Lifting rather than lording is one of the chiefest characteristics of our Lord Jesus. Serving matters to him. It is a very big deal. Yet, know I am not wanting to reduce such to stacking chairs or blowing snow off a neighbor’s driveway, though those are meaningful and we should avail ourselves as opportunities allow. Here I am addressing something broader, a life-posture, a quality of the heart, a disposition. I am addressing something bigger than attention to the occasional task.
Lifting Rather Than Lording
Perhaps the foundational teaching on service in Jesus’ life is Mark 10:42-45. Consider this remarkable vision:
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whosever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is huge! The invitation includes being a slave. Of course, in the American narrative such language speaks to atrocities for which there is no excuse, so, rightly, the word is uncomfortable. Yet, as a technical term used by Jesus it refers to one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will. Indeed, with that shaping his vision we see Jesus exclaim he came to serve–literally, to wait upon others (note the other-centeredness) wholly, sacrificially. Truly, this commitment found him “all in.” Jesus became a ransom unto death for many.
We cannot help but see the contrast to the rhythms of the world. From Jesus we are reminded the preference of the world is toward power, position, control, and subjugation. That is what the phrase “lord it over them” implies. Such is destroying the fabric of our lives, our society. It is what is driving the social-political-religious dynamics and mores of our day. It is what is tearing up families, friends, churches, schools, and more.
To be anything other than what the world celebrates, to see power as a resource to lift up rather than lord over, is the way of Jesus. Jesus allowed himself to lift up a foot and set it in a bowl of water. He lifted up a towel and bathed the filthy foot of his disciple. He lifted that cloth further to dry such feet. The story is quite compelling, and can be found in John 13 of the New Testament. Later that night, during the Passover feast, Jesus lifted up bread, thanked his Father for it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples to eat. Then he lifted up a goblet of red wine and thanked his Father for it and gave it to his disciples to drink.
Then, as you may know, hours after that meal, once the Friday sun had been lifted into the Jerusalem sky, our Lord allowed himself to be lifted up onto a cross so that sinners could be saved and a new order could explode onto the scene. Slaves do not lord themselves over others. They give lift so others can flourish.
Lifting rather than lording.
An Important Hinge Point
Please understand that one important hinge point between the lifting of the foot to a bowl and the lifting of his person to the cross is Jesus’ servant-vision found in John 13:12-17. Consider:
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger great than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Friends, Kingdom-people serve. We never, never lord ourselves over people, but give ourselves wholly for others. Just like Jesus, who emptied himself and took the form of a slave (cp. Philippians 2:7).