Servant King: Reigning Through Serving

Ford Madox Brown

Robert K. Greenleaf’s idea of the servant as a leader sprang forth from his reading of Hermann Hesse’s short novel Journey to the East. In Hesse’s mythical journey account, Greenleaf encountered a domestic servant Leo, who was the main character, accompanying a band of men on a spiritual quest. In the story, Leo turned out to be the great leader, according to Greenleaf, because when Leo went missing, the whole group fell apart and the journey was abandoned. It was not until they found Leo again that the band of men discovered that Leo was not only their servant, but also their guiding spirit, their great leader (Greenleaf 1998: 3). Greenleaf explained,

The Servant-Leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant: – first, to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. ¹ (Greenleaf 1991: 7)

From Leo’s account Greenleaf concluded that, “the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.”(1998: 3 emp. original) What Greenleaf encountered in Leo, is what Christians have encountered and are encountering in Christ Jesus for the past two thousand years. Hesse’s mythical journey is fascinating because it mimics the Grand journey. The Grand narrative. God’s story.

The epoch of the grand narrative was when God in Christ Jesus entered the story. Shakespeare meeting Hamlet². According to the Gospel of John, the Creator of all things took on flesh and dwell among His people (Jn 1:14).  The God and King of Israel emptied himself by taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7) and dwell among His people. He came not to be served but to serve (Mk. 10:45).

His mission was the restoration of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Christ Jesus served His people by putting down the crown of gold, his infinity worthy glory, and putting on the crown of thorns, our shame, and nailed them on the cross. “On a cross,” in Timothy J. Geddert insightful words,  “Jesus is taking his throne. In weakness, God is unleashing power.”(Geddert 2001: 251)

This King came to serve. He was the servant first. He came to restore God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven through serving. Through serving He reigns.

[1] First published in 1970

[2] “If Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing.”(Lewis 1955: 227) He footnoted: “Shakespeare could, in principle, make himself appear as Author within the play, and write a dialogue between Hamlet and himself. The “Shakespeare” within the play would of course be at once Shakespeare and one of Shakespeare’s creatures. It would bear some analogy to Incarnation.”

Geddert, T. J. (2001). Mark. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.

Greenleaf, Robert K. (1991). The servant as leader. Indianapolis: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center, 1-37.

______________________ (1998) The Power of Servant Leadership. Larry C. Spears(Editor). The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, CA.

Image: Ford Madox Brown’s  Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet( 1852-56)

Church’s Kingdom of God: Crucified King’s Mission


It is often the case that Christians who understand the kingdom of God only in a pure futuristic dimension tend to focus on the spiritual aspect of winning souls and living a holy life while neglecting the present dimension of physical aspect namely hunger for justice and peace, care for the orphanage, the poor, and the widows, the environment et cetera. The inverse is often the case for Christians who understand the kingdom of God only in a pure present dimension.

A sound understanding is that that holds the present and future dimension, both the physical and spiritual aspect of the kingdom of God just as the early church. Christians holding sound understanding of the kingdom of God understands what W. F. Arndt contended:

What is offered to those that accept Jesus the Savior and King and become citizens in that blessed realm of which He is the Ruler is not wealth, not power, not health, at least not directly. With the forgiveness of sins they have received rest for their souls, a joyful outlook upon the future, the assurance of heavenly bliss, and with this righteousness all other things will be added unto them (Matt 6:33). (Arndt 1950: 20)

They concur both that, as R. T. France argued, the kingdom of God is about God being King and Christians entering it, means accepting and bowing down before God as king (France 2005: n.p.) and, as Wright argued, “[t]he new creation will be put into the care of, the wise, healing stewardship of those who have been ‘renewed according to the image of the creator’”( Wright 2006: 219)

A sound understanding of the kingdom of God calls Christians “to live by the life of heaven even while on earth”, as we become a “living word in the world around us”(2006: 187). Living now, as Scot McKnight correctly contended, in light of the future. McKnight expounded,

A Christian is one who follows Jesus by devoting his or her One.Life to the kingdom of God, fired by Jesus’ own imagination, to a life of loving God and loving others, and to a society shaped by justice, especially for those who have been marginalized, to peace, and to a life devoted to acquiring wisdom in the context of a local church. This life can only be discovered by being empowered by God’s Spirit (McKnight 2010: 105).

A sound understanding of the kingdom of God calls Christians to become more and more like their King now. To be holy as their King is holy. To forgiving as their King forgave. To love as their King loved. To heal as their king healed. All this is possible through the work of the Holy Spirit only.

It is important for Christians to hold both understanding of the kingdom of God because that understanding will raise a community of Christians who are equally concerned with the present need and are equally and eagerly awaiting and preparing for the future, the day to which all, in heaven, on earth and under earth, will bow down to the King of kings, Jesus who is Christ and Lord over all.


Arndt, W. F.(1950) ‘The New Testament Teaching on the Kingdom of God’, Concordia Theological Monthly, 21/1:8–29.

Wright, N. T. (2006) Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. HaperCollins e- books.

France, R. T ( 2005) ‘Kingdom of God’ in Vanhoozer, K. J., Bartholomew, C. G., Treier, D. J., & Wright, N. T. (Eds.) .Dictionary for theological interpretation of the Bible. London: SPCK.

McKnight, Scot (2010) One Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Early Church’s Kingdom of God: Hail King Jesus


The kingdom of God, the restoration of God’s eternal and sovereign lordship over earth as it is in heaven, was understood by some of the early Christians to encompass the present and future dimensions, and both the physical and spiritual aspects. Their understanding has being echoed throughout the church history.

The future dimension of spiritual and physical aspect is of Christians commanded to live a life of holiness, love and peace in order to inherit the Kingdom of God (Iren. Frag. 42; Pol. Phil. 5.3; Barn. 21.1) while on the other hand, the present dimension, also of spiritual and physical aspect, is of Christians being the people who are redeemed, the prince of evil has no authority over them nor cannot he thrust them out of the kingdom of Christ (Barn. 4.13) and “where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace.”(Iren. Aga. Her. 3. 24.1)

Some of post Apostolic fathers also followed a similar understanding of the Kingdom of God. Clement of Alexandra contended that Christians are called to the kingdom of God with a calling that require them to live a life worthy of the kingdom, loving God and their neighbour. He wrote, “[b]ut love is not proved by a kiss, but by kindly feeling. But there are those, that do nothing but make the churches resound with a kiss, not having love itself within.” (Clem. Al. Paed. 3.11)

In a similar manner John Calvin, during reformation, echoed the same theme when he explained that when the Church is sincere with the word of God, “there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence, since his promise cannot fail, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”(Calvin Ins. 4.1.9) N. T. Wright established this point even better: “If we believe it and pray, as he taught us, for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven, there is no way we can rest content with major injustice in the world.”(Wright 2009: 97)

Wright rightly captured the long echoed traditional understanding of the kingdom of God,

The kingdom comes through the ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel in all the world. It is both the reign and the realm of God for, although in the present age the locus of the kingdom in the world is diffuse, it is defined by the presence of Jesus at the right hand of the Father. It is both present and future until its consummation at Jesus’ return. It is also at least one possible theme by which biblical theology can be integrated. It is the focus of both creation and redemption: God’s plan of redemption is to bring in a new creation. The entire biblical story, despite its great diversity of forms and foci, is consistent in its emphasis on the reign of God over his people in the environment he creates for them. (Wright 2004, 218)

There is both futuristic and present dimension, the physical and spiritual aspect of God’s kingdom.  Christians, it’s citizens, are called to live now, caring for the poor, widows and orphanage, feeding the hungry, makers of peace as they love and bless those who prosecute them but at the same time proclaim the lordship of Christ and the hope of the future when God’s reign on earth as in heaven is restored. For Christians both now and future, physical and spiritual counts because Christ reigns over all.


Calvin, John (1949), Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge. London: J. Clarke.

Wright, N. T. (2004). Matthew  Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

_________________ (2009) ‘Building for the Kingdom: Our Work is Not in Vain’, in Ralph Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (eds.), Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader 4th edn.; Pasadena: William Carey Library.

Gospels’ Kingdom of God: Here Comes The King

screen-captureThis article concisely explored the Synoptic Gospels’ theme of the kingdom of God. The Old Testament, to which I did not explored, presents a rich background that is craftily captured by Goldsworthy:

The idea of the rule of God over creation, over all creatures, over the kingdoms of the world and, in a unique and special way, over his chosen and redeemed people, is the very heart of the message of the Hebrew scriptures. (Goldsworthy 2000: n.p)

In the Old Testament, the story of Israel reveals that God is the Lord over creation, fall, redemption and final glorification. In New Testament, Israel’s story becomes Christians’ story.

Mark and Matthew announced the dawn of the kingdom of God in the person of Christ Jesus (Matt. 1:1) and in His teachings and miraculous works (Mark 4: 35-41; Matt. 12:28). These works revealed that Jesus, the son of David, was the Lord over sickness, demons and evil spirits, nature, death, and people. N. T. Wright put it well,

Jesus was announcing that the long- awaited kingdom of Israel’s god was indeed coming to birth, but that it did not look
like what had been imagined. The return from exile, the defeat of evil, and the return of YHWH to Zion were all coming about, but not in the way Israel had supposed. (Wright 1996: 201)

Luke merged the kingship and priesthood roles of Jesus son of David, son of Abraham. Jesus is the King who is given the throne of his father David and He reigns “over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:32-33) In the person and works of Jesus, the Lord God of Israel has not only visited His people but also redeemed them. The author of the epistle of Barnabas poetically wrote, “by cross Jesus holds His kingdom, so that [through the cross] those believing on Him shall live for ever”(Barn. 4.9)

Luke addressed the Jewish political expectation of the coming of God’s Kingdom, that would overthrown all powers against God and handling the power over to God’s Messiah, which overlooked that the Messiah had to suffer before he entered into His glory (Luke 24:25-27). It appears, in Acts 1:6, that even in the light of resurrection, Jesus’ disciples held a similar expectation about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. The time of full restoration is know by God alone, according to Jesus, the task that was at hand was that of a Spirit-empowered witnessing of His person and works to the whole world (Acts 1:7-8).

Clement of Rome thus concluded,

Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.(1 Clem. Cor 42)

Those who responded with repentance and baptized into the lordship of Jesus through the disciples’ and early Church’s witnessing of the person and works of Jesus  “receive the blessings of the kingdom, the forgiveness of their sins and the eschatological power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 19:5–6; 22:16)”(ibid). According to Charles Erdman, “The very essence of the Gospel becomes embodied in the promise of a place in the Kingdom for all who will repent of sin and believe in Christ.”(Erdman 1966: 35)

The time is coming and now is here to hail the King of the Jews. He is the King over all. He is here. He reigns.

Erdman, Charles (1966) The Gospel of Mark: An exposition. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Goldsworthy, G. (2000) ‘Kingdom of God’ in Alexander, T. D., & Rosner, B. S. (Eds.) New dictionary of biblical theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Wright, N. T. (1996) Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Concepts and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.