Serving Unitedly as an Association of Brothers
“You are all brothers . . . do not be called leaders, for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”—Matt. 23:8-11, New American Standard Bible.
1, 2. (a) What illustrates the difficulty most find in living a life of humble service like that of God’s Son? (b) Did Jesus’ apostles make this adjustment without difficulty?
THE concept of a life of humble service is not an easy one for most imperfect humans to accept and apply. Witness what has taken place in Christendom, where men claiming to be representatives of Christ Jesus and ordained servants (or “ministers”) of God set themselves apart from the “ordinary” members of the congregation, the “laity.” These clergymen view themselves as superior to the rest of the flock and accept titles conveying this sense of superiority. But this is not the way to true unity.
2 Even among Jesus’ true disciples in the first century, the adjusting to this teaching of God’s Son was not without its difficulties. On several occasions Jesus had to correct his disciples because they were concerned about rank and had a desire for positions of superiority.
3, 4. What argument did Jesus’ disciples have on the way to Capernaum, and why is this not surprising?
3 Toward the close of the third year of Jesus’ public service, when walking back to Capernaum, his disciples got into an argument. About what? Mark’s account relates: “When he [Jesus] was indoors, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ They were silent, because on the way they had been discussing who was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant [minister, NW] of all.’”—Mark 9:33-35, New English Bible.
4 Incredible that, after nearly three years of Jesus’ teaching, they should do such a thing? No, not when we remember their human imperfection and their circumstances. For their concern over personal greatness reflected, not only the tendencies of the imperfect flesh, but also the background of their times. One historical observation about the customs and attitudes prevailing among the first-century practicers of the Jewish religion says: “At all points, in worship, in the administration of justice, at meals, in all dealings, there constantly arose the question who was the greater, and estimating the honour due to each was a task which had to be constantly fulfilled and which was felt to be very important.”—Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. IV, page 532; compare Matthew 23:6, 7.
BECOMING LIKE YOUNG CHILDREN
5. What counsel did Jesus give to them to correct their wrong attitude?
5 Matthew’s account of the same incident tells that Jesus called a child and set him in front of the disciples and said: “I tell you this: unless you turn round and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. Let a man humble himself till he is like this child, and he will be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. But if a man is a cause of stumbling to one of these little ones who have faith in me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung round his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”—Matt. 18:1-6, New English Bible.
6. (a) What idea of superiority might some of his disciples have had? (b) What would it mean for them to “turn round and become like children”?
6 Yes, Jesus showed them that their thinking was leading them down the wrong road. Perhaps Peter, due to Jesus’ promise about giving him certain “keys” to the kingdom, felt that he held some superiority over the other disciples. Or James and John, because of being among the three Jesus selected to be with him at the time of the transfiguration on the mount, may have had similar ideas. (Matt. 16:19; 17:1-9) Whatever the case, Jesus told them all to “turn round and become like children,” that is, as modest, free from pretension or ambition as small children are by nature. They were not just to act like children by making an outward show of these qualities, but they were to put on these qualities, so as actually to have the same spirit that characterizes humble children. Small children have no thought of rank among themselves but view one another as equals. And so, to the extent that Jesus’ disciples put on humility of heart, to the extent that they felt small before God and their brothers, to that extent they would be great as regards his kingdom.
7. How would the way they ‘received the little ones’ demonstrate the measure of their humility, and what made this so serious?
7 A measure of their humility would be the way they treated those who were spiritually like “babes” in the truth (due to having recently become disciples), or those who were like small children in having little prominence or position of responsibility among them. If someone, particularly a Christian elder, were to display self-importance or deal with others in a domineering way, he could be a source of stumbling for such humble ones. This could have serious consequences, indeed, for the one causing the stumbling, as Jesus’ words show. He would be watching; so would God’s angels.—Matt. 18:6, 10; Rev. 2:23.
8. How is it true that the ‘one conducting himself as a lesser one’ is actually the one who is great among Christians?
8 “He that conducts himself as a lesser one [the least, NE; lowliest, New American Bible, margin] among all of you is the one that is great.” (Luke 9:48) Though this was so contrary to the world’s thinking, do we not find this true in our relationships with others? Who is the one that is most valuable to us, whom would we miss the most if he were to leave us or die—the one who shows self-importance and wants others to defer to him, or the one who is very considerate, helpful and kind? Clearly it is the latter one.
9. (a) In what ways did the apostle Paul exemplify this Christian principle? (b) How did the brothers manifest that Paul had a large place in their heart, and what can we learn from this?
9 As we have seen in the preceding article, the apostle Paul imitated Jesus’ own example of humble service. (1 Cor. 11:1) Talking to the elders of the city of Ephesus, Paul could truthfully say to them: “You know how, from the day that I first set foot in the province of Asia, for the whole time that I was with you, I served the Lord in all humility amid the sorrows and trials that came upon me . . . Remember how for three years, night and day, I never ceased to counsel each of you, and how I wept over you. . . . you all know that these hands of mine earned enough for the needs of myself and my companions. I showed you that it is our duty to help the weak in this way, by hard work, and that we should keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself said, ‘Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving.’” No wonder that, on their learning that they might not see Paul again, “there were loud cries of sorrow from them all” and they also embraced and kissed him. He had a large place in their heart, not simply due to his being an apostle, but, rather, because of the kind of person he was. He was an example for all Christian elders.—Acts 20:18, 19, 31-37, NE; compare 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:5-9.
NO COPYING OF THE WORLD’S WAYS
10. What second occasion caused Jesus to give further counsel on humility to his disciples?
10 A few months after the disciples’ argument over greatness, Jesus again found it necessary to counsel them. His disciples envisioned his kingdom as an earthly rule. (Acts 1:6) They knew that under the Israelite monarchy, kings sat on thrones and had their royal courtiers with varying degrees of honor. They saw around them in their own time worldly rulers and other men who wielded power over the people. So, two of Jesus’ apostles, James and John (with and through their mother), made the request that Jesus grant them ‘top’ positions in his kingdom.—Matt. 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-40.
11. Were the rest of the apostles free from blame in this, and what counsel did Jesus give them?
11 Their fellow disciples became “indignant.” Yet their previous dispute over greatness showed that they themselves were not fully free from ambition. So Jesus called them all to him and said: “You know that in the world, rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority [make their importance felt, New American Bible]; but it shall not be so with you. Among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant [minister, NW], and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all—like the Son of Man; he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many.”—Matt. 20:24-28, NE.
12, 13. (a) Why should we not transfer into the Christian congregation worldly methods of administration that are apparently successful? (b) How does the apostle’s counsel at Romans 12:2, 3, 10, 16 harmonize with Jesus’ counsel?
12 Yes, it might seem the natural thing to copy the methods of worldly rulers, executives and administrators. But Jesus said: “It shall not be so with you.” Whatever the apparent success of the mighty and wealthy of the world and their political and commercial systems, these were not to be the guiding example for the Christian congregation.
13 Harmonizing with this is the apostle Paul’s later counsel: “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind.” Paul evidently was thinking of the same problem on which Jesus counseled, for he went on to say: “I want to urge each one among you not to exaggerate his real importance. Each of you must judge himself soberly by the standard of the faith God has given him. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor [go about with humble folk, NE; associate with the lowly, New American Standard Bible; be led along with the lowly things, NW]. Do not allow yourself to become self-satisfied [do not keep thinking how wise you are, NE].”—Rom. 12:2, 3, 10, 16, Jerusalem Bible.
14. (a) What factors made it very important that Jesus’ apostles learn well the lesson he was teaching them? (b) What relationship to unity among elders does the requirement of not being “self-willed” have?
14 Since Jesus’ apostles, as a body, were to serve as a foundation for the Christian congregation when it was established, it was most important that they learn well the lesson he taught them. (Eph. 2:19, 20) Only if they cleaned out ideas of superiority of rank among themselves could they function as a united body, free from strife and rivalry. (Compare Romans 12:4-8, 10; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-25, 31; 13:1-3.) That is also why one of the qualifications for those serving on congregational bodies of elders is that they not be “self-willed.” (Titus 1:7) The Greek term here means, literally, “self-pleasing” (“presumptuous,” Moffatt; “arrogant,” Revised Standard Version; AT; JB; “overbearing,” NE; “aggressive,” Phillips; “self-assertive,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament). The apostle’s qualification, then, calls for the elder’s not being “self-sufficient” or “self-reliant” due to having a very high opinion of his own abilities and judgment. A self-willed person would find it difficult to work harmoniously and humbly with others as a body. And he would be a source of difficulty to his fellow members in that body.
15. How will the inspired words at James 3:13 help elders to avoid feelings of superiority and self-reliance?
15 If a Christian elder begins to feel that he is superior to his fellow elders in wisdom, he would do well to meditate on what the disciple James wrote at James 3:13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show out of his fine conduct his works with a mildness [modesty, NE; humility, AT] that belongs to wisdom.” Yes, the genuinely wise person is one who knows enough to know that—no matter how much experience and knowledge he has—he still knows very little and has so very much yet to learn. He knows, too, that—no matter how much he knows—there is no person but that he can learn something from him, whoever that one may be or however humble his position. He treats all such ones with due respect.
NO SEPARATION THROUGH TITLES OF SUPERIORITY
16. What is the meaning of the title “Rabbi,” and why was it not to be applied to any of Jesus’ disciples?
16 Just three days before his death, Jesus warned his disciples against imitating the scribes and Pharisees in their love of prominence. These men were often called “Rabbi” by others, a word meaning, literally, “great one.” It was “a term for someone who occupies a high and respected position. . . . The one called Rabbi is recognized thereby to be higher in rank than the speaker.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, page 961) Jesus, however, told his disciples: “Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. . . . And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant [minister, NW].” (Matt. 23:6-12, New American Standard Bible) Properly, Jesus let himself be called “Rabbi.”—John 1:38, 49; 20:16; Matt. 26:49; Mark 9:5.
17. (a) On what do the Scriptural designations for those assigned responsibilities within the congregation lay emphasis? (b) How is this true even of the designation “apostle,” and why did those so designated have no reason to feel superior to their brothers?
17 Notably, in all the designations of assignments within the Christian congregation after its founding at Pentecost—designations such as “shepherd,” “teacher,” “evangelizer,” and “prophet” (literally, one who speaks forth [Acts 15:32])—the emphasis here is more heavily on Christ’s objective in giving these “gifts in men,” namely, the edification and unification of the congregation, than on the official position of those human “gifts.” (Eph. 4:12-16) Even the word “apostle” means simply a “sent-forth one,” that is, someone sent off as a representative on a mission of service. While applying in a special way to the twelve apostles who were direct appointees of God’s Son, it was also used of other men sent out on missions of service, at times by congregations. (Compare Acts 13:1-4; 14:14; 2 Corinthians 8:23.) So, the designation “apostle” gave emphasis to their assignment of service rather than to position or rank. It implied trust and confidence deposited in them, true. But it did not elevate the ones “sent forth” as superior to those whom they would serve, any more than a master’s sending out his servant to bear an important message to another person would make the servant superior to the receiver of the message. However, the receiver would be indebted to the message bearer. Also, the ones sent forth had a responsibility to those sending them, whether it was the body of elders in Jerusalem or that of any other congregation. They humbly reported on what they had done. (Compare John 13:16; Ephesians 6:21, 22; Colossians 1:7; 4:7-9.) Temporary “sent-forth” ones did not, of course, remain “apostles” throughout life as did Christ’s twelve apostles and Paul.—Rev. 21:14; Eph. 2:20, 21.
“GIFTS IN MEN”
18. What gifts did the glorified Christ Jesus give to the Christian congregation, and for what purpose?
18 All such men, whatever service they rendered, were given to the Christian congregation as “gifts in men” by Christ Jesus after his ascension to his Father’s heavenly presence. (Eph. 4:8) Ephesians 4:11-13 (NE) points to the purpose of all of this, saying: “And these were his gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors [shepherds] and teachers, to equip God’s people for work in his service [so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, Jerusalem Bible], to the building up of the body of Christ. So shall we all at last attain to the unity inherent in our faith and our knowledge of the Son of God—to mature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.”
19, 20. (a) How should the men so ‘given’ work toward the accomplishment of the desired goal? (b) How does the apostle Paul make clear the right attitude for all such ones to maintain?
19 United service to God and his Son, by those serving as “gifts” and by all their fellow disciples, was to be the goal of all such “gifts in men.” They would achieve this goal, not by ‘making their importance felt,’ by domineering ways or coercion, but by setting the example of humble service, giving of themselves for the good of all. So, rather than those in the congregation saying, in effect, “‘I am Paul’s man’, or ‘I am for Apollos’; ‘I follow Cephas’, or ‘I am Christ’s,’” as some in Corinth were saying, the right attitude to take was stressed by the apostle Paul when he said to the brothers there: “Everything belongs to you—Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, the world, life, and death, the present and the future, all of them belong to you—yet you belong to Christ, and Christ to God.”—1 Cor. 1:12; 3:21-23, NE.
20 Yes, despite the splendid service Paul performed, he kept in mind that he, too, was one of the “gifts in men,” and that he, in effect, ‘belonged’ to the congregation and not the congregation to him. (Compare 2 Corinthians 1:24.) Surely viewing oneself in this way does not allow for any servant of God to act as the “boss” over his brothers, no matter what the service is that he performs.
BEING LIKE “THE YOUNGEST”
21. (a) When and why did Jesus find it necessary to counsel his disciples yet another time on the need for humility? (b) What additional points did he make this time?
21 Just how ingrained in humans is the craving for superiority can be seen from the fact that, on the last night of his earthly life, Jesus found it necessary to restate these principles to his apostles. On that very night these men again engaged in heated controversy over which one of them “should rank highest.” Repeating what he had earlier told them and adding to it, Jesus said: “In the world, kings lord it over their subjects; and those in authority are called their country’s ‘Benefactors’. Not so with you: on the contrary, the highest among you must bear himself like the youngest [the junior, New American Bible], the chief of you like a servant [the one ministering, NW]. For who is greater—the one who sits at table or the servant [the one ministering, NW] who waits on him? Surely the one who sits at table. Yet here am I among you like a servant.”—Luke 22:24-27, NE; compare 2 Peter 1:12-15.
22. What does it mean to conduct oneself like “the youngest,” and how is this illustrated in the Scriptural accounts?
22 What would it mean to bear oneself like “the youngest” or “the junior”? Young men were often assigned tasks of less prominence, though nonetheless necessary. For example, when both Ananias and his wife expired through divine action, it was “the younger men” who carried them off and buried them. (Acts 5:5, 6, 10) The apostle Peter, after urging his fellow elders to serve as humble examples to the flock, said: “In like manner, you younger men, be in subjection to the older men.” (1 Pet. 5:1-5) Timothy, who was quite young in comparison to the apostle Paul, is spoken of as among those serving Paul as his “assistants” or “helpers” or ‘ministering’ to him. (Acts 19:22, NE; AT; JB; NW) Onesimus, the runaway slave, whom the aged Paul called “my child,” had ‘looked after or waited on Paul,’ “ministering” to him, as a son would for a father, while Paul was in prison. (Philem. 9, 10, 13, NE; AT; NW; compare 2 Timothy 1:16-18.) By working humbly along with these older, more experienced servants of God, the younger men gained rich benefits and training.
23. Are only younger ones to display such lowliness of mind?
23 Though their tasks may have appeared to be of little honor or prestige, their course is one that exemplifies the right attitude for all to have, of whatever age they may be. The apostle Peter, therefore, after counseling younger men to be subordinate to their elders, goes on to say: “But all of you gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones [superior appearing ones, Int], but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.”—1 Pet. 5:5.
24. What grand benefits result from this course, and how does it contribute markedly to Christian unity?
24 How pleasant it is to serve together when a humble and modest spirit prevails in a congregation! What a force for persons effectively working together as a body the spirit of brotherhood proves to be when it is manifested by Christian elders, eliminating tendencies toward time-wasting contention or angry debates! (1 Tim. 2:8) Surely there is much here for all of us to meditate upon. Do we seek the genuine greatness that comes from such humble service motivated by brotherly love? Let us each show it by our being helpful, considerate, interested in all, including the lowly ones, granting to all their due measure of personal dignity and worth. (Rom. 12:10, 15, 16) We thereby prove ourselves true disciples of the One who excels in service, God’s Son, Christ Jesus.
[Picture on page 724]
To teach his disciples to have humility of heart, Jesus told them to become like children