This lesson focuses on Matthew 20:25-28 and emphasizes what it takes to be a servant.

We are in a series of messages called First.

Last week we looked at our First Love, also known as the first commandment. Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38, NLT). We answered three questions:

  • What is love? We learned that it was a commitment and a choice.
  • Who are we to love? We are to love “the Lord our God.” We are in love with the God of the universe who deserves to be our master. He has supreme authority and loves us supremely.
  • How are we to love God? “With all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.” We are to love Him with all that we have: our wills, our emotions, and minds.

Today we are going to take a look at being first and being great and what that means. In Matthew 20 we see an encounter between Jesus and the mother of two of his disciples. It’s from this encounter that we receive this incredible insight about being first and being great. Look with me at Matthew 20:20 [read verses 20 – 28].

I want you to notice that Jesus did not correct them for wanting to be first or to be great. The desire to achieve, do well, and to excel in something is a God-given desire. It just has to be in the right place. Your desire to be the best or to be first is a divine desire, it just needs the right direction.

In Jesus’ kingdom the road to being first and great is the road called servanthood. With that said, I want to give you several principles for being a great servant from Jesus’ statements.

Great servants don’t try to control others

Number one, great servants don’t try to control others. Jesus said in verse 25, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people….” (v.25, NLT). The phrase “lord it over” (katakurieuo) is a strong term carrying the idea of ruling down on people. A dictator would be someone who would “lord it over” others. This person has a desire to control others. They try to control others with the position of power they have. They know they can get what they want simply due to the authority and power of their office. Those who try to be first or great by “lording it over” others will often use guilt, fear, or shame to accomplish what they want.

  • This desire to control others can be seen in the home when one spouse wants to control the other spouse or one sibling wants to control another sibling.
  • It can also be seen in the work place where a boss or supervisor selfishly tries to control and manipulate others.
  • It can also be seen in the church. Where a pastor, a deacon, or a team leader needs to have a say in everything and to control all the moves and decisions of the church or ministry team.

If you are using guilt, fear, or shame to get what you want and to lead people, you are “lording it over” others. When Peter was giving advice to Elders in the church and other leaders he said, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example” (1 Peter 5:3, NLT).

Great servants don’t misuse their influence

Number two, great servants don’t misuse their influence. Jesus said in verse 25, “You know that the… officials flaunt their authority over those under them” (v.25, NLT). Some translations say the “great men exercise authority over them” (NASB).  These “officials” or “great men” (megaloi) carry the idea of distinguished, prominent, well-known, or noble. It represents those who have high personal appeal and have achieved high stature in the eyes of the world and who seek to control others by personal influence.

While the “rulers” mentioned earlier use the sheer power of their position and is often hated, the “official” uses the powers of popularity and personality to control others. By flattery, charm, and attractiveness, he or she manipulates others to serve his or her own ends.

Jesus is teaching us if we have been given a position of authority because we are popular or we have a strong friendly personality, that we should not use that influence for our own personal gain. You should not use or flaunt that authority or influence over others to simply have your way.

Great servants function differently

Third, great servants function differently. Jesus said, “But among you it will be different…” (v.25, NLT). Jesus turned the world’s greatness upside down. The self-serving, self-promoting, self-glorying ways of the world are the opposite of spiritual greatness. They have no place in God’s kingdom and God’s people are to “be different” when it comes to how they serve and influence and pursue greatness.

Great servants want to influence

Fourth, great servants want to influence. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you…” (v.26, NLT). One translation says, “Whoever wishes to become great among you” (NASB). Jesus is making clear that it is not wrong to desire leadership or want to achieve greatness. When the apostle Paul was talking about the position of an overseer or elder or pastor in the church he said in 1 Timothy 3:1, “This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position’” (NLT).

God’s Word clearly teaches that it is normal and expected that God’s people will want to aspire and desire influence and leadership in various arenas. Whether your arena of influence is in the church, at school, on a team, or in the work force… the way you become a leader is through humbly serving others.

Great servants are selfless

Fifth, great servants are selfless. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (v.26, NLT). This kind of leadership and greatness is pleasing to God, because it is humble and self-giving rather than proud and self-serving. The way to the world’s greatness is through pleasing people and being served by people; the way of Gods greatness is through pleasing Him and serving others in His name. In God’s eyes, the one who is great is the one who is a willing servant.

The word “servant” is from diakonos, from which the term deacon is derived. This is not referring to the office of deacon, but the attitude of one, which all believers should have. The original meaning of “servant” was purely secular, referring to a person who did basic labor, such as house cleaning or serving tables. It was not necessarily a term of dishonor but simply described the lowest level of hired help, who needed little training or skill.

But Jesus elevated diakonos… He elevated the word “servant” to a place of great significance, using it to describe His most faithful and favored disciples. He could have chosen any number of more noble words to characterize obedient discipleship, but He chose this one because it best reflects the selfless, humble life that He honors. It is also the life that He Himself exemplified, as He would go on to say (v.28).

The clearest mark of the true “servant” is willing sacrifice for the sake of others in the name of Christ. The phony servant avoids suffering, while the true servant accepts it.

Great servants see themselves as slaves

Sixth, great servants see themselves as slaves. That sounds odd, but look at what Jesus said. Jesus said, “… and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave” (v.27, NLT). What does Jesus mean here? The position and work of a “slave” were much lower and demeaning even than those of a servant. A servant was to some degree his own person. He often owned little more than the clothes on his back, but he was free to go where he wanted and to work or not work as he pleased. But a “slave” (doulos) did not belong to himself but to his master and could go only where the master wanted him to go and do only what the master wanted him to do. He did not belong to himself but was the personal property of someone else. Now listen carefully, the slave had limited rights if any, he would have to modify his habits for his master, his preferences for his master, and his entire life-style for his master. Jesus is saying, if you want to be first and you want to be great then you must become a slave to others: meaning you limit your rights for them, you modify your habits for them, and you deny your preferences for them, and you change your life for them.

This attitude of seeing yourself as a slave to people is further explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19, “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ” (NLT). Paul was willing to do anything and to sacrifice anything to win people to Jesus Christ. As far as his rights were concerned he was “a free man with no master,” but because of his love for all people he would gladly limit those rights for their sakes. He had, figuratively, become “a slave to all people.” He would modify his habits, his preferences, his entire life-style if any of those things caused someone to stumble, to be offended, or to be hindered from faith in the Lord.

The slave mindset when it comes to serving others for the glory and kingdom of God is also seen in Jesus. When Paul was describing the attitude of Jesus in coming to earth as a human he wrote in Philippians 2:7, “He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (NLT). Jesus “gave up His divine privileges” and took the position of a “slave” so that people like you and me could have eternal life.

Great servants see themselves as slaves. They are willing to give up their rights, preferences, positions, and change their habits and lifestyle in order to bring many to Christ.

Great servants have an example to follow

Seventh, great servants have an example to follow. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others…” (v.28, NLT). What Jesus says about Himself should also characterize His followers. Jesus is saying, “I am your perfect Pattern, your supreme Example. My attitude should be your attitude, and My kind of living should be your kind of living. If you want to be great as God wants you to be great, be like Me.” We need to seriously examine and learn from Jesus when it comes to being an authentic servant that pleases the Heavenly Father.

Godly servants have an eternal cause

Finally, great servants have an eternal cause. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (v.28, NLT). Jesus didn’t come to serve others simply for the sake of serving others. Jesus came serving for a great cause. His service was “to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Let me be clear, Jesus did not simply “give His life” to be only an example for others. He was no mere martyr for a cause. Nor was He merely an example of life-giving selflessness, although He was indeed the supreme example of that. Jesus not only lived and died for others but died as “a ransom” for others. There was a reason for serving others and there was a reason for taking on the position of a slave and it was so He could become a “ransom for many.”

The word “ransom” (Lutron) was the term commonly used for the redemption price of a slave, the amount required to buy his freedom. The idea is that of a price paid for a life. As an unbeliever, we all start out as a slave to sin, the sinful nature, Satan, and death, and it was to redeem people from those slaveries that Jesus gave “his life a ransom” in exchange for sinners.

Although His “ransom” is sufficient for every person, it is valid only for those who believe in Him. It is in that sense that His redemption is “for many,” rather than for all.


  • You need to know that Jesus died for you. He became your ransom. He paid the price for your sin. Because of what Jesus did on the cross you can be forgiven, you can be pardon, and you can become a new creation, new person. You can be set free from your sin. If you will turn to Him and place your faith and trust in Him for your salvation and acknowledge Jesus as the Lord and Master of your life the ransom that Jesus paid will be applied to your life.
  • If you are already a believer, God is calling you to a life of service. You serve others in order to help them grow, glorify God, and in some cases lead them to Christ. Your service has a purpose.