Let’s recap what we know to be true. Authority belongs to God. Equality between male and female (and all humans) was firmly established at creation and comes from our image bearer identities (as discussed here). But the concepts of authority and equality have been distorted by the fall, along with everything else. Instead of jointly ruling, we turned authority on each other and equality has gone missing from human relationships.
Jesus came and he rejected our pattern of abusing authority, and made it clear to his disciples he would not be ‘lording and exercising authority over others,’ as the earthly rulers do. Therefore, neither will his disciples, or will we. This is a new pattern of leadership, not seen since the garden – this is servant leadership.
Jesus chose and invited those who have been looked over by everyone else for his kingdom mission. His interactions with women violated patriarchal propriety and repeatedly shocked his disciples. He engaged women publicly in deep theological conversations in a culture where respectable men avoided conversation with women. He entered into their sorrow, weeping with them. He included them, valued their friendship and devotion – and recruited them as leaders.
This continued Jesus’ pattern of subverting the expectations, even of his own followers, of what leadership looks like by extending a radical call to selflessness. He demonstrates that authority is not achieved by right, or pedigree or cultural privilege or self-promotion, but by becoming servants who pour themselves out for the sake of others. Of course, Jesus practices what he preaches by pouring himself out for us at the cross.
The gospel is not a call to an easy life. It is a hard ask. None of us is naturally inclined to servant leadership. I am learning day by day how at odds with my inbuilt sinful nature it is. Yet Jesus is clear – any power or privilege we have is to be held loosely, and used for the benefit of others.
Jesus introduces a new kind of leader and a new way of living – men and women who live sacrificially and with open hands – who would willingly lay down their lives for the good of others – especially their eternal good in hearing God’s saving plan for them. This is a reversal of all human ideas of greatness and rank. This is a practical application of loving our neighbours. This is following in Jesus’ steps. This is the gospel.