April 22, 2012 INTRODUCTION – As we continue our journey through the gospel of Matthew, we continue to discover how desperate our society’s need is for the kingdom of God to take root – if any real solutions are ever to come for all the problems we are facing.
Nothing ever gets accomplished; no problems ever get solved; no wrongs every get righted without leadership; and particularly without the kingdom style of leadership that Jesus Christ revealed to the world, both through His example and His teaching.
In the kingdom of God everyone is called to lead; though not everyone is called to a position of leadership.
Every difficult situation in society requires leadership – – someone willing to step up and take initiative; someone willing to push against the grain; someone willing to take responsibility; to speak truth; to motivate others to do what needs to be done.
Our neighborhoods desperately need leaders; Our clans need leaders; Our workplaces, schools, civic clubs, and local churches desperately need leaders.
And one of the reasons leaders are so desperately needed is because the human condition prefers status quo ness. Our flesh does not like change. It craves comfort and the same oh same oh. Our flesh craves the broad path; not the narrow one.
Tom Landry – the great former coach of the Dallas Cowboys – said of this aspect of leadership, “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.”
John Quincy Adams (the 6th president of our nation) said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
If the definition of a leader is someone who people follow; then for a moment or in a certain situation in any given day – you could help fill the leader vacuum – – based on how you incorporate the following 8 leadership principles from Matthew 23:1-12.
I. Kingdom leaders lead (or influence) by personal example – vs. 1-3 A. One of the reasons I believe these 8 principles apply to every one of us here today, is because Jesus originally spoke or taught them to the crowds and to His disciples – – to everyone present. Vs. 1
B. Even though by now Jesus has fully exposed the hypocrisy and wickedness of the Pharisees and Scribes, …… …… because they are the recognized teachers of the Law, and because they did often seek to teach the law, Jesus fully expected His disciples to obey their teachings when they were correct or based on the Law – even though their lives didn’t back up their teachings. Kingdom disciples and leaders love truth; and will heed it even when the ones proclaiming it, are not practicing it. Vs. 2,3
C. In contrast to the way of the Pharisees and Scribes, which is to teach things that they have no intention of following or practicing themselves; we are to be known as doers or practicers or practitioners of what we teach. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Ezra 7:10
D. St. Francis of Assisi said of this principle, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
E. Therefore a significant part of our day and week must be devoted to our own growth, our own change, our own transformation and obedience – if we want God to use us to lead and influence and serve others. That’s why Paul charged Timothy to “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe…… Later in that same chapter, He exhorted Timothy to “Pay close attention to yourself…” meaning his own growth and personal development.
The second leadership principle is: II. Kingdom leaders set the pace or set the bar by their own sacrifice and diligence. They know that they must hemorrhage if they want others to bleed (as Howard Hendricks used to say) – vs. 4 A. The Scribes and Pharisees were known to place heavy burdens of rules and laws and observing rituals upon their followers.
B. And yet they were unwilling to do most of those things themselves. They were self willed, lazy and self consumed. They really had little genuine concern for those they led. Of leaders like them, William Shakespeare once warned, when he said, “That sir which serves and seeks for gain, And follows but for form, Will pack when it begins to rain, And leave them in the storm.”
C. Kingdom Leaders motivate by their own diligent example. They never ask their followers to do something that they are not already doing and doing to a greater degree. Kingdom leaders go by God’s prescription for a work week which is six hard days of work and one Sabbath day; not the American invention of a five day, forty hour work week with frequent and long breaks, and then two days to veg as much as possible.
The late great British pastor and preacher – John Henry Jowett said, “Ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing.” Is workaholism a danger? Yes, for some. The good news is – when we abide in Christ and draw on His strength and resurrection life in us – – working hard is not a burden; it is just what you do.
D. One of the ways Kingdom leaders help carry the burdens of their followers is by standing in the gap for them in prayer so that they can practice their righteousness in a God pleasing way. They are more than happy to go against the forces of hell in prayer so that their followers can carry the burdens and calls God has placed on their shoulders. The third leadership principle from this passage is:
III. Kingdom leaders lead to please God, not men – vs. 5 A. The Pharisees and Scribes practiced their religion for one main purpose – – to be noticed and admired by men. Everything they did was out of that one overriding motivation. That’s what they thought about when they went to bed; and that is what was on their mind when they woke up in the morning.
B. Even their attire was for this purpose: Their phylacteries, which were these small leather pouches containing strips of Old Testament verses were broadened beyond the normal width; and the tassels of their prayer shawls were lengthened beyond the normal length so they couldn’t help but be noticed.
C. Jesus had already warned about this kind of unrighteous behavior and motives earlier in His ministry as seen in Matthew ch. 6. His antidote was that we learn to practice our righteousness – such as giving to the poor –in a way so that no one knows – only God – – looking for the reward that He gives when our motive is solely to please and serve and honor Him and get His attention or notice.
IV. Kingdom leaders do not need; nor do they look for honor and respect from men – vs. 6 A. Every time the Pharisees and Scribes attended banquets or the synagogues, they fought for the seats that were reserved for vip’s.
B. Jesus had already instructed the Pharisees and Scribes and His disciples on how to conduct one’s self at a banquet. Listen to His words from Luke 14:7-11: “And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this man,” and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11
C. Kingdom leaders are glad to go unnoticed and unappreciated by men. All they care about is pleasing their Lord and accomplishing His will.
V. Kingdom leaders do not care what they are called; are not into titles; and will correct those who make too much of titles – vs. 7,8 A. The Pharisees and Scribes lived for those respectful greetings in the market places, and being called “Rabbi” by men.
B. Jesus said we should never want to be called, “Rabbi or Teacher” , or in our day any other title that might give us more respect or reverence than any man deserves. The greek word translated Teacher here in vs. 8 only occurs in this verse in the New Testament. It speaks of one who is an authoritative guide, and from the context – the ultimate authoritative guide, which all human or earthly authority is derived from.
C. Jesus’s antidote is that we all recognize that we are all brothers and sisters – united in and by Christ – equal in importance and value in His body, though differing in gifts and callings, all of which are by His grace, not our doing.
D. By the way, I always thought Billy Graham was a great example of seeing himself as a brother and not some special leader.
VI. Kingdom leaders respect authority, but are careful to never put men in the place of God – vs. 9 A. Jesus now commands that we never address one another or our leaders by the title of “Father”. His concern is not function, but title. His concern is that in public or in the marketplace that human leaders in His kingdom should not be called Father where others might hear them. His concern is that we never look to a man to be to us what only God the Father can be to us.
B. But what about spiritual fathers that Paul refers to – speaking of himself to the Corinthians in his first letter ch. 4; 14-16, “I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” If he wanted control, he wouldn’t have sent Timothy (vs. 17). Paul wasn’t asking the Corinthians to call him father. Rather he was reminding them that in function, he was their spiritual father – since he introduced them to Jesus.
C. In protestant circles, it is quite rare to hear a leader called “Father”. That seems to be more of a Catholic practice. Again – the key concern is that believers know God as Father; and never look to man to be to us what only God the Father can be to us.
VII. Kingdom leaders will not allow their followers to call them leaders, but rather servants – – so that Christ’s leadership remains the focus – vs. 10,11 A. Again the issue here is titles; not function. Some have taken this command to an extreme and tried to maintain that the church should operate without leaders. But Paul makes clear in Romans 12:8 that “leadership” is one of the spiritual gifts given to Christ’s body; and those who receive this gift are to “lead with diligence.” The writer of the book of Hebrews says unapologetically in ch. 13:17 that believers in local congregations are to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Later as he closes his letter, he tells the believers to whom he was writing, to “Greet all of your leaders and all the saints.” Clearly making a distinction between the two; again not in value or importance, but in function. Vs. 24
B. The word translated “Leader” in the phrase, “for One is your Leader” only occurs this one time and thus is meant to emphasize that Jesus Christ is still the ultimate leader and builder of His church, and no human leader should ever dare try to subvert or take away from His leadership. Nor should any believer look to a man as he is only meant to look at Christ.
C. So how should leaders look at themselves if they clearly are leaders in the church? Leaders should look at themselves as merely servants – humbly serving their Master Jesus. Greatness is never found in titles or the adulation of the crowds, but rather in one’s passion to serve their King and His subjects. The Apostle Paul said it this way in his first letter to the Corinthians, : “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” I Cor. 4:1 Then to make sure they got it, he emphasized again in his second letter “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.” II Cor. 4:5
VIII. Leaders know that exaltation comes through humbling themselves, not exalting themselves. – vs. 12 A. This is a wonderful promise for those who long for the purity of Christ’s church; and who have had to endure human leaders of Christ’s church who have exalted themselves and refused to wait for Christ’s exaltation.
B. I love the “whoever” in this promise. In the kingdom of God any man, woman, young person or child who consistently humbles themselves before God and men will in time be exalted by God Himself and will be used for His glory – regardless of your title, position, theological education or lack of.
C. It is very fitting that Jesus ends this discussion this way, because ultimately the root issue in all of this is pride – – that sinister drive or passion to want to be noticed and respected and appreciated by men – – instead of noticed and blessed by God.
D. St. Augustine put it this way, “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”
CONCLUSION – I find it very interesting that the week that preceded or led up to our discussion of this passage on kingdom leadership witnessed some of the greatest failures and abuses of leadership our nation has ever seen with the scandals in the GSA and CIA, not to mention the very sobering fashion in which Harry Reid again sobotaged the effort of one of his fellow democrat senators to finally produce a budget for our nation’s government – – something which they have failed and/or refused to do, and probably will not once do in President Obama’s first term. I also find it interesting that this week was concluded or marked by the death of one of the greatest kingdom leaders our nation has ever known, who before he was born again by the Spirit of God and began to allow that same Spirit to transform his from the inside out – – was one of the greatest abusers of the power and authority granted to government leaders – – Chuck Colson.
If there is any area of life in our society where our light ought to shine like the sun in the darkness of our self consumed society – – it is that of how we practice leadership, how we look at ourselves at leaders, how we follow and address our leaders, and who we are striving to please and serve as leaders.
Someone once said, “there is no limit to what God can do through someone who doesn’t care who gets the glory”.
Father – forgive us and free us from this man pleasing disease called sin. Consume us with Yourself. Make us bondservants who live merely and solely to please and serve you.