(The following account is an illustration of what could possibly have taken place amongst the disciples. It is drawn from the following scriptural passages: Luke 22:24-27; Mark 9:33-36; Matthew 18:1-4. KJV)
As Jesus and the disciples walked down the dusty road toward Capernaum, the disciples walked slower and slower. They soon fell behind Jesus as they began to quarrel amongst themselves as they disputed “who should be the greatest” (Mark 9:34b).
They envisioned being delivered from the occupation of the Roman Empire and ruling over Israel with the Messiah as kings and princes. The disciples did not yet understand that the kingdom of God was not political but was a spiritual kingdom (Luke 17:21; Romans 14:17).
The disciples grew more contentious as they debated which of them deserved to have the most authority and prestige in the kingdom. “Surely I should be the greatest,” said one. “I am the eldest.”
“No,” another replied. “I deserve the chief position because I have more experience dealing with people—just look at my gray hair.”
“You are all wrong,” another declared, his voice tinged with anger. “I am the most educated and am more capable and wiser than you both.”
“Just stop it,” another declared. “I have been with Jesus the longest. I was the first to follow Him.”
Their voices grew louder in frustration as they defended their positions to be the greatest. Surely, they did not want one of the other disciples to reign over them. Amidst the arguing, another disciple quietly said with purpose and resolve, “I will be the greatest. My family is the most respected in all of Israel.”
Later, Jesus asked His disciples, “What was it that you disputed among yourselves by the way?” (Mark 9:33). “About what were you striving?” (Luke 22:24).
Jesus, knowing the carnality and pride of their hearts, began to teach them about true greatness. He called a child into their midst and said, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven”
(Matthew 18:4). “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35b).
“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them….but ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:25-26).
There is no place for pride or carnal ambition amongst God’s people. In the religious world, many ministers strive to climb the ladder of prestige, power and recognition. They desire to be the greatest by having people submit and obey them. They seek to rule as lords and chiefs in congregations and over other ministers. Many professing Christians and ministers try to demand respect and power because of their age, experience, education, family or position. Christ taught and exemplified something very different than that. He showed true greatness through humility and service.
Who is the greatest? It is the person who humbles himself as a little child and the man or woman who serves the people in love and humility without pride. True greatness is not found in ruling but in having the spirit of a servant. This spirit is one which exalts not itself but seeks for the edification of others. May every child of God and minister of the gospel find the reality of true greatness.