Pursuing Greatness in God’s Kingdom
September 24, 2020
Jesus’ disciples were far from perfect! From this flawed, raw material, God would “turn the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6b) This is such great news for ordinary human beings like you and me who want be used by God. There is hope for us all!
Among their many flaws, the Bible tells us that Jesus’ disciples often struggled with doubt and lack of faith (Luke 9:37-41) and they all ran in fear, abandoning Jesus when he was arrested (Mark 14:50). Perhaps the greatest shock is how often the disciples tried to usurp each other and be recognized as the greatest.
Who is the greatest?
Matthew 18:1-5, Mark 9:33-37 and Luke 9:46-48 are different accounts of the same instance where the disciples are caught by Jesus arguing about which of them is the greatest. Mark shows us that they were embarrassed when confronted by Jesus and were initially silent. Luke informs us that Jesus knew what the argument was about. And Matthew tells us that eventually the disciples asked Jesus to settle the debate and tell them which of them was greatest in His kingdom.
Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-37 are parallel passages telling us how James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in partnership with their mother, Salome, were lobbying for their recognition by Jesus. They wanted to be #1 and #2.
In Luke 22:24-30 the disciples begin to advocate for their own greatness again, immediately after Jesus washes their feet (John 13:1-20) and institutes the Lord’s Supper, both demonstrations of his tremendous humility. Clearly they are not learning the lessons that Jesus is trying to get across!
Why do we seek to be great?
God has created us all with a longing to belong and to be significant. We need to know that we are accepted and loved for who we are and that we can make an impact through the responsibilities that we have been entrusted with. These are God-given longings that can not be renounced or repented of. However, God wants us to seek the greatness that He defines as great.
How does God define greatness?
The disciples misunderstood greatness in terms of accomplishment and status gained by human endeavour. They all sought their value and significance from the approval of those around them and from being in control of and in authority over other people. Jesus showed them a better way!
“25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27 ESV)
Jesus calls us to servant leadership. The world seeks to exercise authority over others, but Jesus defines greatness as service that is an overflow of humility. Jesus used a child to illustrate this point.
“2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:2-4 ESV)
What is the connection that Jesus is trying to make between humility and childlikeness? A child illustrates humility in 3 key characteristics: Trust, Vulnerability and Dependence.
A child is trusting. This is the first characteristic of a child. They have not learned to mistrust through experiencing the disappointments of life’s unfulfilled promises. But, where or in whom are we to put out trust?
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Ps. 20:7)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6)
We trust God when the way forward is clear and when the path is dark and filled with pain and uncertainty. He is trustworthy. It takes great humility to trust in God.
A child is vulnerable. If our security is found in God’s character and his delight in us, we stop seeking it though our accomplishments. We cease to try to win recognition and favour in God’s eyes or others’ through hard work or earning it in some way. Doing the things that God wants instead of the things that are popular can be an incredibly vulnerable place. However, our foundation is set upon the rock solid identity in Jesus Christ.
Humility is knowing who we are in light of who God says He is and who He says that we are. We recognize the value that God places on us by setting His love on us in our weakness. We are empowered to serve and love without reservation when we know who God is and who He says that we are. Intentional vulnerability through serving others and seeking their good over our own displays to those we serve the work of humility that Jesus has done in our lives.
A child is dependent. A small child is unable to fulfill even simple tasks without the help, direction and resources of the parent. Newborns are completely dependent upon their parents for everything. As the child grows and matures their responsibilities and desire and ability for independence increases. My wife Angie and I have prayed for our children to “learn big lessons from mistakes with small consequences” since our kids were very young. There will be day – it’s feels like it’s approaching too quickly sometimes – when our kids will leave our home and launch into a new adventure where they will have dependents on them.
However, we never grow out of our need to be dependent upon Jesus. The more that you recognize your need for Him, the greater peace, freedom and humility that you will receive in exchange. Day by day, moment by moment our humble battle is to live from that place of dependence upon Jesus.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
How can you seek greatness in the Kingdom of God?
“… whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:26b-27)
Will you seek the greatness that Jesus defines as great?
Will you become like a trusting, vulnerable and dependent child in pursuit of that greatness?
Will you serve and lead not out of a need to be validated and recognized, but out of the overflow of joy because of who God is and who He says you are?