35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do something for us if we ask You.” 36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them. 37 They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We are able,” they told Him. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. 40 But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to give; instead, it is for those it has been prepared for.” 41 When the other 10 disciples heard this, they began to be indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. 43 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life —a ransom for many.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
James and John thought they could be the greatest among the disciples by simply asking to be at Jesus’ side when He reached his glorious throne.
Jesus told them they had no idea what they were asking—that they would indeed suffer as His followers. James was killed for his faith (Acts 12:2) and John was persecuted for his faith (Revelation 1:9), but they could never do what Jesus was going to do.
In verse 40, Jesus tells the brothers He didn’t have the authority to grant their request—that these positions were “for those it has been prepared for.” The NIV says it this way in verse 42: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.”
“To lord it over” means to dominate someone, to direct and control someone” (FreeDictionary.com). Jesus said “on the contrary”—meaning “opposite in direction or position” (FreeDictionary.com). You don’t dominate to lead; instead you serve to lead (verses 43-44).
Jesus uses himself as the example. He tells them even He—the Son of Man—didn’t come to be served or dominate others, but to serve. His ultimate service was to give His life as a ransom, a payment for many, which literally means “to obtain the release of (a prisoner) by making a payment demanded.”
Jesus wants us to lead by humbling ourselves and being a servant. First Peter 5:3 (NIV) says, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to you care, but lead them by your own good example.”
We’ve all had to lead at one time or another. But the way we’re to go about being leaders as followers of Christ is completely opposite of how the world tells us we should lead. Christ tells us we’re to be servants to our followers, “slaves to them.”
How do we do that? First, we must have the correct attitude. When we’re given a position of leadership, we have to be humble. We can’t boast about our position. We can’t “lord it over” the ones we’re leading. We’ve all seen someone who’s done this. It just makes those who are being led feel inferior.
Trust that God sees you serving in your leadership. Psalm 139 tells exactly how intimately God knows each one of us. He always sees what we’re doing.
- Pray about the ones you will be leading. Ask God for his direction in how to best serve them in your role as the leader.
- Pray for an attitude of serving those you are leading. Spend time focusing the Lord’s purpose of your leadership.
- Pray that God will receive all the glory. Remember who to give the recognition to as you lead. Ps 25:15 says, “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” Don’t let pride or even fear of failure keep you from focusing on your task. Stay true to how God made you and let Jesus be your example of leadering by serving.