Matthew 20:27
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
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(27) Whosoever will be chief.—Better, first, as continuing the thought of Matthew 20:16. The “servant” (better, slave) implies a lower and more menial service than that of the “minister” of the preceding verse, just as the “chief” or “first” involves a higher position than the “greatness” there spoken of. We introduce a false antithesis if we assign the “service” to this life, and the “greatness” as its reward to the life after death. The true teaching of the words is that the greatness is the service.

20:20-28 The sons of Zebedee abused what Christ said to comfort the disciples. Some cannot have comforts but they turn them to a wrong purpose. Pride is a sin that most easily besets us; it is sinful ambition to outdo others in pomp and grandeur. To put down the vanity and ambition of their request, Christ leads them to the thoughts of their sufferings. It is a bitter cup that is to be drunk of; a cup of trembling, but not the cup of the wicked. It is but a cup, it is but a draught, bitter perhaps, but soon emptied; it is a cup in the hand of a Father, Joh 18:11. Baptism is an ordinance by which we are joined to the Lord in covenant and communion; and so is suffering for Christ, Eze 20:37; Isa 48:10. Baptism is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; and so is suffering for Christ, for unto us it is given, Php 1:29. But they knew not what Christ's cup was, nor what his baptism. Those are commonly most confident, who are least acquainted with the cross. Nothing makes more mischief among brethren, than desire of greatness. And we never find Christ's disciples quarrelling, but something of this was at the bottom of it. That man who labours most diligently, and suffers most patiently, seeking to do good to his brethren, and to promote the salvation of souls, most resembles Christ, and will be most honoured by him to all eternity. Our Lord speaks of his death in the terms applied to the sacrifices of old. It is a sacrifice for the sins of men, and is that true and substantial sacrifice, which those of the law faintly and imperfectly represented. It was a ransom for many, enough for all, working upon many; and, if for many, then the poor trembling soul may say, Why not for me?But Jesus called them unto him - That is, he called all the apostles to him, and stated the principles on which they were to act.

The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them - That is, over their subjects. "You know that such honors are customary among nations. The kings of the earth raise their favorites to posts of trust and power they give authority to some over others; but my kingdom is established in a different manner. All are to be on a level. The rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, the bond, the free, are to be equal. He will be the most distinguished that shows most humility, the deepest sense of his unworthiness, and the most earnest desire to promote the welfare of his brethren."

Gentiles - All who were not Jews - used here to denote the manner in which human governments are constituted.

Minister - A servant. The original word is deacon - a word meaning a servant of any kind; one especially who served at the table, and, in the New Testament, one who serves the church, Acts 6:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:8. Preachers of the gospel are called minister's because they are the servants of God and of the church 1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 6:4; Ephesians 4:12; an office, therefore, which forbids them to lord it over God's heritage, which is the very opposite of a station of superiority, and which demands the very lowest degree of humility.

Mt 20:17-28. Third Explicit Announcement of His Approaching Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection—The Ambitious Request of James and John, and the Reply. ( = Mr 10:32-45; Lu 18:31-34).

For the exposition, see on [1331]Mr 10:32-45.

Ver. 25-27. So Mark hath much the same, Mark 10:42-44. Luke hath also much the same, (but it seemeth spoken at another time), Luke 22:25-27. I shall not here intermeddle with the disputes some have founded on this text: Whether there may be a civil, magistracy amongst Christians; a thing undoubtedly foreign to the sense of this text. Or, Whether Christ here establisheth a party amongst ministers; which I do not think our Lord’s design here. Nor yet with that other question, Whether ministers of the gospel may take upon them the exercise of any civil power. That which our Saviour here intends is,

1. To distinguish his kingdom from the kingdoms of the world. Those kingdoms are over men’s bodies and estates; his was a spiritual kingdom, over the hearts and consciences of men. Or rather, his was a kingdom of glory, where there would be no need of rulers and magistrates, as in the government of the world, nor any such exercise of authority as is here exercised in the government of earthly kingdoms and politics.

2. To condemn ambition and pride in his disciples, as making them most unfit for this kingdom, which is a thing he had before taught them. The way to be greatest in heaven is to be humblest, to be low and mean in our own eyes. This I think to be the most proper interpretation of this text; our Lord by it correcting the erroneous opinion his disciples had of the nature of his kingdom, as also their pride and ambition, and pressing upon them other studies, than how to be the greatest in any earthly kingdom. If any do think that in this text our Lord hath some respect to the kingdom he hath upon earth, he rather checks ambition, and an affectation of superiority, than any thing else, and lets us know that such as love the preeminence are most unfit for it; that the work of heads of the church is but a ministry, not a domination; and that those who are fittest for it, and deserve most honour in the church, are those that least seek and affect it; and those most unworthy of that honour, who most hunt after it. But I prefer the first sense given of this text.

For certainly what our Saviour here saith was not only occasioned by, but had a great relation to, the petition of James and John with their mother; and the bearing rule and exercising authority mentioned there relates to the kingdom mentioned in that petition; which I think cannot be understood of the church, which was a kingdom of Christ, which they as yet little understood: but they either meant the kingdom of glory, entertaining carnal conceptions of that, that there would be some superiority and inferiority there amongst the saints, which our Saviour here correcteth their mistake in; or else they fancied a secular kingdom, to be exercised by Christ on earth, after his resurrection from the dead. Our Saviour correcteth this mistake also, intimating that his kingdom should be of another nature, and the way to be highest in it was to be humble and low, and mean in opinions of ourselves.

And whosoever will be chief among you,.... Or first, or have the pre-eminence, the first place in the kingdom of the Messiah,

let him be your servant; or, as in Mark,

shall be servant of all: not only a minister, but a servant; not a servant of some only, but of all. This was verified in the Apostle Paul, who became a servant to all men, though he was free, that he might gain some to Christ; and by so doing was the chief, though he reckoned himself the least of the apostles, yea, less than the least of all saints. The Jews have a saying somewhat like this, that (h).

"everyone that makes himself as a servant, for the words of the law in this world, shall be made free in the world to come.''

(h) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 35. 2.

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
Matthew 20:27. πρῶτος may be a synonym for μέγας = μέγιστος (De W.) and δοῦλος for διάκονος; or in both cases increased emphasis may be intended, πρῶτος pointing to a higher place of dignity, δοῦλος to a lower depth of servitude. Burton (M. and T. in N.T., § 68) finds in the two ἔσται in Matthew 20:26-27 probable instances of the third person future used imperatively.

Matthew 20:27. Πρῶτος, chief.

Verse 27. - Whosoever will be (qe/lh""... εϊναι) chief (first, πρῶτος)... servant (bondservant, δοῦλος). The characteristic of the Christian ruler should be humility. Christ enforces the teaching of the previous verse more emphatically by altering the terms in which it was stated. "Great" now becomes "first;" "minister," "slave." Of these two last words the former would imply rather occasional service, to meet some temporary call; the latter, the regular business of a slave bound to his master at all times. We do not gather from this passage that the Christian minister, called by God, is to take his doctrine from his congregation, or to be directed by them in his labours; but he is to devote time, talents, faculties, to the good of his flock, to spend and be spent in their service, to let no private interests or pursuits interfere with his manifold duties to those whom he oversees. The same sentiment is found in Matthew 23:11. Matthew 20:27Servant (δοῦλος) Minister, Matthew 20:26, (διάκονος)

Δοῦλος, perhaps from δέω, to bind, is the bondman, representing the permanent relation of servitude. Διάκονος, probably from the same root as διώκω, to pursue, represents a servant, not in his relation, but in his activity. The term covers both slaves and hired servants. The attendants at the feast at Cana (John 2:5) are called διάικονοι. In the epistles διάκονος is often used specifically for a minister of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Ephesians 3:7). The word deacon is, moreover, almost a transcription of it (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 3:12). It is applied to Phoebe (Romans 16:1).

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