“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4 NIV)
Sometimes you hear a sermon that has such a striking message that you feel the need to pass on its content. That happened to me some time ago with Pastor Clyde Glass’s sermon at Southview Alliance so I commend his scriptural insights to you this morning.
First, the question – “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
The disciple’s question reveals our natural tendency to rank ourselves. During the February 2018 Olympics, I was struck by the obsession with the Gold medal. Everyone wants to be FIRST. In this same spirit, the disciples wanted to know which of them was going to be ‘first’? Who was on the Gold medal podium? Who was on the right career track to be the ‘right-hand man’ of Jesus in his kingdom? The very spirit of the question shows their competitive nature, a desire to be the best, an aggressiveness. Now, one could say, these are attributes of a good entrepreneur, and I agree. But there is a shadow side to these positive qualities that are self-serving rather than wanting to serve.
Jesus answers the disciples’ question with a confrontation. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” As he so often did, Jesus reframes the question with a challenge. He confronts them with a sobering truth – kingdom prestige is not about accomplishment, but heart attitude. Unless they were to become dependent and trusting upon him, as a child is dependent upon an adult, unless they allowed themselves to be changed by the Holy Spirit – they would never enter the kingdom.
Finally, Jesus concludes with a declaration, “Therefore whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Augustine wrote in his Confessions that humility was not one of the Christian virtues, it was the key Christian virtue which was primary to all the others. From this passage, one could define humility as, “Accepting the social status of a child.” In other words, Jesus was declaring the need to abandon the worldly quest for status and independence or you may miss the kingdom.
This goes against our nature & our secular culture. We live in a culture which emphasizes the charter of individual rights and freedoms, rather than our responsibility to each other. We value the individual freedom of independence, we desire to be masters of own domain. We do not like to have to rely on anyone else. Jesus declares – if you strive for independence and individual accomplishment, you will miss the kingdom.
Therefore, how to develop humility?
I would like to suggest that the route to true humility requires authentic brokenness. Full openness to others, vulnerability, and a total dependence upon God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “..blessed are the poor in spirit.” He was referring to those whose brokenness had brought them to a place of spiritual need, spiritual poverty where they were willing to be dependent upon Him – like a child.
As we seek to embrace this truth, there is a danger. The hurts and setbacks of life and brokenness can send us one of two ways. They can either trigger a prideful, striving result, which becomes status conscious and seeks to build up an independent, invulnerable sense of competence. (Who is the greatest?…) Or, our response to the challenge of Christ can be a humble redoubling of reliance upon the Spirit. We can realize that only by being connected to Jesus can any greatness be achieved in the kingdom of heaven. “Apart from me, you can do nothing…” (John 15:5b)
Where are you today? What is your response to the brokenness you have encountered? Do you find that you are still striving for status, independence, and recognition? Or do you place your sense of status & achievement in being connected to God with total reliance upon Him? It is that connection, that sense of childlike reliance, that leads to true greatness in the eyes of God. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, they will bear much fruit;..” (John 15:5a)
John Wiseman – Corpath Business Forums – www.corpath.ca