The three pillars of leadership

Jesus' disciples asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matt. 18:1, NIV). Their question reveals that they were, like we are, ambitious. That Jesus so fully answered their query proves He wanted to show how His Father will determine which Christians in His kingdom will be the "greatest"—of highest rank, authority, privilege and influence.

Jesus' eternal kingdom will be utterly unlike any previous earthly realm. He plainly said His kingdom is "not of this world" (John 18:36). For us to rule with Him there, we must know and live by His kingdom values here.

The New Testament reveals three prime requisites for advancement in Jesus' kingdom. These pillars of greatness are humility, servantship and suffering.

Humility. "Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:4). So the humblest now will be the greatest then. In numerous passages the Bible shows repeatedly that God has always chosen the humblest people for the highest posts. Moses, David, Jeremiah, Paul and even King Saul had the sober, not swollen, self-view upon being divinely appointed and anointed.

Servantship. "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matt. 20:27, KJV). Our Master's greatest desire is that we serve our fellow Christians for His sake: "Do you love Me more than these? ... Feed My lambs" (John 21:15).

Are we, to Jesus' delight, serving believers' needs through intercession, kindness, counsel, assistance and fellowship? Or are we, to His grief, serving our own ends? To serve His desires and be His servants we must set aside our desires—always.

Suffering. "Are you able to drink the cup ... and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Matt. 20:22, emphasis added.) When Zebedee's wife, Salome, openly petitioned Jesus to appoint her sons to the highest positions in His kingdom—"Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom" (Matt. 20:20-21)—He immediately asked her a question. Were they prepared to first accept His "cup" of righteous sufferings and experience His "baptism" of sacrificial death?

He thus hinted that the greatest in His kingdom would suffer and die (if not literally, then figuratively) to do His will. The willingness with which we accept our personal "cups" and "baptisms" of death to self—and the number, severity and duration of these sufferings—will determine our rank, authority and influence in the kingdom—forever.

If we suffer, we rule: "If we suffer [for him], we shall also reign with him" (2 Tim. 2:12, KJV). And the more we suffer, the more we rule. But if we refuse to suffer, we forfeit our authority: "If we deny him [to avoid suffering], he also will deny us [the right to rule with him]" (2 Tim. 2:12, KJV).

Jesus didn't select these three requisites of kingdom greatness randomly. They are the central pillars of His own character, teaching and work: He was the most humble man ever to live. He was the most perfect servant. He suffered most, and most willingly, to do His Father's will. And since Jesus will be theGreat One in His kingdom, it naturally follows that those He deems "greatest" under Him will be those most like Him.

Does this help to illuminate your current situation? The Great One is trying to make you like Him and His greatest ones! Are your circumstances very low? Has He given you some difficult "sheep" to serve for His sake? Has He given you a hard cup to drink or a baptism of overwhelming trouble or left you on a lonely, painful, confining cross for a long time?

Then yield and let Him have His way. Be humble. Be His servant. Bear your sufferings—willingly, not grudgingly.

Don't pity yourself. Praise the King! You're growing in kingdom greatness.

GREG HINNANT is a faculty member of Christian Life Educators Network and the author of six books. Visit him online at

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