Friday, September 9, 2011

John 13: The Greatest Leader

Who is the greatest leader in the world today? What makes that person a great leader? Leadership has practically become an industry unto itself. Countless books and seminars teach the effective principles, and enrollment in degrees within leadership disciplines (e.g. MBA) has steadily grown.

How would the greatest leader communicate his authority? With commanding presence? Eloquent speech? Amassing great wealth?

Consider the actions of the Jesus:
He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:4-5 ESV)
This is the least likely action anyone would expect a leader to perform. Peter confirms this, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" (John 13:6). Why would Jesus do a slave's job? He is not asserting his authority through his actions, but rather makes himself lower than his disciples.

After he finishes, Jesus explains his actions:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. (John 13:12-16 ESV)
If you want to be a great leader--if you want to be like Jesus Christ, then throw out everything you know about leadership and follow his example: grab a towel and wash someone's feet. You cannot be a great leader and ignore the example and command of the Lord, for you are not above him. He is clear and consistent in teaching that a leader makes himself the least and becomes a servant (Mark 9:35).

If this was not the model of leadership, we would have no hope of salvation. Even though Jesus was teaching his disciples humility and love by physically washing his disciples' feet, he was also pointing to his death. We receive a greater washing by an even greater act of humility. Jesus was on his way to the cross, and his greatest act of humility was going to wash our souls with his blood. Jesus came as the Lamb. Had he come as King of the Jungle, we would all have been devoured.

A good leader loves. A great leader loves sacrificially. Jesus builds on his object lesson at the Last Supper by summarizing:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 ESV)
Jesus Christ loved, served, and sacrificed, and if you would be a great leader, you will go and do likewise.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16 ESV)

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