Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/6/00
At long last, after an unprecedented two straight weeks of being ice-stormed out in Georgia, we return.
If Christianity is truth, it should make a difference in the Church and the Home that flows out into the Marketplace and transforms every relationship of life. That sentence is a summary of he relationship of this passage to the message of Ephesians as a whole. Last time we saw in vs. 5-8 the responsibilities of servants/workers/employes; today, we turn to the masters/supervisers/bosses. Paul's teaching is a restatement of the same pattern we saw in the discussion of the authority of the husband as head of the home, but one that may be very helpful in seeing what the basic principle is: "Masters, do the same things for them . . ."
THESIS: The NT does not abolish, but radically transforms, our whole concept of authority, and hence of the role of the master. We will look at this truth from three different angles.
The NT recognizes authority--some have the responsibility to lead, and others to follow--but instead of being an opportunity for advancing one's own agenda of power, prestige, and wealth, authority in the NT is an opportunity for service. Masters are to do the "same things" to the servants. What same things? Well, the servants are to treat their masters as Christ, to serve them as if they were serving Christ. Therefore, the master must also treat the servant as Christ.
This is the way in which the NT undermines the human institution of slavery. It is ok for a Christian to own slaves, Paul says in effect--as long as he treats them like he would treat Jesus. Oops. How are we going to treat Jesus as a slave? Only by radically redefining the master-slave relationship can this be done. Authority remains, but can no longer be exercised for self. In other words, this verse recapitulates the rejection of the "Gentile Paradigm" of leadership that we rejected in affirming the husband's role as head of the family. Jesus explained in Mat. 20:25-28 that Gentiles lord it over their subordinates, but we must not--rather the one who wants to be great must be the servant of all. Therefore, in Eph. 5:23-25, the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church--namely, by giving himself up for her, not by lording it over her.
The master treats the SLAVE as Christ. In other words, position is completely divorced from superiority and inferiority; leading or following has nothing to do with one's relative worth as a person. Both the master and the servant are to be treated as Christ; the master must have the same respect for his servant as a person as the servant does for the master. There is no difference, for both are the slaves of Christ.
This picture demads a whole new attitude toward power, prestige, and position. No one has ever expressed that attitude better than St. Francis of Assisi in the advice he gave his disciples:
It is not for us to be wise. It is not for us to calculate our gains. We should be holy and pure as befits children of the Father, born without guile. We should not seek to be in charge of another; we should seek to be the servants of all men. So then those of us who must lead shall lead only as they follow--follow Jesus, a King without guile. Then we shall be the Bride; then we shall be the brothers; then we shall be the Body of our Lord, a King without guile.
What are some of the specific changes in our approach to leadership required by this new attitude? First surely is the Abolition of Ego. In one of the Star Trek movies, the Enterprise is manned by a crew of cadets under the command of Spock. Kirk is visiting the ship when, of course, there is an emergency and they are the only ship in the quadrant. "It is clear, " says Spock, "that as the senior officer present, you must take command." Kirk defers to his friend: "No, it's ok--you take the ship." Spock's reply was profound: "You are proceeding under a false premise, Jim. I am a Vulcan. I have no ego to bruise." And that is exactly the position Christians must occupy if we are going to lead as Christ would have us. The NT calls it being dead to self--dead to self and alive to Christ. Only thus can we hope to lead as those who follow Jesus. This death to self comes only from the fullness of the Spirit in 5:18, from which all these forms of walking worthily we have been studying flow. There is no path to any of the realities in this last portion of Ephesians that does not go through that verse.
Having died to self so that our own egos and our own agendas do not intrude, we must learn to see ourselves as the servants of God's servants. Both masters and slaves answer to one who is "their master and yours." We are all servants of Him. If my responsibility is to lead and yours is to follow, those are just the different forms of service to which we are called. We are all still servants alike. Therefore, the leader's job is not to gain glory for himself but to help his followers succeed in their jobs. If you are a follower, you need only concern yourself with whether you will one day hear Jesus say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." But if you are called to leadership, you now become focussed not on yourself but on making sure that all your subordinates will be able to hear that Word. No Christian leader can afford to have his own agenda, not if servant leaders are to lead as they follow Jesus.
What are some specific ways in which this will impact the Christian leader's management style? There are no doubt many others, but I offer these as examples. First, he will not delegate all the dirty work to others. I once worked as a junior counselor at a Christian summer camp. On one occasion, one of the kids got very sick and proceeded to deposit the entire contents of his stomach on the dining hall floor. George Harvey, the senior counselor in command, too charge of the situation. "Kyle, get on the phone and see if you can get a doctor out here. Don, take Phil back to the cabin and put him to bed and stay with him until I get there. Bill, you take the others out for games." The job he assigned himself? Cleaning up the most disgusting mound of human vomit I've ever seen. And he did it so naturally and without ostentation that it was not until later that we realized what a tremendous example of Christlike leadership we had been set. Second,the Christlike leader will not just sit back and give orders, but be part of the team, working shoulder to shoulder with those under his leadership. And finally, the servant leader with no ego to bruise because he has died to self will be open-handed with credit, not drawing it to himself. Someone once asked legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant the secret of his success. His answer was instructive: "If things went great, they did it. If they were ok, we did it. If they went lousy, I did it."
John 13:1-17 is the story of Jesus wahing the disciples' feet. I am not going to profane this account by making any comment on it, nor insult your intelligence by pointing out the obvious: it speaks for itself. I will merely close with this. Most everybody here is either in authority--as parent, teacher, or boss--or training to be. So we must ask ourselves: Am I willing to lead only as I follow Jesus? Will I be ready to serve my subordinates like Jesus when I am called? May the Lord work that spirit in us through His Spirit.
Here endeth the lesson.