“A man wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package.” – unknown
Power, greed, authority. Sounds like the main reasons the two “official” candidates are running for office this year doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately it’s nothing new. Even the humble, sacrificial disciples of Jesus fell into this lustful trap. Let’s take a look at one such incident where James and John displayed the weakness of humanity.
Jesus once said: “Whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
You can think of this passage in Mark as Jesus’ personal mission statement. If we are to be true followers of Christ, the characteristics that stood out in His life should stand out in ours, so our personal mission statement should be along the same line, “serving and giving.” As is evident, the direct opposite of that is to be served and receive. I can live life with a desire to be served and receive, or I can live with a desire to give and serve. If you would indulge me for a moment and please put both of your hands in front of you. Now, make a tight, clenched fist with one and leave the other open. This is representative of the life of a Christ follower. Are you going to go through life with a clenched fist expecting others to serve you, with the expectation of receiving and getting? Or are you going to go through life with an open hand willing to give and serve?
We come across a statement in this passage which is actually the end to a conversation Christ was having with two of his disciples. The conversation began with a request, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” Now that’s an incredibly bold request. The view they had of following Christ was not one of, “How can I serve?” but was more along the lines of “What can you do for me Jesus?” The root source of this kind of thinking is nothing short of selfishness.
Jesus responded to them with a question. He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” Matthew 20:21 adds to the account, “in your kingdom.” You see, they believed Jesus was going to establish a literal, earthly political kingdom and they wanted to be in power. They wanted to be Jesus’ right hand (and left hand) men. They were hoping to be the next two in charge after Jesus. It appears that what had started out as selfishness had spread it’s wings and turned into straight up pride. They wanted to be ranked not only above the subjects of the kingdom, but they also wanted to outrank all of the other disciples. It makes you wonder where this selfishness, this pride sprouted from. Having been so close to Jesus you would have thought they had learned a thing or two by now. When I reflected on this thought three things came to mind:
1. Their mom had incredible expectations and ambition in her heart for her sons (Matt. 20:20).
2. These two disciples, Peter and James, made up two thirds of Jesus’ inner circle, those out of the disciples he appears to have been closest to. So as one can imagine, they were in on some pretty miraculous happenings and intimate events (see Mark 9:1-13 et al). I think what we can learn from this is that we have to be very humble with the “spiritual moments” that God may allow us to be a part of. It’s very easy to allow spiritual knowledge, miraculous witness, and spiritual experiences to sort of puff us up. If we are not careful it can be a doorway to feeling spiritually superior and that is nothing but pride. Just think of the elitist Charismatics and their “secret knowledge,” “anointing,” and “gift of the Spirit” so often used to display their alleged superior spiritual knowledge and “special” connection to God.
3. I admit this one is a bit more speculation, but it makes sense. Before following Christ completely and understanding what that really meant, these two disciples were most likely ranked as the equivalent to upper class in our society. Mark 1:20 mentions them owning a business and overseeing a staff of employees. There were extremely few families in Galilee at the time who had enough wealth and pull to hire employees to fish for them. It appears Zebedee, their father, stood out among his professional peers.
They requested of Jesus, “Grant that we may sit on Your right hand and on Your left.” We alluded to this earlier. This was the issue. We can’t be too hard on them though as it is human nature to want others and things to meet our needs and wants.
Jesus says to them, “You have no idea what it is you are asking of me” (Jeff paraphrase), and it provides two principles in response. The first being the cost of leadership: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Any path that leads to any sort of glory or greatness first takes us through difficulties and suffering. The second principle is the call to leadership: Christ’s kingdom is a topsy turvy, upside down kingdom. We see in the world how greatness is often measured by how many people serve you. In Christ’s kingdom greatness is measured by how many people you serve. It’s not an issue of authority, power, and control, it’s a matter of service and humility.
Jesus finished up by saying He Himself displays these principles. Serving and sacrifice was the way to Him being King. For us to be His followers we need to display service and sacrifice as well as we try to become more like him.
Conclusion: So, what’s it going to be? Open handed or closed fist? Are you living your life expecting others to serve you? Your spouse? Your children? Your parents? Your pastor? Your doctor? People at work? Or do you consider those around you and your circumstances as people and opportunities to serve both them and Christ? Don’t get me wrong here though, I’m not saying we should never receive or that we should never be served – there are times where this will happen and it’s appropriate – I’m talking about your attitude, your desire.
Let me end here with a quote from an unknown source: “Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the person who has it.”*
*Inspired by, and adapted from, “Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2003 ed.,” pp.190-193.
This was a guest post from Dr. Jeff Hagan.
Jeff is an ordained Christian minister with over 23 years of ministry experience. He has attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, Tyndale Seminary and a handful of other institutes as well. He has earned several degrees including the Doctor of Christian Education and the Doctor of Theology.