Day 261

The Best Way to Lead

Wisdom Proverbs 22:29
New Testament Galatians 3:10-25
Old Testament Isaiah 42:1-8


Who is the servant of the Lord?’ This was the question that the Chief Financial Officer of Ethiopia asked the evangelist Philip: ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ (Acts 8:34).

The title ‘servant of the Lord’ is one of great dignity, reserved for leaders such as Abraham, Moses and David. But in the four ‘servant songs’ (Isaiah 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12) a distinct concept of ‘servanthood’ comes into sharper focus.

The role of this ‘servant’ can be illustrated with the St Andrew’s cross. (St Andrew, brother of Peter, is believed to have died on a diagonally traversed cross, which the Romans sometimes used for execution. It therefore came to be called the St Andrew’s cross, and is the flag of Scotland.)

Originally, God intended that all humankind should be his servant. Then, after the fall, God chose the whole nation of Israel to serve him. But even his chosen race was not faithful to him. So the focus, continuing to narrow, became a mere ‘faithful remnant’. Ultimately, only one individual was completely faithful (shown by the central intersection of the cross). This was Jesus.

Jesus revealed what Israel (and indeed humankind) should have been. He was an Israelite sent to Israel, totally identifying with his nation and yet remaining distinct from it. No earthly king or prophet meets the description used in all the servant passages in Isaiah. Yet, Jesus does – perfectly.

Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. Furthermore, it is God’s plan that the church, through the victory of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, can and will succeed. So, the St Andrew’s cross broadens out again as the members of the church of Jesus Christ become the servants of God with a mission to call all humanity back to their original creation purpose.


Proverbs 22:29

29 Do you see someone skilled in their work?
   They will before kings;
   they will not serve before obscure people.


Use all your leadership skills to serve others

The writer of the book of Proverbs warns against us spending our lives serving false gods such as food (23:1–3) or riches: ‘Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle’ (vv.4–5). The eagle on every USA Dollar is a reminder of this truth.

Rather, we are encouraged to get on with doing what we do well: ‘Do you see those who are skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before obscure people’ (22:29). I have watched over the years those who have quietly got on with serving in humble and obscure ways, but done so with great skill in their work and God has raised them up to positions of influence.


Lord, thank you for the example of those who have pressed on – serving you with great skill and without seeking any glory for themselves. Thank you that you have raised such people up as examples for us all.

New Testament

Galatians 3:10-25

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.


Thank God for Jesus’ ultimate act of servant leadership

Jesus said that those of us who follow him should lead in a different way to those around us. We should not throw our weight around. We should not let power go to our heads (see Mark 10:42–45, MSG). Rather we should follow his model of servant leadership. Jesus said he ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (v.45).

In this passage, Paul explains how Jesus did exactly that. The cross is the ultimate expression of his service.

We have all failed to keep the law of God. According to the law of Moses, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ (Galatians 3:10b; see Deuteronomy 27:26). In order to be justified by the law, a person would have to keep the entire law (Galatians 3:12). No one has ever done this. Therefore, we were all under a curse.

On the cross, Jesus took this curse on himself. He ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (v.13a). Paul points out that the book of Deuteronomy says, ‘cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’ (v.13b, RSV; see Deuteronomy 21:23). It was the depth of disgrace to be crucified. ‘He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse’ (v.13, MSG). He deliberately put himself in harm’s way for you and me.

You are justified through what Jesus, the servant of the Lord, did on the cross for you by becoming a curse for you. ‘He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit’ (v.14).

God’s promise was originally given to Abraham and his seed (v.16a). Paul explains that Jesus is God’s promise, since ‘the Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ’ (v.16b).

‘What, then, was the purpose of the law?’ (v.19). The law had at least two main purposes. First, it pointed us to our sin (v.19). It exposed the problem. It defined sin. It was intended to put a brake on sin.

Second, the law points us to Jesus. It is intended to lead us to Christ (vv.21–25). ‘The law was like those Greek tutors… who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for’ (v.24, MSG). It leads us to Christ through whom we are justified by faith (v.24).

Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant of the Lord, through becoming a curse for us, has removed the curse of the law. By his death he justified many. You are set free from the law to become a servant of the Lord.


Lord, thank you that, in this ultimate act of service, you took upon yourself the curse that should have fallen on me. Thank you that as a result I am justified by faith in you. Thank you for setting me free to serve.

Old Testament

Isaiah 42:1-8

‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
   my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
   and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
   or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
   and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4   he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth’

6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
   I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
   to be a covenant for the people
   and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
   to free captives from prison
   and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

8 “I am the Lord; that is my name!
   I will not yield my glory to another...’


Follow the model of Jesus: serve to lead

The Sandhurst motto on every cap, badge and belt is, ‘Serve to lead’. This was the model of Jesus. As J. Oswald Sanders wrote, ‘True leadership is achieved not by reducing people to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.’

As we have seen, God originally chose Israel to be his servant, serving by his side. He promised to give them strength and help them (41:8–9).

However, the people of Israel failed and became part of the problem. It is possible to have perfect 20/20 physical vision and yet be spiritually blind: ‘You’re my servant, but you’re not looking!
You’re my messenger, but you’re not listening!
The very people I depended upon, servants of God,
blind as a bat – wilfully blind!’ (42:19, MSG).

Isaiah foresaw another servant of the Lord:

‘Take a good look at my servant.
   I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
   and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
   He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
   with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
   and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
   but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
   until he’s finished his work – to set things right on earth’ (vv.1–4a, MSG).

Matthew points out that Jesus fulfilled these words, which were spoken through the prophet Isaiah. He clearly quotes Isaiah 42:1–4 (Matthew 12:17–21).

In Jesus, this prophecy was perfectly fulfilled, just as all of the other servant passages in Isaiah were perfectly fulfilled in him (Isaiah 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12). Jesus would be ‘a lighthouse to the nations... opening blind eyes, releasing prisoners from dungeons, emptying the dark prisons’ (42:6–7, MSG).

As a result of what Jesus has done for you, these wonderful promises now apply to you:

‘So do not fear, for I am with you;
   do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (41:10).

He will guide you along unfamiliar paths, turn darkness into light before you and make the rough places smooth (42:16).


Lord Jesus, thank you that you alone fulfilled this prophecy perfectly and that you will not give your glory to another (v.8). Thank you for your model of humility and gentleness. Thank you that you call us, too, to be servants of the Lord. Help me to follow your example.

Pippa adds

Some wonderful words in Isaiah 41:9, which say:

   ‘I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
   do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ (vv.9–10)

These are such wonderful words of comfort, particularly if you are having a hard time.

Thought for the Day

Great leadership is achieved not by reducing people to your service but by giving yourself in selfless service to them.



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J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, (Moody Publishers, 2007) p.13.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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