“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
In contemporary establishment Christianity, many of the terms and concepts used are borrowed from the corporate world. For an ordinary worker bee, this means that on Sunday, as well as throughout the week, he is told to “take ownership of a project,” or “integrate with community,” obfuscated language that makes one grateful that the Bible wasn’t written today.
Another favorite is “servant leader,” a business-seminar concept that is tailor-made for the church setting. After all, didn’t Jesus talk about being a servant all the time? And wasn’t He a leader?
This is all very true, but in contemporary religious leadership’s efforts to encourage ordinary people to be last of all and servant of all (Matthew 9:35), it is conveniently overlooked that this teaching applies to all of us, and that the context of this teaching lies in an argument among the disciples over who was the greatest.
“Servant-Leader,” quite frankly, is not a term one finds in the Bible, although “servant” appears copiously. “Leader,” “ruler,” “shepherd,” “teacher,” “authorities,” and similar terms in Scripture – while they represent positions that humans grasp and crave, come with heavy responsibilities — and are easily misused and misapplied, as Jesus points out in Matthew 20:25-28.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.”
Interestingly, Jesus does not mention book deals, speaking engagements, meetings with the Pope, prayer breakfasts with the president of the United States, or membership in the World Council of Churches. These are not necessarily bad things, but when one looks at the lifestyles of the people heavily involved in the “leadership” aspect of the business of Christianity, it is difficult to identify the “servant” part.
Which brings us back to Joshua, a mighty man of valor of the Old Testament, who, in his ringing speech to the Israelites in Joshua chapter 23, makes it very clear who his leader is, and what is his relationship to Him:
“And as for you,” Joshua tells the people and its leaders in verse 9, “no man has been able to stand before you to this day.”
Not, he does not add, because of Joshua’s incredible prowess as a military leader:
“One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your god who fights for you, just as he promised you.”
Taking God for Granted
Joshua knows that Israel’s blessings, and its very ability to inhabit a land that was ruled by other, far more powerful armies, was due to God, and God alone, and that this blessing from above was not something to be taken lightly or for granted. To maintain it, ALL of God’s people needed to be under His leadership. Even within a nation, the actions of each individual were important.
“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God,” Joshua continues in verse 11.
“For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you.”
Those of us who have read the rest of the story know that these words were true, and that in later years, the Hebrews demanded a king “like all the nations,” (Samuel 8:5), and increasingly, copied the religious, political, and social practices of the remnant of those nations around them.
So it is today, and throughout history, with us as Christians. It didn’t take long after Jesus ascended before we set up a hierarchy of authoritative leadership, overriding a spiritual relationship that is supposed to encourage a direct contact between each individual believer and His God.
And while leaders, and shepherds, are not a bad thing, they are when they copy the culture of the Canaanites around them, which in the 21st century uses words like “intentional,” “living in the now,” “taking ownership of a project,” and “servant-leader.” Christianity is not supposed to copy the corporate world.
But it does.
That’s the bad news.
But the good news is in Joshua’s words, his command that the people “not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.” (Joshua 23:7)
The lesson for us, steeped in a culture that assaults us with deception through its mass media and political and financial systems, is not that we leave and inhabit another planet, nor that we isolate ourselves within a Christian sub-culture (which is funded, and promoted, incidentally, by the non-Christian corporate world), but that we not copy the actions of those around us, and that our every action, thought, and word be done in light of truth, as opposed to a concern about fitting in, and getting our piece of the pie.
Christian leaders should look different, like Joshua. And whether or not they do, all of us are called to the same choice of whom, or what to serve, and whether or not we say, as Joshua did,
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.