Sitting at the Right Hand

Part 7 in the Series:

Questioning Church Authority

by Don Enevoldsen

Human institutions naturally tend toward hierarchy. The church might be the body of Christ with far reaching spiritual implications, but as a collection of human beings, it qualifies as a human institution. The human desire for control, status and position invariably weaves its way into the organization.

Evidence that church would not be free of this lust for honor was evident long before there was a church. The sons of Zebedee, James and John, motivated by their mother’s wish for her boys to do well, pushed for a hierarchical recognition. They asked Jesus to let them sit to his left and right in his kingdom, the two positions of greatest honor (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45).

Three points in this story are relevant to this series. First is what we might call a disconnect between expectation and reality. The Zebedee family envisioned leadership as obtaining a place of honor. Good leadership has ramifications far different from their dreams. “You don’t know what you are asking,” he told them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Leadership requires sacrifice. They didn’t understand the most basic element of good leadership. All they saw was the honor.

Second, the other ten disciples were indignant. I would say that James and John had greater integrity than the others. Apparently everyone wanted the place of honor, but the others expressed it only through jealousy. At least James and John were honest about it.

Third, Jesus knew that for the church to function in a healthy way, leadership had to be different than the worldly system of hierarchical control. Making position a priority would never get the job done. Those twelve men were to be the foundation of the church. They needed to get their priorities straight, and Jesus took the time to explain to them how that should look.

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—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.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

In other words, if you want to be a good leader, get over yourself. You will be loved and respected by some, but you will certainly be despised and attacked by others. If your decisions in life are based on who does which, you are not ready for a position of responsibility.

Next, Part 8: Deacons, Elders and Bishops

Go to the beginning of the series, Questioning Church Authority: Part 1: False Prophets

Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

Sitting at the Right Hand

10 thoughts on “Sitting at the Right Hand

  • April 26, 2012 at 10:16 am
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    Well put. Thanks

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  • April 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm
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    Galatians 6:3 aptly states your case.

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    • April 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm
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      “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3)

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  • April 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm
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    “In other words, if you want to be a good leader, get over yourself. You will be loved and respected by some, but you will certainly be despised and attacked by others. If your decisions in life are based on who does which, you are not ready for a position of responsibility.”

    One of the best paragraphs ever, and a good word for us all! Thanks for your hard work in bringing wisdom to us, Don…

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    • April 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm
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      I’ve experienced both positive reactions and negative, as I know you have, Ryan. It’s always nice when people respond well, but that certainly isn’t what defines our success or failure.

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  • April 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm
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    I will third the thought that this was nicely put. I still find it interesting that after Jesus gave them the requirements, and asked if they could handle them, and they said yes, He told them that although they truly would pay the price and fulfill those requirements, He couldn’t offer them the position. I wonder if they regretted committing to the suffering after finding out they didn’t get the honor they expected!

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    • April 26, 2012 at 7:25 pm
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      That’s an interesting question. Do you think it means that we can expect the trials, too, and that the reward is not necessarily anything tangible? That might make an interesting topic of discussion. What should we expect from our commitment to serving God? I have my thoughts on that, but I’d be interested in what some of the readers think about it.

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      • April 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm
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        I imagine there are trials aplenty for all who truly follow the Lord. The rewards for such sufferings are most likely, IMHO, primarily within the realm of our intimate relationship with the Lord. I personally think the motivation of getting some kind of crown in eternity is somewhat cheap. But maybe I’m weird (well, I am weird, but that’s beside the point here). Of course all of God’s blessings are ours, but we don’t earn them by ‘drinking the cup’ he drank. Ok I’m rambling. 🙂

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        • April 26, 2012 at 9:01 pm
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          Pretty good rambling. I agree with you. Intimacy with Jesus is a worthy reward in itself. I think that is what motivated the early apostles. They considered that intimate relationship worth anything, even death or beating. I agree that the promise of a crown wouldn’t be enough for me to suffer through persecution.

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