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Entries in Rivalry (1)


Greatness in God's Kingdom

Today we are going to be in Luke 9:46-50.  Here we are going to see some rivalry between the disciples of Jesus.  Throughout the Bible we run into different kinds of rivalries: between siblings, within marriages, between nations, and here among God’s leaders.  At the heart of rivalries is often the desire to have the attention or favor of a parent, or spouse, or even God himself.  There is nothing wrong with wanting favor.  However, when we want that favor at the expense of another it is wrong.  These situations can take on a whole life of their own, in which even siblings who are now adults continue to fight each other long after their parents are gone.

The disciples could not understand that the powerful workings of Christ were leading to a cross, rather than to the throne of Israel.  In their mind power means greatness and greatness means the throne.  This is the kind of worldly thinking that causes us to chafe against the ways of the Lord.  We need to change how we view greatness and lowliness in serving God.

Which Of Us Is The Greatest?

So let’s look at verses 46-48 to discover which of us is the greatest.  Somewhere along the road the disciples began to have strife with each other.  This strife developed into a dispute among them as to which of them was greatest.  Now the word “dispute” here is literally reasoning or a line of reasoning without reference to whether it is in one’s head or actually spoken to others.  The term “among” them also is general in nature.  Whether every single one of them thought they were the greatest or not, a spirit of self-promotion had come into the group and had lead to friction.  Apparently these disputes were not happening in front of Jesus because it says that he “perceived” their rivalry and the source of it.

Now if we were to answer the disciples we might piously state, “Knock it off!  Jesus is the greatest, period!”  However, the disciples are not thinking they are greater than Jesus.  They really are arguing over 2nd place.  Which of us will have the prestige of being the Right Hand of Jesus?  So Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  In truth some will serve Christ greater than others.  In the coming Kingdom some will have greater positions of authority than others.  Who will it be?

Now we need to recognize up front that we pretty much always see things in our favor and this not righteous.  Let me describe a scenario for you.  So you are watching a sporting event in which you don’t care about either team.  However, you have two buddies who are each strong supporters of different teams.  As penalties and friction happen in the game you will see them arguing strongly against each other.  “That was a foul!  No it wasn’t!”  Of course when the situation is reversed the guy who thought it was a foul before will suddenly not see it as a foul now, simply because he doesn’t want it to be a foul.  Our sin nature infects the way that we think and tends to bring up thoughts and lines of reasoning that justify ourselves and condemn others.  This self-promotion over the top of others is not good.  In fact, it is contrary to the way of Jesus.  It is the source to their inability to understand the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  Think about this truth.  Our thinking will tend to go against the way of Jesus and towards our own self-promotion, or greatness.  Such things lead to division and dissension among Christians, and is an open door to the work of the enemy.  If we want to follow Jesus we are going to have to drop the concern of our own promotion.

Now Jesus answers this by using a child as an object lesson.  In this situation the child represents someone who has zero status.  He may belong to Jesus, but he is low on the scale of greatness.  To receive this child can mean many things.  But, in this situation it probably focuses on ministry.  People were often coming to Jesus asking for help.  When he “received” them, he was allowing them not just to come to him, but also be healed.  Jesus equates ministering to those of zero status as the same as ministering to God Himself, who has the greatest status.  Notice that we don’t tend to think that way.  Wouldn’t you rather be the right hand man of the King rather than the right hand man of a pig farmer?  Doesn’t one seem like a position that is “greater” than the other?  Yet, Jesus is equating them.  This is a hard lesson to learn emotionally.  We may understand it intellectually, but our heart and desires resist this way to which Jesus points us.

Jesus then tells them that “He who is least among you all will be great.”  He is basically telling that if they want to be great they need to seek the lowest place.  His answer is really challenging our definitions.  The least, by their definition, would be great, by God’s definition.  The beauty of this answer is that Jesus tells them to quit seeking what they think is the “greatest place” and start seeking what they see as the “lowest place.”  It is a rebuke to humble their minds and hearts.  This is more than simply refraining from promoting yourself.  This is a radical 180 degree turn to actually demote their self.  In this world you will probably never see anyone ask for a demotion.  All of this hinges on changing our worldly reasoning and definitions about greatness.  John the Baptist understood this when he said to his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Though John would be tested on this declaration when he was put in prison, He understood that It was not about him.  It was all about Jesus.  This is a principle we need to live by within our own life.  The thinking and actions of Jesus need to increase in my life and the old thinking and actions need to decrease.  Jesus must be promoted in my life and I must be demoted.  Seek the lowest place.

Before we leave this; notice that Jesus does use the word “greater” or even greatest.  He merely says great.  Greater and greatest are terms of comparison.  Whereas great is a term that simply describes one despite its relationship to others.  This attitude of comparison is something that we need to flee.  The disciples are not simply wanting to be great, but wanting to be greater than each other. In 2 Corinthians 10:12 Paul states, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  The disciples were being foolish and opening a door for the enemy in their lives.  In Christ all ministry is measured by our faith in God and faithfulness to what He gives us.  If he sends us a small child then we will minister unto that small child as if it were God himself.  We can be great because we do it out of love for Him and by His direction.  If we are given a task by the greatest one it is by definition a great task.

Our Desire For Greatness Squelches Ministry

In verses 49-50 we see that our desire for ministry can get in the way of ministry and even stop it.  Sometimes instead of trying to completely shut down ministry we can simply try to control it.  Jesus rebukes such activity.

When Jesus tells them to receive a small child in His name, John is remind of a man that they had not received.  He tells Jesus the situation and Jesus tells him that they had acted wrongly.  They had come upon a guy who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  They told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the 12.  Up to this point they are the only ones that Jesus had told to do this.  They were being territorial over this kind of ministry.  “Who do you think you are?”  It is most likely that this guy had seen the disciples themselves ministering and casting out demons in the name of Jesus and had decided to follow their example.

Now one thing we need to recognize is that this guy must have had faith in Jesus.  He is doing the same thing the disciples did.  Whereas in Acts 19 the 7 sons of Sceva, who are not believers in Jesus, tried casting out demons “by the name of Jesus that Paul preaches…”  The demon states that it knows who Paul and Jesus are but not them and proceeds to beat the guys up.  The ability to cast out the demons demonstrates that the guy had true believing faith in Jesus.  So why shut down a fellow believer who is only doing what Jesus told us to do?  There is no room for such rivalry in the Kingdom of God.  It is a wrong spirit and opens the door for the enemy to sow seeds of dissension and destruction.

Jesus states that “He who is not against us is for us.”  This man was not speaking against Jesus.  In fact, he was clearly promoting Jesus.  This statement is the Lord’s stand against cliques that develop within His kingdom.  Now a denomination is not the same thing as a clique.  But it can develop these kind of attitudes of superiority and rejection of others, based merely on their own reasoning and not the reasoning of Christ.

Walking humbly before God and our fellow man is not an easy thing for our flesh.  It runs counter to our sinful nature.  This is why we are told to daily crucify our sinful nature.  There is going to be friction, and we are going to have to continually die to our self, and humble ourselves before one another, and forgive each other. Greatness for the believer is about following Jesus who laid his life down for us.  It is about laying our lives down for each other.

Greatness Audio