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Jesus the Humble Servant – Leadership Lesson

Jesus the Humble Servant – Leadership Lesson

On January 13, 1982, 74 passengers and 5 crew boarded Air Florida Flight 90 from DC to Fort Lauderdale. They boarded the plane during a snowstorm. The pilot failed to de-ice the wings and moments after take-off the plane plunged into the icy Potomac River. Only 5 people survived. It certainly wasn’t the worst airplane disaster but it gripped national attention to the servant leadership of one man. This man was known as “The Man in the Water.”

Balding, probably in his 50s, an extravagant mustache. He was seen clinging with five other survivors to the tail section of the airplane. This man was described by Usher and Windsor as appearing alert and in control. Every time they lowered a lifeline and floating right to him, he passed it on to another of the passengers. “In a mass casualty, you’ll find people like him,” said Windsor, “But I’ve never seen one with that commitment.” When the helicopter came back for him the man had gone under.

Still, he could never have imagined such a capacity in himself. Only minutes before his character was tested, he was sitting in the ordinary plane among the ordinary passengers.

For at some moment in the water he must have realized that he would not live if he continued to hand over the rope and ring to others. He had to know it, no matter how gradual the effect of the cold. In his judgment he had no choice. When the helicopter took off with what was to be the last survivor, he watched everything in the world move away from him, and he deliberately let it happen.

-Roger Rosenblatt

Just imagine, every time the life ring is dropped, you hand it off to someone you don’t know…serving them but putting your own life at risk.

Thankfully, none of us will have to endure this kind of test. However, every day as leaders we face much smaller yet still important tests of our character. We enter ordinary offices (or) families with ordinary people and then suddenly something goes wrong. Things don’t work out the way you hoped. Someone has to make a sacrifice.

How you react at that moment defines your leadership style. When you’re sitting on the plane or sitting here this morning, you can say whatever you want about your leadership style, but it’s at moments like these; when circumstances force you to display your leadership. That’s when everyone finds out your true leadership character. What characteristic or adjective describes your leadership style?

Jesus’ leadership is best described as “servant leadership”

Jesus’ servant leadership is best summed up by Paul in Philippines 2:3-8.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus….taking on the very nature of a servant.”

“Vainglory” vs. “Humility”: (It’s a Heavy Weight Fight)

In one corner, is vainglory.

(Greek: keno-doxia – empty-praise)

My definition is pride hiding behind virtue.

Jesus tackles vainglory in the sermon on the mount. Turn to Matthew 6:1-18. “Beware” is Jesus’ warning. Don’t be deceived into thinking God applauds your life when you are really living for the applause of others.

3 Gauges to Examine

 1. Giving to the Needy (Matthew 6:2-4)

Jesus illustrates the absurd with the absurd (vs. 2) “When giving to the needy…sound no trumpet before you.” Imagine passing around the offering basket today and as it’s comes down your row, you scramble through your purse in order to pull out your checkbook and trumpet! (Da…ta..da !!) “Thank you! I just dropped in my check.” It’s ridiculous. Yep, and it’s also just as ridiculous to give to needy people in a way which draws attention to yourself.

Jesus offers a solution: “When you give, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” When you give with one hand, don’t pat yourself on the back with your other one. Don’t seek applause from others, don’t even seek applause from yourself.

“Giving to the needy” is not just limited to giving money. It could be about giving your time or talent, but you’re still looking for applause.

Preaching in India was a unique experience for me. For safety reasons they had me wait outside in a truck until it was time for me to come on. When it was time, I preached to a crowd of about 2000 people, but immediately after I was done, for the same safety reasons, they took me away. I walked off the stage, got in a truck, and they drove me away. I was in the back seat of the truck with two guys I had never seen before. Also neither of them spoke English. For an hour we drove through the dark back to the hotel. As a pastor who is so used to getting instant feedback from my congregation, I couldn’t help but keep asking myself, “how’d I do?” I realized how much I hungered for applause. In this case, it would never come.

Jesus tells us to give and not expect applause from others.

2. Prayer (6:5-15)

In the Jewish culture there were set hours each day for prayer. Some people would purposely time it so they would be at a busy intersection when it was time to pray. “O man, how did I end up here at this busy intersection, where everyone can see me pray? Oh well.”

Do you ever pray, and at the end of your prayer you hope someone is impressed with you? Do you see how ridiculous this is? The primary purpose in prayer is to make God’s name great. “Hallowed be your name.” Yet, you use prayer to make your name great. Its vainglory hiding behind virtue.

3. Fasting (6:16-18)

Jesus is observing people using fasting as a way to draw attention to themselves. And again, there has to be laughter here. “Don’t look gloomy – don’t disfigure your face.”

Pharisees fasted twice a week and apparently some wanted to make sure other people knew that they were in the spiritually elite club. They didn’t verbally say anything, but they walked around with gloomy, tired, disfigured faces, in the hopes that someone would ask:

  • “Hey, are you OK?”
  • “Oh surrrre……why do you ask?”
  • “Well, you don’t look so good”
  • “No, I’m fine…well…maybe it’s because I’m FASTING!” “But don’t tell anyone because this is just between me & God”

We all understand what Jesus is trying to uncover. Bragging while hiding behind a virtue. Bragging behind a false humility is so common, it actually has a name now: Humblebrag.

It happens often in the Christian community. It usually contains the word “Bless”

So blessed to be watching the sunset from my balcony in Hawaii.

Pastor’s tweet: “I am truly humbled you follow my tweets. I pray they enrich your life and strengthen your ministry. God bless all 200,000 of you!”

Do you practice your life with Jesus in a way you hope is noticed and applauded by others? Or if not, do you applaud yourself? That’s Vainglory.

In the Other Corner: Servant Leadership.

Jesus became the perfect example of humility when he took on the very nature of a servant.

Humility is not thinking of less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

In 1 Peter 5:5, we are told to “clothe yourselves with humility.” The word “clothe” means to “tie it on”, or “make a knot”, like you would tie an apron. It’s a command to action. Humility is not something you wait for to grow, it doesn’t grow naturally, it must be cultivated. Peter’s instructions are informed by his personal encounters with Jesus. So when Peter says, “Tie humility around your waist like an apron” he must have been thinking of The Last Supper.

Recall Peter and the other 11 disciples in the upper room. As they enter, each one walks right past the foot washing station. As Jesus is trying to discuss with them his coming suffering and death, a long standing dispute breaks out among the disciples: Who will be the greatest? This must have been so painful to watch. As all 12 men are taking hits from the helium tank of pride and puffing themselves up, where is Jesus?

(John 13) Jesus gets up from the table, lays aside his own garments and ties on the towel of a servant. One by one he washes the bloated feet of the disciples. The Creator bends down to serve his own creation.

A day later he hangs on a Cross, handing the ring of life to us while he dies. That is servant leadership.


1. The Man in the Water – Where are the places in your ordinary life that your character is tested? What’s challenging about handing the life ring to others rather than taking it yourself?

2. “Vainglory” – Pride hiding behind Virtue. Why is it difficult to detect pride in yourself? Discuss the challenges of living a virtuous life without living for the applause of others. Discuss how men humblebrag.

3. “Humility” – Not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less and less.” Humility is not something you wait for to grow. It doesn’t grow naturally. It must be cultivated. – How do you cultivate Humility?

Friends and Brothers,

Paul Phillips Signiture




Paul Phillips
Pastor, Christ Community Church



Leadership in the face of the Sovereignty of Man – Leadership Lesson

Leadership in the face of the Sovereignty of Man – Leadership Lesson

When you challenge or threaten the sovereignty of man, it’s like cutting down a hornets nest. See this example from The Hunger Games

Everything was peaceful until Katniss disturbed the hornets nest, then all hell broke loose. This is essentially what happens when Moses confronts Pharaoh  in Exodus chapters 5 through 14. When Moses threatens Pharaoh’s sovereignty, all hell breaks loose.

Here’s my main question: As a leader – when you challenge the sovereignty of man and all hell breaks loose – what happens to you?

Read Exodus 5:1-21:

[1] Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” [2] But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” [3] Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” [4] But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” [5] And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” [6] The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, [7] “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. [8] But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ [9] Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”

[10] So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. [11] Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” [12] So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. [13] The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” [14] And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”

[15] Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? [16] No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” [17] But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ [18] Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” [19] The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” [20] They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; [21] and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

(Exodus 5:1-21 ESV)

The first thing you need to see is the collision of world views. This isn’t a collision of Theistic and Atheistic world views – NO – This is a a collision of Theistic and Polythestic world views.

  • Moses – Theistic: “This is what the LORD (Yahweh) says” (vs. 1)
  • Pharaoh – Polythesitic – There were multiple gods in Egypt. The sun, moon, stars, sky, rivers, animals, even some men were all gods. Thats why Moses informs the Israelites in Genesis 1 that those things weren’t gods, they were created by God.
    • In Egypt, guess who was at the top of the polytheistic food chain? You guessed it, Pharaoh. He was considered the incarnation of God. Pharaoh had absolute power.

Moses steps in and threatens Pharaoh’s sovereignty. Pharaoh responds in Exodus 5:2 with “Who is the LORD – I don’t obey him, I don’t know him, I will not do what he says.” Essentially telling Moses: “I don’t want anyone telling me how to run my world!”

When you step into a life, a family, culture, or nation and say: “There is Truth – which is exclusive: There is a God, you are not him. Instead, you were created by him, you will ultimately answer to him, and he alone establishes boundaries for how you live your life.” No matter how you kindly or coldly you state it, if it’s a person or culture who doesn’t want anyone telling them how to run their individual worlds, you will have this explosion. This is exactly how Pharaoh reacted. He exploded in anger!

Our culture today is not so far away from Egypt. Very few people actually think of themselves as the incarnation of a god, yet we do live in a very autonomous culture.

We live in a culture which prefers autonomy. If you step into our culture on an issue like “Right to Life” or “sexual practices” and try to say: This is what the Bible says…explosion! “We don’t want anyone telling us what to do! – We want autonomy — well except for you – you don’t get autonomy – instead, you must affirm our way of life or you are quickly labeled and silenced.”

Now whether you agree with my cultural analysis or not, when you step into a relationship as a Christian leader…you will, at some point, have this clash of world views.

Another Question: When this happens, when you challenge the sovereignty of man, when you cut down the hornets nest and all hell breaks loose –what happens to you?

“In my experience, churches, institutions, and organizations do not go bad because of coups by liberals. They go bad because otherwise orthodox people sit on their hands – hands which are clean because others have dirtied theirs by taking the tough decisions and putting their careers and reputations on the line.” – Carl Trueman

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt

God is looking for leaders who will not sit on their hands. Instead, they will get into the arena and clash (not with pride, looking down – not with bluster or volume) but people who will run the opposite way of Autonomy.

The reason I ask the question is because so many prefer (including myself!) comfort over conflict.

Here are three things that happened that were designed to get Moses to give up:

  1. Pharaoh turns up the heat: (6-8) & (10-14) – the slaves must get their own straw for brick making yet keep up the same work load. They are beaten when they don’t perform.
  1. Pharaoh scorn: (vs. 9) – Pharaoh tells the slaves – “pay no attention to Moses’ lies”   430 years of slavery…..powerful Pharaoh who is the incarnation of god tells them Moses is a liar……this emotional and physical abuse produces Pharaoh’s desired effect
  1. Moses has to take arrows from those he is trying to save: (20-21) “Thanks Moses – your rescue plan is actually getting us killed”

Real, godly leadership in the midst of an increasingly autonomous culture is extremely difficult! Moses understands!

Another Question: As a leader – when you challenge the sovereignty of man, when you challenge the prevailing wind of the culture and all hell breaks loose – what happens to you?

Lets look at the example of William Wilberforce.

William Wilberforce was a politician in the British Parliament 1790-1825 that was best known for his fight against slave trade. Early in his career he came to know Christ. John Newton (the writer of Amazing Grace) was his pastor/mentor. Wilberforce once thought of joining the clergy, but instead he was called to fight a very public and brutal fight against slavery.  Just before his death the bill to end the slave trade passed.


  1. As a leader – when you challenge the sovereignty of man, when you challenge the prevailing wind of the culture (single individual/business church/community) and all hell breaks loose – what happens to you? How well do you respond to “Heat” – “Scorn” & “Arrows from those you are trying to help?”
  1. Have you experience this clash of world views? In what way?


Friends and Brothers,

Paul Phillips Signiture




Paul Phillips

Pastor, Christ Community Church