Leading without Domineering

When Singapore became an independent nation on 9th August 1965, the National Pledge was crafted to inculcate national consciousness and patriotism in school. Students began to recite the Pledge from August 1966 onward. The purpose of reciting is to emphasize that the potentially divisive factors such as language, race and religion “could be overcome if Singaporeans were united in their commitment to the country”.[1]

The way to overcome these divisive factors is to build a larger framework to embrace differences. The large framework is “a democratic society based on justice and equality”. The benefit of this larger framework is that we may “achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation”.

After more than 50 years of nation building, this pledge remains relevant because we remain a diverse nation. Our government is still working hard to build this inclusive framework for all people groups on our little island. On the other hand, while the current harmony in Singapore could be threatened, it is also undeniable that we have made much progress in living harmoniously together. This is a fruit of our government effort.


Jesus and His Kingdom

While our government must build a large framework that does not initially exist, all local churches already have an ultimate framework that hold us all together. The ultimate framework is the Jesus Christ and his kingdom. If we all acknowledge that Jesus Christ as our king, then we are serving the same king (cf. 1Ti 6:14-15). If we all are born again in the Spirit, then we are serving in the same kingdom (cf. Joh 3:3-5). Since this is the spiritual reality of all believers, should we not strive to maintain this unity despite all our differences?


One Difference

There is one difference between any national governments and the body of Christ vis-à-vis all local churches. All national governments have the rights to use force to ensure the security of their nations. In Singapore, our government has rightly used force to stop small groups of Singaporeans and foreigners from exploiting the potentially divisive factors such as language, race and religion to cause disturbances here. Such use of force is necessary for the survival of any nation.

On the other hand, in Christ’s kingdom any form of domination is forbidden by Jesus. In Mark 10:41-45, Jesus called the Twelve together because they were jostling for position of authority and power. Jesus made a comparison between leadership in the world, which he termed as “rulers of the Gentiles” and “their great ones” and in his kingdom, which he termed as “among you” (10:42-43).

The verb “lord it over” means to subdue or to gain dominion over. The verb “exercise authority” means to reign or to have dominion over. When Jesus said “you know”, he was appealing to the experiential knowledge of the Apostles. They knew from their experience with the Roman army and with Herod’s family that force was used to subdue or to tyrannize the population (cf. Act 5:35-37; Mar 15:7). After describing the behavior of the rulers of the Gentiles and their great ones, Jesus immediately declared “But it shall not be so among you” (10:43). Thus, Jesus was prohibiting the Apostles from adopting the same practices as the rulers of the Gentiles.

In contrast, Jesus wants leadership in the Apostolic community (“among you”) to be different from rulers of the Gentiles and their great ones. Anyone in the Apostolic community who wants “to be great” or to “be first” must become a servant or slave to the community (10:43-44). Jesus wants his leaders to focus on serving the community and not on subduing or tyrannizing the community.

Typically, in the time of the Apostles, a servant or slave will do what the master wants. In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus describes how a servant should behave. A servant would do what the master wants. It could be plowing, keeping the sheep, preparing supper and serving the table. The servant should not expect any praise from the master in doing these things. After doing everything needed, the servants would acknowledge that “we have only done what was our duty” (17:10). Thus, leaders of Apostolic community focus on serving the needs of the community without any expectation.


Dealing with Resistance

What if the leaders of Apostolic community encounter resistant, how should they respond? The Apostle Peter instructs how leaders should serve in the community. In 1st Peter 5:1-4, Peter instructed fellow elders to shepherd the flock of God by exercising oversight. The verb “exercising oversight” means to accept the responsibility for the care of someone.

Peter lists three behaviors that are right before God in exercising oversight. The first behavior is voluntarily serving the flock because church leaders know that God has called them. The second is eagerly serving without any desire to get anything out of it. The third is being exemplary to the flock without being domineering over them. The verb “domineering over” is the same as the verb “lord it over” in Mark 10:42. This third behavior means church leaders are to lead by example and not like “rulers of the Gentiles” or their “great ones”.

What if some of or the whole community did not want to follow the leaders’ example? First, the church leaders should not be surprised because Peter and Paul both encountered resistance in their ministries (cf. Acts 11:2; 15:4-11; 2Co 12:11-13). They continued to serve their communities.

Second, church leaders are to lead with meekness, gentleness and boldness simultaneously (2Co 10:1-2). They are to be meek and gentle in handling the community yet at the same time they are to be bold to confront when confrontation is needed. In confronting, they are firm yet not harsh, and are gentle yet not compromising.

This does not guarantee that the outcome of the confrontation is favorable. When the outcome is unfavorable, the church leaders forgive the opposition and are not bitter toward them because church leaders knew that they themselves are forgiven in Christ (cf. Eph 4:32). They remain joyful, peaceful, patience, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-control in dealing with the oppositions (cf. Gal 5:23-24). Church leaders are not fret by oppositions even though they may grieve for them (cf. Gal 4:11).


Public Resistance, Public Response

What if the opposition publicly affect the community? Then church leaders are to speak out publicly. Just as the problems in Corinthians were public knowledge, Paul wrote his letters to the whole church in Corinth (cf. 1Co 1:10-17). His letters were not some hidden notes but are meant to be read publicly. Paul publicly speak out firmly against the wrong doings and opposition in his letters. He did worry about new believers being stumbled by speaking out publicly. He did not hold back his rebuke both in First and Second Corinthians (cf. 1Co 4:14-16; 2Co 7:8-9).

Although he publicly rebuked them through his letter, he was meek and gentle when he met them face to face. In fact, this was what the opposition criticized him. They criticized him for being impressive in his letter but were unimpressive in person (cf. 2Co 10:1-2, 9-11). This criticism confirmed that Paul was meek and gentle in dealing with opposition even though he was firm in speaking out against them.

Apparently, the opposition against him did not stop even though he dealt firmly and gently with them. Between the writing of the first and second Corinthians, Paul made a visit to Corinth. He described this visit as a painful one (cf. 2Co 2:1-4). Although Paul did not clearly describe the cause of his pain, he points out that those who caused him pain were those who should have made him rejoice (2:3). This shows that the opposition against him were by members whom he knew well.

Despite all these oppositions, he did not call for excommunication against them. The only person whom Paul urged the congregation to remove from among them was the man who committed adultery with his step-mother. This man was worse than unbelievers (1Co 5:1-5).

This act of removing was not done by Paul. It was to be done by the whole community with Paul’s agreement (1Co 5:3-4). They are not to use force on this man, but they are to deliver this man “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1Co 5:5). This delivery to Satan means they publicly declared this person as an unbeliever. This man is returned to the world, which is under Satan’s power (cf. 1Jo 5:19; Eph 2:1-2). This is not an act of domineering over the man but a declaration that he was an unbeliever based on his behavior.

Although Paul urged the removal, he knew that the whole community could disagree with him (cf. 2Co 1:23-2:1). By God’s mercy, the community agreed with Paul’s exhortation to remove the man and that the removal led the man to repentance. Paul then urged the community to forgive him because this man’s sin affected the community more than Paul (cf. 2Co 2:5-11).

While this man might have repented, Paul was acutely aware that there were other believers who were involved in other sins including sexual immoralities but remained unrepented and opposed to his correction (cf. 2Co 12:20-21). Paul did not stop rebuking them even though he continued to appeal to them in gentleness without lording over them (2Co 1:23-24; 6:1-2; 11-13; 7:2-4; 13:5-10).

In First and Second Corinthians, Paul was dealing with obvious sinful behaviors such sexual immoralities, rivalries, quarreling, gossip, conceit and so on (2Co 2:20). He was not dealing with differences in views or preferences. He modeled for us how to tread a fine line in being firm without being harsh, and gentle and meek without compromising. In his writing, Paul was sharp with his words to answer the criticism of those who opposed him yet when he met with them face to face, he was gentle and meek.

[1] https://www.nhb.gov.sg/what-we-do/our-work/community-engagement/education/resources/national-symbols/national-pledge (Last accessed on 22/03/2018 at 4 pm).

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