The mother of the Zebedee brothers came with her two sons and knelt before Jesus with a request.

“What do you want?” Jesus asked.

She said, “Give your word that these two sons of mine will be awarded the highest places of honor in your kingdom, one at your right hand, one at your left hand.”

Jesus responded, “You have no idea what you’re asking.” And he said to James and John, “Are you capable of drinking the cup that I’m about to drink?”

They said, “Sure, why not?”

Jesus said, “Come to think of it, you are going to drink my cup. But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business. My Father is taking care of that.”

When the ten others heard about this, they lost their tempers, thoroughly disgusted with the two brothers. So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.” (Matthew 20:20–28)

Both Matthew and Mark record the effort of the mother of James and John to get positions of power and authority for her sons. Jesus used her request to once again teach his disciples about the nature of leadership and the way followers of Christ were supposed to interact with one another. Jesus was not advocating anarchy, with no one in charge. He wasn’t opposed to administration. He recognized the need for leadership. After all, he led his disciples.

But Jesus believed that the only motivator among we, his followers, was our mutual love for one another. Our only concern was what was best for our neighbors, not maintaining our power. The emphasis was always to be on someone other than ourselves. Authority comes from service, from putting others first. Authority comes from not even thinking about our position or our status. Certainly there are those who are leaders, who are gifted with administrative ability. But the methods of Christian leadership differ radically from those of a business or a government. If we want to get ahead, then we need to concern ourselves with helping the people around us, focusing on their needs, without ever worrying about whether we’re getting the proper respect or have an impressive title.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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