“A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything. A Christian is a servant, completely attentive to the needs of all.” -Martin Luther
In any church, leadership development is an absolute necessity. However, not every church identifies its leaders in the same way or even in the right way. Rather than simply handing someone a personality test, the most efficient and foolproof way to identify someone’s leadership potential in the church is by watching them serve the church. Just as Christ came not to be served but to serve, so He composes His church of servant leaders who willingly give their time, comfort, money, and energy for the body. (Mark 10:45) A church that prepares its people to serve is preparing disciples and disciple-makers. But it’s also preparing them for eternity. Heaven isn’t an egalitarian world. It’s fully of authority, but not like the world we know.
There is a tendency in churches today to conceive of heaven as a place where people finally get what they want, when they want, how they want, and as much as they want. And for those who delight themselves in the Lord, He will give them the desires of their heart. (Psalm 37:4) But a me-centered view of heaven can often produce an idea of heavenly freedom divested from the concept of authority, as if God simply drops us off in a personal paradise where we’re finally free from hierarchy of any kind. That’s not the freedom we find in the kingdom of God.
At no time does Jesus, Paul, or anyone in the Scriptures paint heaven as an egalitarian paradise devoid of authority. In fact, authority in heaven is central to its splendor, beauty, and joy. The “immeasurable riches of his grace” are displayed toward us in Christ Jesus, our “head.” (Eph. 2:7, Col. 1:18) In fact, authority structures are even more evident and tangible in heaven than they are here on earth. Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father gloriously and eternally interceding for us, his priesthood permanently on display as He “always lives to make intercession” for us. (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:24-25) Authority in heaven testifies not simply to God’s dominion, but to His conquest over His enemies and to the love by which the name of Christ was elevated above every name. Every knee bows in heaven just as it does on earth and under the earth. (Phil. 2:9-11)
In some sense, heaven is an egalitarian’s worst nightmare, if by egalitarian one means equality without authority. Not only will King Jesus reign supremely in heaven, but there will also be other authority structures in place as well. (Rev. 5:8-14) After teaching his disciples about the difficulty with which a rich man must enter heaven, repudiating the world’s sense of power, Jesus then tells them that they will “also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28) Heaven is a place of authority, but this kind of authority isn’t oppressive or harsh. It’s the authority we see at the cross when a King gave His own life for peasants, a crucified God standing in the place of sinners. (1 Cor. 2:8) An authority of love. A wedding. (Eph. 5:22-33)
When the mother of James and John asks Jesus if her sons can sit next to his throne in heaven, Jesus takes the opportunity to explain the difference between earthly and heavenly authority: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28) In other words, the authority in heaven is modeled after the Gospel: humility is honor. Heaven isn’t an egalitarian paradise; it’s a complete redefinition of earthly authority. And seated on His throne is the greatest servant of all: the one we call both Lion and Lamb. (Rev. 5:5-6) In heaven, submission isn’t a bad word or a wound from a haunted past. It’s the hymn of heaven’s praise to God, celebrated through the lens of Calvary and under the easy authority of Christ. (Matt. 11:30) It’s worship.
But what about the treasure? What about the streets of gold? What about the inheritance we receive? If heaven is so asymmetrical, how can there be such unity and joy and love among its inhabitants? For the Apostle Paul, we can catch a glimpse of the heavenly order of God’s kingdom in the church itself: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (1 Cor. 12:21-25) In the church, the weak are deemed important and the less honorable are honored even more. This is the loving order of God’s kingdom, “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) Loving, willing, joyful subservience is the mission of the church because it is the reality of heaven.
The call to love thy neighbor as thyself isn’t a temporary, earthly command that will eventually be abrogated in heaven. (Matt. 22:39) It’s not a task we perform begrudgingly so that we can receive our heavenly reward of self-determination and personal autonomy. It’s a call to live as heavenly citizens. If one cannot submit himself or herself to another sinner in this life, heaven itself would prove to be a virtual hell of sorts. But if that person has been trained and discipled in the Gospel of the cross, the authority of heaven doesn’t seem domineering or unfair, but rather as a society of love where the world finally operates as it should. Our training for eternity begins by becoming slaves to righteousness today. (Rom. 6:19)