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The Centrality of the Cross in Christian LeadershipMalcolm Webber
In our last Letters, we looked at the relationship between Christ and Community in the leader’s life: Christ builds Community, and Community builds Christ.
First, “Christ builds Community” means the leader’s union with Christ will be expressed in the leader living together with others in the Community in self-giving love, in true servanthood. If you know God, you will love and serve your brother (1 John 4:7).
Second, “Community builds Christ” means that it is only as a part of the Community that the leader will fully experience the indwelling life of Christ.
For the leader to live in true love and servanthood, and thus experience the fullness of Christ in His people, clearly requires that the leader embrace the cross. His love must be truly self-giving.
Sadly, the fact is that most people everywhere are absorbed in their own needs and focused on having those needs met rather than on what they can do to help others. This is a core part of the fallen nature of man. Many Christians are certainly saved but they are still babies, and babies are, of course, entirely self-absorbed. All they know, all they can see, are their own needs. As they mature, they gradually begin to recognize that others have needs, and that they have responsibilities to others and not only to themselves.
This is a key “step” in Christian maturity and especially in the path toward true Christian ministry and leadership – to make the intentional, heart choice to embrace the cross (death to one’s own agendas, needs and hurts) and to reach out and serve others, to look out for their needs, to prefer them before ourselves.
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… (Phil. 2:3-5)
As we choose to inwardly turn from self to others, our fundamental focus shifts from what we need and from what others should be doing for us to what we can do to serve them. This is a profound and painful death but it is also a life-giving choice. For the first time, we find true life and true joy; there is no joy in serving ourselves – self is a hard and endlessly-demanding task master. As we choose to embrace this cross, we ourselves have the wonderful privilege of becoming a genuine part of the solution for man’s sinful condition; we become God’s true instruments in the redemption of fallen humanity. This is a part of what Jesus referred to as losing our own lives in order to find true life (Matt. 10:38-39).
It is so central to the Christian life, that this self-giving love for our brothers and sisters is seen, often in the New Testament, as one key mark of being a genuine follower of Jesus:
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14)
It is certainly a fundamental characteristic of the mature Christian leader:
I have no one else like him [Timothy], who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 2:20-21)
Needless to say, this “step” of maturity is much more than a single step. It a daily, and lifelong, decision to choose serving rather than being served:
…If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
It is the very essence of what Jesus did in His life and ministry and it is at the heart of what He calls us to do:
…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. (Matt. 20:26-28)
Moreover, this choice of the cross must not be conditional. We cannot begin to serve others only on the condition that they will then serve us and meet our needs. We do not meet others “halfway.” We must embrace the cross with all our hearts, expecting nothing in return, or we have not truly embraced it at all.
This is the core nature of servant leadership – self-giving love. It is not a love expressed necessarily in swelling words of love; it is expressed in daily choosing the cross, in the usually mundane, often tedious, and sometimes harsh realities of our lives together. This is where we find Jesus, because this is the life that He chose and, through us, continues to choose.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:12)
No one has ever seen God (1 Tim. 6:16), but when we embrace the cross and love each other we do see Him – in one another!