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This topic of church leadership is one of my hot buttons (see the Leadership Studies page on my website). Because of pride and ego, we tend to want to promote our own leadership in a way that reflects the selfish ambition of the flesh. Despite the directives given in the NT, we think that we know better how to maintain unity in a church and how to pragmatically get things done. We think we need a differentiated, strong leader at the top of the governmental hierarchy structure to be effective. We pay lip service to the NT model of plurality of church government, but we find ways to deny the spirit of that model and to maintain some form of hierarchy in leadership that parallels what we see in secular business and government. This is WRONG!


“And there arose also a dispute among them

as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.”

This is the Diotrephes’ syndrome that is so prevalent in church leadership (3 John 9)

I believe that the prevalent model of church government in the Christian church today that features a dominant senior pastor that is differentiated in office from the other elders is a violation of the plurality of elder model prescribed in the NT. I am definitely in the minority on this conviction.

Donald Miller: The disciples’ questioning among themselves about who was the betrayer (vs. 23) is contrasted with a dispute about who should be “regarded as the greatest” (vs. 24). This indicates the terrible twist of the human heart which, rather than humbly facing its own lack, is inclined to vaunt itself over others.

MacArthur: Their eschatology is right. They expect the kingdom. And they know that in the kingdom there will be honor, and there will be blessing. There eschatology is correct. They’re having a hard time understanding it. Before there could be the kingdom, there has to be the suffering and the dying. And that the kingdom is a long time away, as our Lord told them, you remember, in chapter 21. This is very troubling selfishness. It’s sound eschatology, but it’s very troubling selfishness. How can such a shallow, self-centered group, with a history of weakness, and vacillation, and failure – how can they possibly be used to change the world?

Michael McCartney: Scriptures warning against selfish ambition in church leadeership:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Phil. 2:3)

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:16)

An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment. (Prov. 18:1)

Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. (Psalm 119:36)

Servant leaders are those who repeatedly cry, “No Pride” every day. They are leaders who practice humility. They are ones who seize every opportunity to tear down pride in the church so that it will not destroy it. It’s a leader who uses servant characteristics to lead not worldly business practices. It’s one who continually reminds himself of Prov. 16:18

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

With humility being modeled in leadership each individual is treated with respect and dignity. It also gives permission to each person to contribute to the ministry without being intimidated or driven away.


A. (:25-26) Contrast in 2 Models of Leadership — Gentile vs. Christian

1. (:25) Gentile Model of Leadership = Lording it Over Others

“And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them;

and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’”

MacArthur: You can’t think like the world thinks. The world operates on autocratic power. That’s how the world operates. It operates by dominance, by dictatorship; authoritarianism, despotic rulers lord it over people by threat and force. Katakurieuō, lord it over them. A compound of lording – very strong, tyrannical. That’s the world’s way.

You have a pecking order. You have a hierarchy; you have somebody at the top who dominates everybody. They knew this. This is how life was in the ancient world. In fact, there were no democracies anywhere in sight at that time in human history. This is the world’s way. Somebody is the greatest; somebody’s on top; somebody has the authority; somebody dominates.

And the kings of the Gentiles, the nations, that’s their approach. And then He adds, “And those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors’” – are called, probably a middle voice, “call themselves benefactors.” These are the people – the word “benefactor” – euergetēs – energizers. These are the ones who think all the influence lies with them, all the power lies with them. they are responsible for being the source of everything that happens. It all flows out of them. They’re the energizers. They have authority, meaning total, absolute authority.

So, in the world you have dictators and kings and rulers and Caesars and monarchs and pharaohs and all the rest. And they dominate by power and force and threat, and rule by fear. And they call themselves the influencers, the energizers, the benefactors. That is to say they’re the source of all the good that comes. This is how the world operates, with this kind of hierarchical structure.

Gilbrant: This desire for worldly greatness causes people to try to dominate others. It makes them demand proper honor and fancy titles. They love to play the tyrant and lord it over those less fortunate than they. They try to maintain their superiority and power by violent oppression. Such is the greatness of this world—full of arbitrary arrogance and as temporary as it is empty.

Life Application Bible Commentary: The world’s system of leadership varies greatly from leadership in God’s kingdom. Worldly leaders are often selfish and arrogant as they claw their way to the top. Benefactor was a title used in the Greek and Roman societies for princes, Roman emperors, and the gods. It was a reciprocal relationship in that the clients who received support from the benefactors were required to recognize their authority and give public adulation to the benefactor. But among Christians, the leader is to be the one who serves best. There are different styles of leadership—some lead through public speaking, some through administering, some through relationships. Whatever the style, every Christian leader needs a servant’s heart.

2. (:26) Christian Model of Leadership = Serving Others

“But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.”

Geldenhuys: The rulers and leading men of earthly kingdoms act with outward power and make their inferiors realise very thoroughly that they are their rulers. Obviously, under such circumstances there is a constant competition among the earthly rulers – whosoever acts with the most dominating force is regarded as the most important. In addition, earthly potentates are often so conceited that they claim the title of “benefactors” – they look for fame and honour which they even extort forcibly. Among His followers, however, such a state of affairs must not prevail, Jesus declares. Instead of exploiting their positions (as the eldest or as leaders) to rule over others, the eldest one among them (i.e. the one to whom special honour is due by reason of his more advanced years) must regard himself as the younger one (who does not expect this special reverence). Likewise the one who is called upon to act as leader must carry out his task like one who serves and not like one who has to be served. Leadership should not be regarded as a means of enjoying special privileges over others, but as a specially responsible form of service to be rendered in deep humility before God.

B. (:27) Example of Christ

“For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves?

Is it not the one who reclines at the table?

But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Morris: The feet-washing that John records was a striking illustration of Jesus’ readiness to take the place of one who serves. He did this although He was entitled to the supreme place and men naturally esteem the diner as higher than the waiter. All three examples of the word serves translate diakonon, a verb which means in the first place the service of the table waiter and thus is very much to the point. From this it came to mean lowly service in general and this is what is in mind here. Jesus is not saying that if His followers wish to rise to great heights in the church they must first prove themselves in a lowly place. He is saying that faithful service in a lowly place is itself true greatness.

David Guzik: The world regards the one who is served as greater, but Jesus showed us that true greatness is in serving, more than in being served. Cultures have always envied the person whom others serve. In ancient China, rich people sometimes grew long, long fingernails, so long they could do nothing for themselves – and this was seen as a sign of status.. But the people who are really great in our lives are the servants. If the President took a month off, no one would really miss it; but if all the trash collectors in the country took the month off, we would notice. Jesus is trying to re-arrange our thinking, our priorities.


A. (:28) Faithfulness Recognized by Christ

“And you are those who have stood by Me in My trials;”

B. (:29-30) Favor of Dominion and Privilege Granted in Coming Kingdom

“and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom,

I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom,

and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”



A. (:31) Danger for Spiritual Leaders

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;”

J C Ryle: There is something very awful in this expression. It shows us that the devil is often “desiring” to accomplish our ruin, and striving to accomplish it, while we know nothing of his doings, because he is invisible. On the other hand, there is some comfort in the expression. It teaches us that Satan can do nothing without God’s permission. However great his “desire” to do mischief, he works in chains.

B. (:32) Directives Regarding Failure and Recovery

1. Encouragement to Perseverance

“but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail;”

Spurgeon: How encouraging is the thought of the Redeemer’s never-ceasing intercession for us. When we pray, He pleads for us, and when we are not praying, He is advocating our cause and, by His supplications, shielding us from unseen dangers. We little know what we owe to our Savior’s prayers. When we reach the hilltops of heaven and look back upon all the way whereby the Lord our God has led us, how we will praise Him who, before the eternal throne, has pleaded our cause against our unseen enemies. “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32).

2. Exhortation to Revitalized Ministry after Recovery from Failure

“and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

C. (:33-34) Denial of Christ Exposes Deceptive Self-Confidence

1. (:33) Deceptive Self-Confidence

“And he said to Him, ‘Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!’”

Donald Miller: Peter failed to understand the dimensions of the testing through which he and the others were to go. The surest way to failure is to underestimate the odds against us! The only response the warning drew from Peter was a self-confident assertion that he would stand by Jesus even to the death (vs. 33).

2. (:34) Denial of Christ

“And He said, ‘I say to you, Peter, the cock will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.’”

Geldenhuys: In the story of Peter’s fatal self-confidence and pitiable fall every believer has a permanent and powerful warning never to rely arrogantly on his own strength. A healthy confidence is indeed necessary to every Christian, but this must be in the sense of reliance on God – i.e. faith, not in our own resources, but in the power given to us by Him.