Leadership: Exaltation or Humility

Recently, I wrote about the “Pharaoh Syndrome” from the Bible in Exodus 9. In that chapter God states that He is about making His own name great. He also makes the point that He is opposed to those who are bent on exalting themselves. Pharaoh was not part of the people of God. He was an Egyptian, not a Hebrew. But lest we think that this only applies to secular leaders we must read another scenario found in Luke 14 where Jesus is addressing a group of religious leaders.

Jesus had been invited to dinner by one of these religious leaders. The other dinner guests were fellow Pharisees and scribes. Jesus noticed that this distinguished group was vying for the best places around the table, the places of honor. He proceeds to tell them a parable about choosing your seat carefully at a wedding feast. This is certainly also a reference to the kingdom of God.

In v.11 Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He follows this verse with some personal advice to the ruler of the Pharisees who had invited him to this meal. He instructs him to not invite those who will be obligated to repay him, and will do so out of their wealth, but to invite those who are poor and have no ability to repay.

Hidden in these few verses are two principles about humility.
Humility is choosing the lowest place.
Humility is serving those who can’t repay you.

In the parable, Jesus illustrates that one should always choose the lowest place at the table, that they might be honored later. If you seek the position of honor it will elude you to your shame. The personal advice that is given to the dinner host is the idea that if you only invite or serve those who are able to repay you, then when they invite you to dinner you have been repaid. But if you invite or serve those who have no ability to repay you, you are blessed and your re-payment is in eternity. At the heart of exaltation is self righteousness and self recompense. Jesus is opposed to both. Jesus came as a ransom to serve and not be served. To give His life for ours. This is at the heart of the gospel and the gospel moves us to humility, choosing to be less than and to serve.

Jesus is addressing the religious elite in his passage. These rulers are Hebrews, not secular leaders.

Humility is at the core of true servant, Christ-centered leadership.
Humility is choosing the lower place each day. Humility is serving those who can’t repay you.

What does that practically look like in your leadership context?

6 replies
  1. William Lewis
    William Lewis says:

    Hi Gary,

    Jesus is not saying chose the lowest nor serve only those who cant pay. Jesus is saying chose a place where you can serve all your fello man. Too missinterpret the word of God too serve ones own propose is blasphemy . I wonder do you understand that?


    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thank you William for taking the time to comment. Your thoughts stirred me to take a fresh look at the passage in Luke 14. While I think you and I are actually arguing for the same end result, I don’t completely agree with your interpretation of the passage. I don’t think this parable is primarily about choosing a place to serve all of our fellow man. The context of the passage is a lavish dinner where prideful Pharisees and Scribes are gathered. Jesus observes that they are elevating themselves over their guests to claim superiority. Jesus goes after their hearts that are filled with self righteousness. He uses the parable to expose their hearts and to reorient them towards God’s set of priorities. God will honor a humble heart and not a proud one. A humble heart will lead to service-but a true servant attitude must begin with a rejection of self righteousness and self recompense demonstrated through choosing honored positions and showing favor to only those who will show favor to you. I think this is at the core of the passage. Therefore, I added a few sentences to my post to better reflect this. I realized I had come up short of the full impact of this passage. Thanks for pointing me back to the passage for a deeper look. By the way, I saw your web site and your art work is really beautiful-you have great talent.

      • James Riley
        James Riley says:

        What a great response to a somewhat puzzling initial reaction. Most would understand the words of Jesus as you have described. The foot washing ceremonies carried out in various denominations would reflect this understanding.

        That’s would the paradigm described by Greenleaf reflects. His description of Leo as first a servant, perceived as such by those he served and then as a leader reflects this. . .

        And your words bring to mind some in the Old Testament who repeated the behavioral patterns of their ancestors who sought self aggrandizement; and the consequences of such behavior.


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