“41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 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. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”—Mark 10:41-45 (ESV)
Now Jesus has just dealt with John and James requests to sit at his left and right hand in glory and the others are indignant about it. Whether it was because they were appalled that they had the gall to ask or they were upset because they didn’t think of it first we are not told. But in v.42-45 Jesus calls them together and tells them something. Something radical that they had probably never seen before they met him, in fact, though he had told them several times. It was so important that he not only told them again and again but modeled it at the last supper when he rose to serve them.
If you want to be great among the brethren, serve.
To serve your brothers is to be great. The Gentiles ‘lord it’ over each other and ‘their great ones exercise authority over them’ he reminds them. The continual presence of Roman soldiers probably made it so this was something they were quite familiar with. “But” Jesus says in v.43 “it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Slave. To be the first, you must be the slave of all, the doulos. This is the same name Paul gave himself in most of his letters: Paul ‘doulos’ of Christ or slave of Christ and he lived that title even unto his own death.
It couldn’t have been any more palatable to them than it is to us to think of being a slave. A slave in those days was property like a coffee table or a lawn mower. They were purpose driven back then too—or they got the whip. Slaves were dirty and owned nothing and were just barely a step up, in most cases, from the beggars on the street—who at least had their freedom.
But Jesus doesn’t leave it at that and say you are to be servants, though we should be happy if he did. He adds this in verse 45 and it cannot be overlooked “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Serve to be great. Lay down your life for the brethren, for the gospel.
I think I’m picking up on a theme here…