said to me, "These are they that came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Revelation 7:14-17 KJ21)

Christ's utter avoidance of the language of hierarchy when speaking of His Church is very significant. He used the word protos (in Matthew 20:27) rather than archon (top down, lord-to-minion ruling) to describe leadership in His Church. This gives special weight to His words, "It shall not be so among you!" Unlike archon, protos speaks of progress in a horizontal line. Protos means "first in time or place." For instance, in Acts 16:12, Philippi is said to have been "the chief (protos) city of that part of Macedonia." According to W. E. Vine, Philippi was the first (protos) city "in the direction in which the Apostle came." It was not necessarily bigger than the rest of the cities, nor the most renowned. It was simply the first city they came to. When Paul said, "follow me as I follow Christ," he was simply compelling the rest of the believers to follow the Lord as passionately as he was. Paul did not see himself as being a ruler or the lord over others. He was not maintaining an office! He did not say follow me because I am an apostle and your rightful ruler. Paul was not building a following or a ministry. He was simply following Christ and asking others to do the same. This has nothing to do with eminence, but rather with maturity and fullness. If someone with the spiritual stature of Paul bids us to follow, we would do well to pay heed. But in most case today a man goes to seminary to get a degree so he can gain a position that is unquestioned by the faithful and gain the ability to rule over them. He is often backed up by the denominational hierarchy above him in his conquest over the saints, whether he is spiritually mature or not. This kind of leadership becomes a good old boys club that promotes worldly leadership in each others' domains.

Let us see how the word protos is used as it applies to Jesus.

And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth. John does testify concerning him, and has cried, saying, "This was he of whom I said, He who after me is coming, has come before me, for he was before (protos) me," and out of his fullness did we all receive, and grace over-against grace (John 1:14-16 RYLT-NT).

Protos is used here in the content of spiritual fullness. Spiritual fullness is maturity. In God's kingdom, maturity and spiritual fullness are synonyms. We need to learn to view greatness as fullness of grace and those that are first as those who are filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). Do we possess this kind of maturity? Are we filled with the fullness of God or do we have only a head-knowledge about Him? Are we full of grace and truth? True kingdom greatness is measured by fullness of grace not by titles and badges. If we truly realize this we will not hesitate to put aside all the earthly trappings of greatness, which men use to get advantage over one another. Of how little avail has Christ's criticism of lordship and titles been against the arrogance of Christian ecclesiastics?

In spite of Christ's refusal to use the word archon as relates to authority in His ekklesia and His even more direct imperative "It shall not be so among you," many of the denominated churches of today have incorporated this very Greek word into their administrative titles, i.e., archbishop, archpriest, ecclesiarch, archdiocese, archdeacon, etc. Again the traditions of men make void the commandments of God. When will His people finally obey Him in this matter? Father, open our eyes and give us the courage to reject traditions that conflict with your will even if it means the loss of our paying jobs in this apostate system.

It is interesting that Jesus chose the most servile term in the Greek language to correspond to Kingdom greatness. Another definition of doulos is under rower. The lowest place of slavery in the Roman Empire was the second deck galley slave. To be a galley slave was to be chained to the oar of a Roman galleon for the rest of your life with no hope of deliverance or any kind of life of your own. Consider what it was like to be a galley slave on the lower deck with other men chained to their oars above you, defecating down through the grates above your head. This is the term that Jesus chose to define the greatest in His kingdom. Of this word Thayer wrote: "Noun, doulos: 1) a slave, bondman, man of servile condition. 1b) metaphorically, one who gives himself up to another's will. . .1c) devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests. . . .Originally this was the lowest term in the scale of secular sertitude."

The direction of promotion in God's kingdom is not upward like earthly rank and file, but moves downward from a diakonos (waiter) to a doulos (slave) on a pathway leading progressively away from the peaks of self-glory to a lonely hill called Golgotha. This is as high as it goes, laying down your life for your friends. The great ones (megas) of the kingdom wait tables, but the truly great, or chief (protos), are the agape love slaves (doulos) of all. We have a leadership role only as long as we are yoked to the lowly Christ, going the direction He is going. Then and only then are we in step with Him, His purpose, and His heart. Only then do we truly have part with Him.

In God's economy, there is no such thing as reaching greatness at the top. All that the world deems great--position, status, reputation and the pride of life must be counted as dung if we are to reach that greatness that God values. We must walk away from everything that this rebellious world has become and seek only His kingdom.

The surest way to finish last is to try to be first!

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