Which is to say that it’s not a cookie cutter. There’s no kind of one size fit’s all, it must look like this – it’s gonna depend, it’s gonna depend on culture and time but also on particular people and their relationship. (Anecdote from the speaker’s marriage.) But that looks different for other couples, not every couple uses that as the right thing. (Anecdote from the speaker’s parents, if they did the same thing it wouldn’t work for them.) So there’s not … it depends on the particular people and their particular relationship in that bigger context. What does it look like to be that strong suitable helper.
And sometimes ‘helping’ means taking the lead, calling the shots, sitting behind the wheel. Not every couple is a perfect example of a healthy couple living in suburbia in a two story house with a white picket fence. Real life gets complicated. Disease, unemployment, injury – they can easily reverse the roles. There’s no discussion here of helpers taking the lead or leaders accepting that they need help.
What about in terms of leadership? What does that look like? And again we see our model in Jesus. And it’s not like what our culture thinks a leader is.
What does our culture think a leader is? Don’t we admire both Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa for their servant’s heart? Not for their leadership and administrative prowess? Our culture can draw examples of leadership from men and women, from the whole of history, and can study and define what leadership means even in the business world. According to the Wikipedia page on leadership, leaders monitor the environment, organize their subordinate’s activities, teach and coach their subordinates, motivate others, and actively intervene in the group’s work. Can parallels be drawn in Christianity? Aren’t men taught to monitor their household, organize their household’s activities, teach and coach their household, motivate their household, and actively intervene in the household’s work on one form or another? Sure, technically scheduling the kid’s piano recitals and soccer games falls to mom, but dad can over-rule that and decide to take everyone somewhere else to do something else and everyone else is expected to agree that dad has the final say. Dad is usually expected to be reasonable to not over-ride everybody elses’ schedules just because he feels like it.
The night before Jesus is betrayed and he’s having the last supper with his disciples and they are arguing about who is the greatest. Who is the number one? And Jesus speaks into that in a way that is really significant. “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 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.”- Luke 22:26-27, Jesus says there is a difference but here’s the thing, I’m the leader, I’m the greater, and I’m their servant. I’ll show you what leadership is like – I do it by serving you. By looking out for what you need, what’s good for you, rather than looking out for myself.
Looking at that verse in it’s full context: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “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. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 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. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” One thing that’s important to talk about is that the concept of servant-leadership isn’t all that different from that of being a Benefactor in ancient Rome. Benefactors, or Patrons, were usually wealthy men of a higher social class who provided, protected, and sponsored his clients. Clients were usually poorer men of a lower social class who needed to be provided for, protected, sponsored, and sometimes he needed favors done. If you studied Renaissance art, then it’s not unlike the relationship a great master would have with his own patrons, in return for food and board from the patron, the client would do artwork for the patron. Jesus said that leadership isn’t like that. Rather, the client is the better example of what it takes to lead in his upside-down kingdom. Leadership isn’t in being the provider and protector. It’s in serving. That means that in her helping, in her serving, women have actually been a better example of how to lead – and they did that without any power to call the shots. Having the authority doesn’t make a leader. Jesus was all about laying down his own authority. He could have called down angels, but he didn’t. He could have called down fire and brimstone, but he didn’t. He could have ordered a plague or a curse – but he didn’t. That’s the example that Jesus set. Being a servant isn’t being the master, it’s being the one who takes the orders and serves the master, not the one who gives the orders and calls the shots or makes the final decision.
And he shows it most dramatically that next day at the cross. That Jesus shows what a servant-leader really looks like when he dies for us. And that’s the model that’s given to us as men and as husbands. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” – Ephesians 5:25. And I know that you’re gonna be like okay, that’s no big deal. Okay, that’s just Jesus, the one who submitted himself the father, the one who died and gave up his own life for the good of other people. That’s the model for what it means to be a husband. No big deal. And if we don’t realize what a big challenge this is because somehow we’re not listening. None of us can measure up to this. This is an amazingly awesome picture of what a leader is – a leader is a servant. A servant who looks out for the good of other people, who denies himself and doesn’t look out for what he wants, his needs, and his desires but instead what’s good for other people.
What then, serves as a living example of this? Jesus told them “be servant leaders” and the next day, he dies. He doesn’t show them what it means to live as one, day in and day out. Looking back at Jesus’ ministry, he has moments where crowds of people show up. Instead of continuing about what he was about to do, he stops, heals and cures every single one of them. Then there are other times where just slips away. There are times where he cares nothing for his own honor or reputation when he speaks to women publicly, and other times where he eats at the house of prominent men in the community. Jesus doesn’t micromanage his followers, he equips them, sends them out, and when they get back, he helps and corrects them. It’s not enough to say “Be like Jesus, die to self” I think it’s better to say, live like Jesus lived and let Jesus live in you. Thing is, Jesus didn’t treat women any differently than he did anyone else. In his culture, he was breaking major rules. Living like Jesus lived means following his example in how he treated women, and to continue to treat women better than society does.
And so for me this is a huge challenge as I think about my own family. Ways in which I’m tempted repeatedly not to be a servant. To look out for what I want. To treat a day off as if it means that it’s about what I want to do. And it’s working for me to recognize that a day off well it’s not a day off in the sense that I don’t do anything, it’s a day off precisely as a chance for me to serve my wife. For her to have a chance to sleep in. To share the responsibilities that normally fall primarily to her. And with my kids, that I’m sitting on the couch and I’m reading Twitter on my phone and I need to recognize ‘no, put it aside’ because my two-year old and five-year old want me to read a book to them. And denying myself, that’s what a leader look like.
When men have a day off from work, women don’t get a day off from being mom. Working moms don’t even get time off to have time off. So many times, I hear advice that men should help with the dishes once in a while, it means that usually, almost all the other times, such responsibilities are left up to the wives. To be modern Proverbs 31 women – women have a full plate, and that’s more true now that women live in a busier world than the one Proverbs 31 was written into. Dads may get a day off of work, but Moms don’t get a day off of being Mom.