Leading with Bold Humility
This article originally appeared on Ligonier's website.
“Sons of Thunder.” Surely any Reformed pastor or elder would love to belong to the club with that name bestowed on them for their bold stand for the gospel. Especially if such a moniker was given to them by the Lord Himself! Having a John Knox-like reputation for powerful gospel thundering is every true preacher’s dream.
Yet for two of Jesus’ disciples, this epithet came to them not as a compliment but as a rebuke. And in giving two leading disciples such a designation, the Lord Jesus has forever reminded His church that though He desires boldness among His leaders, He expects that boldness to be tempered with humility.
We read of this nickname for two Apostles in the list of the twelve disciples given to us in the gospel of Mark. After spending a night in prayer on a mountain, Jesus summoned the twelve men whom He wanted to follow Him. Included among these men were two brothers, “James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder)” (Mark 3:17). The immediate context does not explain why they were given this label, but a brief look gives a ready explanation for it.
James and John were fishermen when they were called by Christ (Matt. 4:21). Undoubtedly they were rough-and-tumble men ready to take on the hardships of the kingdom, which they did for three years with Christ. Through this time, we see the disposition that earned them this nickname.
When Jesus and His disciples were passing by a Samaritan village near the time Christ was to suffer, the inhabitants were unwilling to receive them. Hearing of this affront, James and John asked in unison, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). They wanted to be the next Elijah and Elisha of the kingdom of God, thundering judgment down on their adversaries. Yet instead of commending them for their boldness, Jesus rebuked them for missing the spirit of His compassionate leadership.
Perhaps even more telling of their hearts is an incident that soon followed. As they came even nearer to Jerusalem, Jesus shared with His disciples the suffering and death He was about to undergo there. Rather than being heartbroken over this news, James and John instead take this moment to approach Jesus with an audacious request. They ask to be rewarded with sitting at His side in His kingdom (Mark 10:35–37). Once again, Jesus corrected them, reminding them that drinking His cup of suffering as a servant, rather than seeking self-glory, is the true call of His kingdom (Mark 10:38–45).
The story of James and John guides us into three key practices of bold humility in leadership that should be learned and developed.