The disciples asked Jesus who would be the greatest in the kingdom. That’s not even a kingdom kind of question!
Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
The matching passage in Mark explains what was really going on in the disciples’ minds:
Mark 9:33-34 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.
It’s hard to imagine disciples of Jesus jockeying for position to be at the top of the heap. Hard to imagine – until you think about how often the very same thing happens in churches today. Power struggles and turf battles are not unknown among Christians!
How many times have we seen people (often leaders) offended, sometimes to the point of leaving the church, because they feel their position or prerogatives are not being sufficiently acknowledged? How many singers get upset when someone else is called on to sing “their” solo?
How many pastors have had to endure opposition from elders or deacons who, instead of being like Aaron and Hur and holding up the leader’s arms to support him in the work, are actually more akin to Aaron and Miriam:
Numbers 12:2 So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.
Jesus makes it very clear that the whole idea of wanting to have more power and authority than someone else is foreign to the kingdom of God. It’s the world’s way of thinking, and has no place among believers. We follow the One who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28).
So, the Lord says, instead of seeking to secure a prominent place in the power structure, we must instead humble ourselves as little children.
How is a child humble? He has no pretensions, is not impressed with himself or his status. He is utterly trusting. I think the key is that a child has no sense of self-importance.
Once we stop thinking about our own greatness, and instead focus on humbly serving wherever He places us, the Lord says we will be rewarded with greatness.
Now, that’s a great deal!