In this passage, Jesus teaches us that we should not desire authority or power for its own sake or for lording it over others.
If we are honest, it can feel good to be in a position of power. I have heard a phrase in the context of military preparedness “the enemy gets a vote.” This is true in other areas. So often in life we only have a small vote in what happens to us. We can control our attitude and actions, but little else. In turn, this can lead us to despair and frustration. Circumstances outside of our control influence us profoundly. Our employer could suddenly lay us off, the economy could tank, there could be a scandal rending the church. So, we think if only we could get ourselves into positions of power and authority, we could control more of our own destiny. Perhaps not everything. But at least we would not be as helpless. If we had authority, we could get more of what we want. Usually, this is an illusion. At best, it is temporary and fleeting. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The quest for control is regressive, we get domain over one thing and realize three other things now have domain over us. Wealth is a common example here. We want money so we can free ourselves from worry, only to realize that once we become a millionaire, we have more responsibility. More swindlers come knocking. There are taxes, lawsuits, inflation, investments, estate planning, and so forth. Then of course the million is not enough. We would solve all these problems with a billion. But the issues magnify. It is the same thing with political power. Treachery, more people gunning for you, more issues of concern. In the end, when we pursue power and authority for their own sake or for the sake of ourselves, the things you realize you cannot control simply multiply and magnify themselves. Of course, in attaining all this power and control, we have scant time for worship, prayer, family, and the smelling of roses. With acquisitiveness comes a turning in on the self and away from God.
All of what I have said here seems like a set of platitudes that can be rationalized away because “it will be different for me.” How many times have you said that to yourself? This has been a crushing question for me. It’s a ‘gut check’.
As He so often does, Jesus gives what seems counterintuitive instruction. “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…” Against the grain of our nature, the key to living in the will of God, and therefore true happiness, peace, and harmony, is not to seek power and lordship over others. We must look to serve others. To imitate the Lord Jesus.
Jesus is not telling us to unequivocally avoid a position of leadership or to never have authority over others. The big question is why we want these things. Do we really want to serve? Do we want to live out the vocation God has for us? Is it possible for us to walk humbly with God and love our fellow man in a certain role or with a set of responsibilities? To be sure, this is a tough balance to strike. If we follow the example of Christ, we can say ‘yes’ we want to serve. We can say ‘yes’, to walking humbly with God.