In Matthew 23 Jesus gives his last public sermon. Of all the things Jesus could have publicly talked about before going to the cross he chose to speak about leadership – spiritual leadership!
Jesus, being the masterful teacher that he was, uses a highly effective teaching technique in Matthew 23:1-12 to describe the kind of leadership that he rejects and the kind of leadership that he desires. Sometimes to learn what something is – you learn what it is not! And sometimes to learn what to do – you learn what not to do! For example, to learn what love is we often speak about what love is not, and to learn what forgiveness is we learn what forgiveness is not! That is exactly what Jesus does in Matthew 23:1-12 as he describes and warns us about true and false leadership as he talks about the scribes and Pharisees.
When we see the kind of leadership Christ rejects we therefore learn the kind of leadership Christ desires – by looking at the opposite of what he rejects. And by looking at the kind of leadership Christ desires we therefore learn the kind of leadership Christ rejects by looking at the opposite of what he desires! In this passage, Jesus gives us four characteristics of leadership he rejects and two characteristics of leadership he desires!
As followers of Christ each and every one of us have leadership responsibilities. Whether in a formal teaching or ministry setting or in more informal relationships with friends and family, we have the opportunity to influence others for Christ. The characteristics of leadership that Christ describes apply to all of us! Let’s see what Jesus says about leadership as he rejects much of what he sees in the scribes and Pharisees.
Leadership Christ rejects:
They don’t practice what they preach! v. 3
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”
Therefore, leadership that Christ desires would be to walk your talk. To practice what you preach. In other words, Christ desires that we live a life of consistent integrity. That we are who we say we are!
They don’t expect of self what they expect of others! v. 4
“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
Therefore, leadership that Christ desires would be to lead by example! In other words, Christ desires that we not ask of anyone else what we are not willing to ask of ourselves and we must live by example a life of grace.
They do what they do as a show – to be seen! v. 5
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,”
Therefore, leadership that Christ desires would be to do what God has called you to do quietly as unto the Lord. In other words, leadership is not about people pleasing but God pleasing.
They want to be noticed and recognized as spiritually important people and they love their titles! v. 6-7
“and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”
Therefore, leadership that Christ desires is more about unity with an eternal perspective that recognizes we are all in this together. In other words, “it is amazing how much can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit!”
Leadership Christ desires:
That we give glory only to God! v. 8-10
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.”
Therefore, leadership that Christ rejects avoids titles of privilege and status and seeks to give glory to God alone. In other words, Christ rejects leadership that seeks to give glory to oneself!
True leadership is servant leadership characterized by humility! v. 11-12
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Therefore, leadership that Christ rejects is leadership done out of pride and arrogance. In other words, Christ rejects leadership that seeks to lord over people rather than in humility to serve them.
Christ, in his last public sermon, talks about that which matters most – leadership. Leadership is primarily about influence and our influence ought to reflect the values and characteristics of Christ himself. Christ rejects leadership out of pride, hypocrisy and selfishness. He desires leadership out of integrity, humility and service just as was true in him (Phil. 2:3-11; Matt. 20:28). May God bless your leadership/influence as you follow him.