Old Testament Template: Chapter 18

We Need Biblical Strategies: The Servant Model

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:26-28

The word servant and its derivatives take up nearly five pages of listings in my NIV concordance. The men and women God used for great influence in the Kingdom were seldom people of status and power. Noah, a farmer. Abraham, an old man with a barren wife. Joseph, the youngest and despised son of herders. Moses, raised in and surrounded by power and splendor, but not of great use to God until he had lived for 40 years as an outcast and fugitive in the desert. David, the son no one remembered; a family outcast. Esther, a destitute orphan refugee with no social status or means. Ruth, a widowed refugee with a penniless mother-in-law. Nehemiah, a slave-servant to a pagan king. Daniel, the exiled boy with no means or freedom. If we are going to disciple our communities we need a fresh revelation from God on the power of serving.

The pattern continues in the New Testament as the Son of God comes to us, not as the King of the Cosmos in all His splendor and glory, but a lowly carpenter in a modest family from an insignificant village. Jesus chose ordinary working-class men to lay the foundation of the Church. And the architect of evangelism, Paul, a man of great means, status, and education is reduced to a servant of all before He can be used to build the Kingdom.

What are we to understand from this consistent scriptural theme? What is God’s perspective of power that makes the humanly powerless more influential than those with great worldly status? What is this fixation Jesus has on using the smallest, the youngest, the poorest and the most disenfranchised? What does God know about power that we are still missing?

A Strategy Of Saturation
The pastor of a West African president who desired to see his poverty stricken nation discipled by the Word of God asked me an incredibly insightful question. As we discussed national strategy for his country, he said, “If you had to choose, which would be your priority; to target the leaders of vocations in our country or to target the churches and the pastors as a strategy of national reformation?” I looked at him with great respect because so few know enough about the Kingdom to realize how key this question is. This man had done His homework with God. The Holy Spirit had helped him realize the importance of this question.

I responded that I would rather not choose, that I believed that God would build His Kingdom in every direction given the opportunity. But he prevailed in this fictional scenario, and for discussion’s sake I had to choose. My response was unequivocal then. I would choose a grass roots, local church, saturation scenario for national change.

Gandhi is noted to have said that the British would rule India as long as the Indian people wanted them to. By shear force of numbers a people united in anything will over rule the power of a few at the top. The few can only be the majority influence as long as the many do not care or remain silent.

In Genesis chapter 1, God gives the human race His pre-fall mandate to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” This mandate was not for one man, Adam, to have authority over everything else, but for all God’s human creation to saturate the earth with the knowledge of God revealed though all dimensions of everyday life. The Kingdom of God is a saturation strategy.

This is dramatically demonstrated in God’s exhortation for Israel not to choose a King but rather a more grass roots system of tribal leaders and representation. Though God reasons with Israel through the prophet Samuel, they choose a King anyway.1 God works with them in their choice to make the best of it. As Israel grows in strength politically and economically it begins to appear God has either made a mistake or reversed His opinion on power. Under Solomon’s rule, Israel reaches a pinnacle of national development. Surely this strategy of a king is blessed. The ark is returned. The Temple is built. They have peace on their borders. The economy is booming. The Law is revered in the palace. What could be better?

Did God make a mistake? Was it better to have a king? The answer to that question is just one king away: Rehoboam. In one generation, one rotten egg spoils the pot. Rehoboam turns against God and destroys 300 years of development that they never again achieve. When only the kings knew the law, the people could be lead anywhere. The only protection for a nation is a people saturated with the knowledge of God and embracing responsibility.

Gandhi had a profoundly biblical point to make about power: it resides in the people. The quality of the people will ultimately determine the quality of a nation. The top levels of society can be godly or pagan, but the people determine how long their influence will last and how deep it will go. The top echelons of society can open and close doors. They can institutionalize values and principles that outlive them, but, ultimately, the saturation of those values and principles into everyday life will determine the quality of the culture.

The Kingdom Is Within You
Both the Old and the New Testament emphasize this internalized quality of the Kingdom. It is living the Kingdom, being the Kingdom that will ultimately accomplish God’s mandate. In Deuteronomy, Moses passionately exhorts the people that God’s law is not far from them, that they have to send messengers to bring it back from across the sea or heavens.2 The law is with them. It is their knowing and practicing of the law that matters. The Kings should know and read the law, yes, but emphasized even more is that parents know the law and constantly teach their children to integrate it into their daily lives.

Jesus reduces all of the law into two sentences that capture the whole: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’This deeply personal summation embodies God’s strategy. We are to be the Kingdom. We are to live the Kingdom. The salt and light of our lives, whether we lead or serve, will “salt and light” the earth with the knowledge of God. You and I are God’s strategy. Discipleship, or learning to apply God’s thinking to our daily lives, is God’s focus.

As I began to realize this personally, I longed to live in a “neighborhood” to understand how this worked itself out practically. I had discipled students and leaders in their professions for years, and I would continue, but what did the neighbor mandate look like? Was I in danger of knowing God’s message, but missing His strategy?

I bought a home in the southern part of the U.S.A. on a street of 14 houses. I chose a multi-ethnic street because God loves the nations. I got a little house because I am single and travel extensively. God is a good steward of resources. I began to work on my yard, neglected for at least a decade, because God loves beauty and we are to value the material things He gives us. In the first weeks, my neighbors would watch me as they worked in their yards. I would wave and keep on trimming, raking, hauling. After a time, some started to come by when they saw me out working. They would say how nice the house looked and ask my name. We’d talk gardening for a few minutes and they’d be gone. Jesus is interested in what we are interested in and has given plants to us to steward. I would go in the house and write their names down so I would remember, because God knows our names. After more time our “yard conversations” would get past the weather and the trees to what I do. Finding out I was a missionary didn’t lead to much discussion because it was so foreign to them, but we continued to get to know each other through the things we had in common: houses, yards, plants, neighborhood safety, etc.

As I worked on my home, I prayed for my neighbors, their families, our neighborhood. About six months after I moved in, one neighbor made a beeline for me one morning. He said, “My wife’s sister just died. Please pray for her.” Within a week the husband next door saw me in my yard and made a direct path to me and said, “My wife said her job is more important than me and I’m afraid I’m going to lose her. Please pray.” I was astounded. We had never spoken of prayer. We had hardly said anything about God. They knew I was in ministry overseas, but we had not shared any details. Where did this desire for God in me come from, this trust with the most intimate pain in their lives? I can only believe it was the testimony of my yard work and neighborly concern. They saw Jesus in the care of the yard, house, the desire to know and remember each of their names, the willingness to be “one of them” first, the shared concern for all of our homes, families and safety. They saw Jesus in my life and they wanted more of Him in their crisis.

Our Message Will Never Have More Authority Than Our Life
One of my early influences in the Kingdom used to emphasize that in the Christian faith, you are the message. It is, in that sense, that biblical faith is not a religion or a set of ideas to talk about without application to our lives. Following Jesus is a way of life, a relationship with God that turns into the Kingdom lived out on a daily basis. I fear that, for many, following Jesus has become a religion, an ideal we can talk about believing without it necessarily changing any dimension of our lifestyle. Our faith becomes about salvation and then life after death and there is a parenthesis around the rest of our existence as though God has nothing to do with it.

It is interesting that Christians have no difficulty talking about how Jesus would have lived as a carpenter those first thirty years. They know that He would have been timely in His work; He would have treated His workers and customers respectfully and cared for them as people; He would have paid His bills on time. We understand that if Jesus made a bookshelf, the shelves would be straight, the construction sturdy, and it would be beautiful, even if simple. He loved quality. Jesus would have taken good care of His tools and He would not have wasted wood and other materials. There is this innate understanding in all of us that He would have been generous with His income, mowed his lawn if He had one and that His house would have been clean. Jesus’ personal hygiene would have been exemplary. And, if we push our thinking a little harder, we know why Jesus would have lived like this…because of who His Father was.

The testimony of Jesus’ personal life for thirty years in Nazareth was the authority base of His three years of ministry. If we cannot serve our family with the principles of the Kingdom, if we cannot serve our neighbors with the principles of the Kingdom, how can we serve the nations with Kingdom values? I have to go one step further in this and wonder – if every Christian in the world were living their personal life by the values of the Kingdom, would the nations then be discipled?

The Kingdom Of Light: Service Not Control
The Kingdom of Light is service. The Kingdom of Darkness is control. It is that simple! If our discipleship strategies are power-based they will fail. The system of the world is based in power – let’s take over and make it better. The Kingdom of God is service-based. Had it been better for Jesus to come with earthly trappings of power, He would have. If control from the top worked, all of Eastern Europe would actually be communist. Leaders may serve the people into change, but ultimately, if a nation is not changed on a personal level, it is not discipled. God’s values may be written into the civil statutes of a nation and that will have an effect, but if the culture is to be changed those same values must also be written onto the hearts of the people.

I have to think that calling service in government civil service must have come from scripture. The power of the position is in the service to the people. In the last half-century we have begun to think that we can help create democratic nations through military action from outside forces. We certainly can change a regime by force. However, changing the hearts and minds of the people is another matter. The thinking that created the problem cannot fix the problem and, ultimately, the community will and must be changed, the Kingdom built – one individual at a time.

1. 1 Samuel 8:19-22
2. Deuteronomy 30:11-14
3. Matthew 22:37-40