We often determine a person’s–or our own–value and worth by the role they play in different situations. A byproduct of our fallen human nature and the influence of our culture pushes us to think this way whether we realize it or not, even when we know the truth.
Leaders are seen as more important than followers, the one who gives the orders is above the one receiving, and the bottom person on the organizational chart is the least important.
Our view of role and value being connected negatively affects our personal lives, our families, our work place, and our world. We treat the rich and popular different from the way we treat the poor and outcast, we feel demeaned as a person when certain roles are barred from us, and we demean others by mistreating them because of the roles they have.
While the world may operate this way and we may feel the effects of this, Jesus flips all of this on its head.
The mother of two of the disciples asked Jesus to grant that her sons would sit at Jesus’s right and left hand in His kingdom, places of high honor. He told her that was not for Him to grant, but when the other disciples heard about it they were “indignant”. The other disciples would have thought something along the lines of “Who are they to think they are more important than the rest of us?” Jesus responds in a rather unexpected way.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28
There are two main points here:
In positions of leadership, the purpose is not to “lord it over” anyone. Authority/leadership is not meant to be used to take advantage of or demean anyone. In fact, it should be used to serve others just as Christ modeled.
Being a servant, completing what others might consider menial tasks, and putting others’ interests first (Philippians 2:4), is how Jesus defines someone who is “great.” That is completely opposite the way the world defines greatness and the way we often see it and recognize it.
Similarly, when Paul talks about the different roles in the body of Christ, he emphasizes that all are important and honorable, even if it is not as easily apparent for some roles.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12:21-26
Whether a particular part of the body thinks it does not have an important role (vs. 15-16) or another part tries to claim it has no need for certain parts (vs. 21), the truth is that every part and role is important and valuable. God honors the different parts and even makes up for the perceived lack of honor given to some (vs. 24).
Jesus himself illustrates this truth about value and role best as alluded to earlier.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:5-11
In the gospel of John, as Jesus is speaking about His ministry of salvation, He makes these two statements.
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38
“I and the Father are one.” – John 10:30
While there are other examples of this truth, these will serve to illustrate it. In some mysterious way, Jesus the Son is perfectly equal to the Father and yet in submission to Him in some way. I don’t claim to be an expert on this and do not wish to say too much, but it is clear that in the Trinity there is perfect unity and equality while also some difference in role.
Being so influenced by the world and our own nature, we must work hard through prayer and the reading of the word to completely disconnect value and role. Scripture clearly teaches that the way we look at these two concepts combined is wrong and yet even now we are harmed by it and harm others with it. We must ask the Lord to change our thinking and to help us see as He sees and to think how He thinks, both in seeing our own value and others’.
Leadership is to serve, the least is the greatest, and role does not determine value. May God give us the grace to think and live this way.