Shepherding Sheep-Mt 20:25-28

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Mon, Jul 01, 2013

Matthew 20:25-28 (Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27); Key Verse: Mt 20:25-26a

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” (“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you” [Mk 10:42-43a]. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that” [Lk 22:25-26a].)

 Theme: How to shepherd God's people.

Quote for reflection: "Shepherding" is not to change people, but to offer them space and freedom where change can occur. It is not an invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the shepherd, but the gift of a chance for the sheep to find its own.

There is no positional advantage as a leader in the church: Shepherding (or Christian leadership) does not lord over others or exercise authority over others. It does not intimidate, coerce, domineer, or dominate over subordinates, juniors, and "sheep." There is no authoritarianism, honorifics, positional superiority, seniority, hierarchy, or any peculiar or particular advantage for any leader in the church, because Christ is the ONLY head of the church (Eph 1:22, 5:23; Col 1:18). Under One Head, One Teacher, One Leader and One Father (Mt 23:8-10), everyone in the church from the oldest leader to the youngest member are all brothers and sisters in a family, which is the chief metaphor for the church in the NT (Gal 6:10; Rom 8:29; Eph 2:19; 1 Tim 3:15, 5:1-2; 1 Jn 2:12-13).

Deficient Christian leadership leads to a deficient church:

Frederick Buechner (novelist and theologian, born 1926) says, "The church often bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the dysfunctional family. There is the authoritarian presence of the minister--the professional who knows all of the answers and calls most of the shots--whom few ever challenge either because they don't dare to or because they feel it would do no good if they did. There is the outward camaraderie and inward loneliness of the congregation. There are the unspoken rules and hidden agendas, the doubts and disagreements that for propriety's sake are kept more or less under cover. There are people with all sorts of enthusiasms and creativities which are not often enough made use of or even recognized because the tendency is not to rock the boat but to keep on doing things the way they have always been done."

From all three synoptic gospels, Jesus explains three things about shepherding (or Christian leadership):

  1. What it is not.
  2. What it is.
  3. How he modeled it.

Matthew, Mark and Luke say the same thing. A failure of the church is when she functions and/or operates like the world does. Worldly leadership is clearly and obviously hierarchical and top-down, such that when a leader gives a directive, he or she expects it to be followed and obeyed, or else ...... face the consequences. Is this also how shepherding or church leadership operates? All three synoptic gospel writers--Matthew, Mark and Luke---clearly state and explain what Jesus explicitly said without equivocation about shepherding and Christian leadership:

  • What shepherding is not (Mt 20:25-26b; Mk 10:42-43a; Lk 22:25-26a),
  • What shepherding is (Mt 20:26b-27; Mk 10:43b-44; Lk 22:26b)
  • What shepherding is in his own life (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45; Lk 22:27).

What does John's gospel say about shepherding or Christ-like Christian leadership? Besides Matthew, Mark and Luke, John also demonstrated that shepherding is not leading from a throne barking out orders and directives to juniors and subordinates. Rather, shepherding is always with the unassuming basin of humility, and the lowly wash towel of servitude (Jn 13:1-5; 12-15).

What about the early church leaders and apostles? What did they say about shepherding God's people?

To Paul, shepherding is being a servant. Paul said, "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants (diakonos), through whom you came to believe" (1 Cor 3:5). "This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants (hyp?ret?s) of Christ" (1 Cor 4:1). Today, the term "servant of God" or "servant of Christ" has become an honorific title, which may practically and functionally mean that you are the leader in the church, the head honcho and the top dog. But the Greek word for servant--Paul uses two different words "diakonos" and "hyp?ret?s" which are both translated into "servants" in English--have no honor in it whatsoever. "Diakonos" means "a waiter, one who serves food and drink," while "hyp?ret?s" means "an underrower, subordinate rower, an assistant, an attendant." Paul also identifies himself as a servant/slave (doulos) of Christ in most of his epistles (Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 4:5; Gal 1:10; Eph 6:6; Phil 1:1; Tit 1:1), which means "slave, servant, attendant." ("Doulas" occurs 127 times in the NT.) Paul uses three different Greek words for "servant" to identify himself. Do we think of Christian leaders today as waiters, subordinates, assistants, attendants and slaves? This is how Paul thought of himself as a servant of Christ. As a servant, he would not "lord it over" the faith of any (2 Cor 1:24). (A wrong view of shepherding often causes unfortunate divisions in the church.)

To Peter, shepherding is to not lord over God's flock. Peter did not initially welcome Jesus' servant leadership and violently refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet (Jn 13:6-8). Likely, he felt that he, as the sheep, the younger and the junior, should be the one who washed his leader's feet. But later Peter said to all his fellow elders and church leaders virtually what Jesus had said to him several decades earlier--both negatively and positively: "not lording it (katakyrieu?) over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Pet 5:3). Clearly, shepherding must be demonstrated as a living example, rather than by commanding subordinates who feel as though they have no other choice but to obey.

As stated above, let us consider shepherding in three parts:

  1. What it is not (Mt 20:25-26b; Mk 10:42-43a; Lk 22:25-26a)
  2. What it is (Mt 20:26b-27; Mk 10:43b-44; Lk 22:26b)
  3. What it is in Christ's own life (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45; Lk 22:27)

I. What Shepherding Is Not (Mt 20:25-26b; Mk 10:42-43a; Lk 22:25-26a)

Hierarchical worldly leadership vs. leadership in the kingdom of God. In these three texts from the synoptic gospels, Jesus contrasted the hierarchical leadership of the Gentile world with leadership in the kingdom of God. The disciples James and John had implored Jesus (through their mother) to give them the top power seats in the kingdom they thought Jesus would establish (Mt 20:20-21; Mk 10:35-37). In Lk 22:24 Jesus' disciples were arguing among themselves as to which of them was considered the greatest. In response, Jesus began by telling them without mincing words exactly what Christian leadership (or shepherding) clearly IS NOT (Mt 20:25-26b; Mk 10:42-43a; Lk 22:25-26a).

Hierarchical leadership is to have power over another. What Jesus was condemning is not just oppressive or tyrannical leaders. He was condemning the hierarchical form of leadership itself. What is hierarchical leadership? The phrase "lord it over" (Mt 20:25; Mk 10:42) is from the Greek word (katakyrieu?) that means " to bring under one's power, to subdue, to master, to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over." ("Katakyrieu?" is used only four times in the NT and it is always used negatively. Ac 19:16 refers to the evil spirit who "overpowers" the seven sons of Sceva.) The next phrase "exercise authority over" (katexousiaz?) is similar and means "to exercise authority, wield power." This verb is only used twice in the NT (Mt 20:25; Mk 10:42). Jesus is clearly describing the leadership style built on a chain-of-command social structure. It is rooted in the idea that power and authority flow from the top down. Hierarchical leadership is rooted in a worldly concept of power. This explains why it is endemic to all traditional bureaucracies. It is present in the vicious form of a master/slave relationship. It is present through out the military and corporate world. It is employed everywhere in secular culture. Should it also exist in the church? No!! according to Jesus. But sadly the church often operates by such a form of hierarchical leadership as well.

Why is hierarchical leadership undesirable for God's people? It reduces human interaction into command-style relationships. Such relationships are foreign to NT thinking and practice. Jesus did not mince words and emphatically and explicitly denounced hierarchical leadership, saying, "Not so with you. You are not to be like that" (Mt 20:26; Mk 10:43; Lk 22:26). There is no room in the teaching of Jesus for the hierarchical leadership model, which is worldly and secular and at odds with NT Christianity. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Mt 20:20-28, writes, "So hard is it for vain men, even good men, to have such authority, and not to be puffed up with it, and do more hurt than good with it, that our Lord Jesus saw fit wholly to banish it out of his church."

Illustration: Last Sun, our sermon was on Faith, Finances and Freedom . The Bible declares that everything belongs to God (Ps 24:1), including every penny that we have. The Bible also says that God's people should honor God with their wealth (Prov 3:9). Malachi challenged the people of God to tithe (Mal 3:10). When we shepherd God's people, we encourage them to be good stewards of their money, beginning with tithing. Tithing is the giving of our firstfruits to God (Dt 26:1-2, 10), not leftovers--after we have spent on what we want. We persuade, reason and appeal with Christians to give their tithe, their firstfruits to God. But we do not lord over them and exercise our authority over them to squeeze a tithe out of them.

Not exercising authority over others does not mean that there is no church discipline. Some might think that not lording over others means that the church allows others to do whatever they want. This is not so, for Jesus gives clear guidelines about how to deal with sin in the church (Mt 18:15-17).

The result of hierarchical leadership is virtually ALL bad. According to Jesus, shepherding is nothing like hierarchical leadership, which easily morphs into a nauseating ego-massaging model for the shepherd. When shepherds exercise "lording over" leadership, they:

  • Create the assumption that others must serve/obey their leader in order to serve/obey God.
  • Functionally replace the Holy Spirit, who is God.
  • Do violence to the leadership that exists in the triune God.
  • Emphasize their own status, rank, position, honor, glory and power.
  • Promote elitism and exclusivity.
  • Suppress the freedom (free functioning) of the child of God.
  • Discourage critical thinking.
  • Rupture the image of the church as a loving family.
  • Impede the progress of God's people.
  • Place severe limitations on the headship of Christ.

II. What Christian Leadership Is (Mt 20:26b-27; Mk 10:43b-44; Lk 22:26b)

How does Jesus contrast hierarchical leadership from shepherding (or Christian leadership)?

Hierarchical Leadership Shepherding (Christ-like Christian Leadership) 
 "Over" others. Control others. Elite. Exclusive. Top down.  "Among" others. Respect others. Common. Inclusive. Bottom up.
 Based on their position, rank, status and honorific titles.  Based on godly character
Measured by prominence, external power and political influence. Measured by humility and servitude.
 Exploits their position to rule over others.  Shuns special reverence; regard themselves as "the younger."
 Operates on a political chain-of-command social structure.  Flows from childlike meekness and sacrificial service.
 Plants the fear of man.  Causes awe, wonder and freedom.

Shepherding does not insist nor expect to be obeyed or served. Mt 20:26-27 (Mk 10:43-44) say, "Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever wants to be first must be your slave (doulos)." Diakonos (servant, waiter) and doulos (slave) were two of the lowest positions in Jewish society. Servants and slaves would never expect that anyone would serve them or obey them. Jesus explicitly describes shepherding in such stark and humbling terms. As a result, he reverses their status in the community of disciples to indicate prominence and greatness by being the least and the lowest (Mt 23:11-12; Lk 9:48). Paul understood being the least, less than the least, and the worst (1 Cor 15:9; Eph 3:8; 1 Tim 1:15). Shepherding God’s people should be characterized by not assuming that people are to serve their leaders by their unquestioning obedience. These principles apply not only to shepherding in the church but also in all our human relations (Eph 5:21-6:9).

Shepherd leaders act like they possess the least claim to lead others. Once, the disciples argued about "which of them was considered the greatest" (Lk 22:24), which is man's perennial problem. Every man defaults to wanting greatness, or at least greater than some others. This inadvertently projects an image of greatness about ourselves, such as being a strong and powerful person, or even as a kind and caring person. Shepherds may be particularly prone to project their own greatness as a great shepherd. In response, Jesus said, "the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves" (Lk 22:26). "The greatest among you" may be the church leaders and those with status and power, and "should be like the youngest" may be those who possess the least claim to rule others. A shepherd leader will not lord over others when they know that they have the least claim to lead others.

Shepherd leaders practice mutual submission toward others. Shepherd leaders are not to rule over and lord over God's flock but practice mutual submission one to another (Eph 5:21). Not only should young men submit to older men, but older men too are to "clothe (themselves) with humility toward one another" (1 Pet 5:5). Paul, the great leader, did not rule over others, but "made himself a slave to everyone" (1 Cor 9:19).

III. How Christ Modeled Shepherding (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45; Lk 22:27)

Living and dying, Jesus served (not lord over) us for our ultimate good. Mt 20:28 says, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” After stating what his disciples should not and should do as shepherd leaders, Jesus modeled the example of humility and condescension as the way of true shepherding. Jesus, as the Son of Man and the King of kings, should have been served by all. But he not only lived as a servant but he also died as a sacrifice. In serving he went about doing good to all; in dying he did the greatest good of all. It was his intention all along to come to this world to give his life as a ransom (Mk 10:45).

Jesus did not exercise his right to lord over others. If ever there was anyone who could rightfully lord over others and exercise authority over them, it would be Jesus. Yet, Jesus did not come to exercise his right as the God and King who can rightfully rule over all of his subjects, including the church. He said, "For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Lk 22:27). Jesus who could rightly be served, served others like a waiter, waiting on tables. Jesus' condescension was so complete that few recognized him for who he truly was, since he made himself nothing and became subject and obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Phil 2:5-8). As he was dying he was mocked and ridiculed as one who had no power and no influence.

The best shepherd in the Bible is the father of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). When his youngest son made the callous, selfish and unreasonable demand to have his share of his father's estate, Lk 15:12 says, "So he divided his property between them." The father who had the right and the authority to refuse his son's demand did not lord over him nor exercise his fatherly authority over him. Rather, he took the heartbreaking pain of his son's selfish and heartless demand and gave in to him. He neither condoned nor approved of his son's demand. But he wanted his son to love him freely, and not because he had no choice. The father also did not lord over and exercise his authority over the angry older son, but he persuaded, reasoned and appealed to him to join the happy welcoming home party of his younger son. God is like this father of both of his lost sons. How could the father be so gracious to both of his sons?

The father was gracious to all his children except for one son. There was once another son who cried out to his father to save him. On the night before he died he prayed in agony with sweat that was like drops of blood falling to the ground, "Father, take this cup (of suffering) from me" (Mt 26:39; Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42). He could not bear the excruciating agony of his upcoming death. As he died, he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). Unlike the father who reached out to his two lost sons, this Father was silent and turned his face away. This Son was indeed forsaken by his Father and abandoned to die alone. Why would this Father do this? It was to allow him to die as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). It was so that he could extend his love and grace to all of his other lost sons and daughters.

Only knowing Jesus who did not lord over me enables me to not lord over others. We cannot change ourselves. If we have been lording over others for decades, can we suddenly stop? No. Yet, we are responsible to stop. We can never change ourselves. Yet, when we behold Jesus who became a ransom in order to ransom me, something happens. Something mysterious, majestic, marvelous and magical touches my heart in a way that cannot be denied or resisted. Only Jesus became a ransom for me (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45) that I may be delivered, liberated and freed. Only Jesus was cursed instead of me (Gal 3:13) that I may be blessed. Only Jesus became sin for me (2 Cor 5:21) that I may become righteous. Only Jesus paid the costly price of sin that I should have paid (Rom 6:23a) that I may begin to live a new life. Only Jesus died for my sins (1 Cor 15:3; 1 Pet 3:18) that I--who should have died the most brutal death--may live. Only knowing Jesus--who did not lord over me--enables me to not lord over and intimidate others. Only knowing Jesus--who died as my ransom--enables me to love and respect others from my heart.

May God bless you to be a good shepherd after our Chief Shepherd who does not lord over others--including you.

Quotes by Henri Nouwen for reflection:

“Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire builders have been people unable to give and receive love.”

“Jesus leadership is not one of power and control but of powerlessness and humility, in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ is made manifest. Power must constantly be abandoned in favor of love.”

“The Christian leader…is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”


  1. What does Jesus say that shepherding is not (Mt 20:25-26a; Mk 10:42-43a; Lk 22:25-26a)? [“Katakyrieu?” (lord it over) means "to bring under one's power, to subdue, to master, to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over." “Katexousiaz?” (exercise authority over) means "to exercise authority, wield power."]
  2. What does Jesus say about how a Christian shepherds others (Mt 20:26b-27; Mk 10:43b-44; Eph 5:21; 1 Pet 5:5; 1 Cor 9:19)? [Diakonos (servant, waiter) and doulos (slave) were two of the lowest positions in Jewish society. Servants and slaves would never expect that anyone would serve them or obey them.] How is this different from a worldly concept of power and leadership?
  3. How did Jesus shepherd sheep (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45)? Did Jesus exercise his right to lord over others (Lk 22:27; Phil 2:5-8)? How can we humbly shepherd others as Jesus did (2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 3:18)?


Shepherds (Christian Leaders) Are Not To Lord Over Others (Mt 20:25-28). Sermon preached in Manila on Mar 17, 2013.

Viola, Frank. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook U.K., Kingsway Communications. 2008.

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