In the first post from this short 2-part series on Kingdom Leadership, which is part of a larger, ongoing study on the Doctrine of the Church (See the Doctrine Tab above – Ecclesiology), we looked at the request of the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, to have her sons sit on either side of His throne in His kingdom. We saw how this was part of a repeated pattern of the disciples to aspire to positions of authority, which oddly enough followed prophecies of Christ suffering and death.
The passage under consideration in that post was Matthew 20:20-28, where the request for authority was made and subsequently rejected by Christ, who then countered with a rebuke and held up gentile authority as a negative example of authority/leadership. As we may recall, our Lord pointed out to His disciples not only the dysfunctional nature of gentile leadership, “they lord it over them”, but counters with an example that goes against the structure of worldly leadership altogether, “26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” This was then followed by the ultimate example of Kingdom leadership, our Lord Jesus Christ, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In this post, the subject is once again kingdom leadership, but this time it is not the gentile structure of leadership that draws the condemnation of Christ, but the Jewish leadership, ensuring that nothing apart from the new reality of Jesus’ pattern of Kingdom leadership will suffice.
Matthew 23:1-12 – Religious Leadership
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
In the passage above, our Lord is beginning His discourse of “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees, the unquestioned religious leaders of the day, with an exposition on the nature of the Jews’ religious leadership. This section builds upon a question posed to the Pharisees concerning the nature of Jesus’ authority (Matt. 22:41-46), bringing the attention and focus upon the present religious structure of leadership. The fact that the target of much of Christ’s ire was the religious leaders of His day, should cause us to sit up and take notice.
The introduction of this rebuke begins with the recognition that the scribes and Pharisees sit on the Seat of Moses. This is followed by an apparent commendation of their teaching and a command to obey their leadership. But this would be an incorrect conclusion. By stating that the scribes and Pharisees sit on the Seat of Moses, Jesus is not commending them personally, nor their office, but is commending the seat of Moses, which either literally refers to a seat from which teaching took place in the synagogue (probably not) or that in so much as they taught correctly the Law of Moses, do and observe these things (more likely). Was Jesus instructing the people towards unquestioned obedience of the scribes and Pharisees? Absolutely not, in fact, just the opposite, in so far as they were correctly teaching what Moses had instructed, this was to be obeyed by the people. This statement implicitly sets limits on the nature of authority for the scribes and Pharisees, in that it rests not in their person, nor in their position, but from an outside authority, more correctly God’s Law/Word. Understanding these limits helps provide clarity in our day, as well as further illuminates an oft-abused passage such as Hebrews 13:17.
However, despite teaching the law of Moses, they failed to be an example for the people to follow. Recall that in a recent post, Follow the Leader, we looked at Hebrews 13:7 and concluded that the recipients of this sermon were exhorted to remember their leaders, particularly in their teaching of the word, consider their life, and imitate their faith. They were godly examples of the Christian life which were to be emulated by those surrounding them. In remembering their leaders, we saw the Hebrews had been taught the word, but that these leaders were not only teaching the word of God correctly, but were putting into practice what they taught, thereby becoming and example to the flock.
This is precisely the opposite of what was occurring with the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Instead of being an example, they were authoritarian, “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.” These burdens were the man-made traditions that they had developed which they tacked on to the God-given law. Additionally, they prided themselves in their authority and elevated status as leaders, “they do all their deeds to be seen by others“ as evidenced by outward symbols of phylacteries and fringes, the former referring to leather boxes containing scrolls of the law and the latter referring perhaps to displays of self-piety. They enjoyed the privileges that came with their position, “they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues.” They loved the attention that came with their position, “greetings in the marketplaces.” And they loved the title that came with their position, “being called rabbi by others.“
This classic example of narcissistic, authoritarian, and abusive leadership is then contrasted with the scriptural model of Kingdom leadership in verses 8-12.
8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
First, we see Jesus spurning the use of titles, you are not to be called rabbi. It is noteworthy that this follows upon the statement of condemnation for the scribes and Pharisees love of being called rabbi. The justification for this is rooted first in the authority of God, you have one Teacher and second in the equality among the brotherhood of believers, “you are all brothers” (note: brothers and sisters). The hierarchy is not God, then clergy, then laymen, rather it is God then man.
The familial language of brothers leads our Lord into mention of the Fatherhood of God as the basis for not calling any man father on earth. It is doubtful that this is a reference to genealogical father’s, as in calling your dad, father, because clearly the context is religious. While it could in fact be applicable to use this as a condemnation of the Roman Catholic notion of “father”, it could also be a reaction against the notion of spiritual lineage or offspring, apart from God the Father. In other words, the family tree of God’s children all have direct descent from God the Father, not through descent from other men (note that Acts 7:2; 22:1 are not likely references to ecclesiastical offices).
Next, the title of instructor draws the ire of Christ, as He counters those who would bestow this earthly title on someone with Himself as The Instructor. The ESV translation of the word instructor could also be guide or master. While the reference to teacher from earlier likely means one who communicates information, here we have more the idea of a positional leader or guide. It is beyond dispute that those who function as teachers, or even as leaders, is permissible in Scripture, but what seems to be in the cross-hairs is assuming these positions or having the honor of the title bestowed upon oneself. It seems then that the elevation of one man above another, within a religious context – including instruction, spiritual progeny (1 Cor. 3:4), and master/guide – is prohibited as the position for each is already held by God.
After condemning the titles of rabbi, father, and instructor, our Lord again responds with a nearly identical statement on Kingdom leadership as the one from earlier in Matthew 20,
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
As with the previous statement, here again Jesus means that those among you who are serving, literally deaconing, shall be the greatest. Those who are exalted, as in the titles and positions of honor previously mentioned, shall be humbled or brought low. Whereas, those who humble themselves will be exalted, though likely this would be by exaltation from God and not by man.
In our modern day society of Christendom, leadership is often determined by placing a man into a position of leadership, which implies that he is a leader, that he is capable of leading, and that in that capacity he actually leads. Said differently, you’re neither considered a leader or in leadership until you have the official title as such, i.e. pastor, elder, shepherd, deacon, etc. The most that could be hoped for is the designation of ‘lay leader’. However, Scripture presents a different concept. It suggests observing those who are already leading by their service, functionally we might say, and subsequently recognizing that they are the leaders.
Additionally, here we find a note of warning against our modern propensity to elevate men to an official status and title within our churches. Commenting on this is R.T. France
Jesus thus incidentally asserts his own unique authority: he has the only true claim to ‘Moses’ seat’. Over against that unique authority his disciples must avoid the use of honorific titles for one another (‘Christian rabbinism’, Bonnard) – an exhortation which today’s church could profitably taken more seriously, not only in relation to formal ecclesiastical titles (‘Most Rev.’, ‘my Lord Bishop’, etc.), but more significantly in its excessive deference to academic qualifications or to authoritative status in the churches. (Tyndale, pg. 325)
Given these two passages, we can now summarize the Kingdom Leadership Paradigm:
- Leadership is not taken, it’s given.
- Leadership is not ruling, it’s serving.
- Leadership is not domineering, it’s submissive.
- Leadership is not positional, it’s functional.
- Leadership is not exalting, it’s humbling.
- Leadership is not authoritarian, it’s exemplary.
Whatever else we read and conclude in the New Testament concerning ‘ecclesiastical leadership’, as such, must flow down stream from both Matthew 20 and Matthew 23.
Who are your leaders? Look around, it may not be who you think.