“Whosoever will be Great Among You”
“And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:24-28)
True greatness is exactly the opposite of what the world calls greatness. The world assesses greatness by the number of people under a man’s control, how many are at his beck and call, how much money he has in the bank, how much property is listed under his name, how many titles and degrees he has appended to his name, how many committees and boards he is a member of, or how much name recognition he has. But in the assessment of the Lord Jesus Christ all those things are totally irrelevant. In Matthew 20:24-28, he shows us what true greatness is.
This instructive passage of Holy Scripture is crystal clear. It needs less explanation, and more emulation by all who “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” The message of these verses is as plain as the nose on your face. — The path to greatness in the kingdom of God is humble service to the people of God.
A Great Problem
The Lord’s disciples, like us, constantly struggled with a very great problem; and that problem was pride. — “And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren” (v. 24).
When the rest of the disciples heard what James and John requested for themselves, they were indignant. But their indignation was far from righteous. They were not moved with indignation because they thought such a desire was out of place. They were indignant because each of them thought himself deserving of the high honor James and John openly sought.
The disciples’ indignation toward James and John vividly display the depravity of our fallen nature. No man on earth has ever really known, and none on earth can know, the vastness of the injury the human race sustained by Satan’s seduction of Adam and Eve in the garden. Every time we think of the depths of our natural depravity, we should be inspired with greater appreciation for the immense, infinite mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ in restoring that which he took not away. The indignation of these disciples toward their brethren demonstrate clearly that God’s saints, as long as we are in this world, dwell in the body of sin and death, though saved by his free grace in Christ. The disciples were men of like passions with ourselves.
The greatest problem we have is pride. Pride is the root of all sin, the cause of all strife, and the most destructive of all passions. Even among true believers, pride, jealousy, and the love of pre-eminence is a horrible passion that must constantly be held in check. This horrible evil was found even among the apostles of our Lord.
Those disciples were not upset with James and John because they sought pre-eminence, but because they sought pre-eminence above them. Like these disciples, we are all very proud and love pre-eminence. We love power, pre-eminence, prestige, property, and position. We love these things, seek them, and crave them because we are all very proud. Pride is the oldest of all sins and the most destructive. Pride inspired Lucifer’s revolt (Isa. 14:12-14). Pride brought down one third of the angels (Jude 6). Pride seduced Eve. Pride destroyed Adam. Pride divides Men. (Ps. 10:2).
What separates and distinguishes men from one another according to race, rank, riches, and recognition? Pride! What separates families? Pride! What is the cause of war? Pride! Seldom ever do men go to war for principle. We go to war over property and concoct principles to justify our stupid pride.
Even among God’s saints in this world, our greatest difficulties, our greatest injures, and our greatest troubles arise from pride. J. C. Ryle quoted Thomas Hooker as saying, “Pride is a vice that cleaveth so fast unto the hearts of men, that if we were to strip ourselves of all faults one by one, we should undoubtedly find it the very last and hardest to put off.” It is pride that keeps sinners from seeking the Lord (Ps. 10:4). Of all things named in the Bible that God hates, pride is number one (Pro. 6:17).
A Great Precept
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (vv. 25-27).
A life of self-denying kindness and service to others is the measure of true greatness. The standard of the world and the standard of our Lord are exact opposites. In the kingdom of God a person is considered great who devotes himself to and promotes the temporal and the spiritual welfare of others. Greatness is not receiving, but giving. Greatness is not seen in what we gather to ourselves, but in what we disperse to others. Greatness is not being served, but serving.
If we desire to be truly great in the kingdom of God, we must find the place where we are needed and be a minister, a servant to others. The word is translated “minister” is the word that is elsewhere translated “deacon.” It refers to a person who does menial labor, house cleaning, serving tables, gardening, etc. It is the least recognized, but the most needed and certainly the most basic service.
If we really want to be great, if we want to be chief, we must make ourselves servants, slaves to the church and kingdom of God. The word “servant” in verse 27 means “slave.” A servant does not have much; but a slave has nothing. And this slavery is altogether voluntary. The cost of true greatness is humble, self-denying, sacrificial service. It is service rendered to others for Christ’s sake by men and women who have learned that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
May God, enable us to shun the greatness of this world and seek this true greatness. The angels of God see far more greatness in the work of a missionary in New Guinea, a pastor in some remote, insignificant place, or in a poor widow giving her two mites for the cause of Christ than in all the works of bankers, lawyers, doctors, and presidents combined; and we should, too.
When greatness see the weaknesses and infirmities of others, it is moved with compassion. Greatness covers the frailties and loves the strengths it sees in another. Greatness weeps with those who weep, and rejoices with those who rejoice. Greatness overlooks neglect, forgives offenses, and returns kindness for injury.
A Great Pattern
If you want an example to follow look no lower than to the Lord Jesus Christ himself. — “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v. 28). Our blessed Redeemer shows us what true greatness is by his own example. — “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6). He who was Jehovah’s righteous Servant was the servant of men (John 13:3-5, 12-17; Luke 22:27). In the circle of his own disciples, our Lord always assumed a position of servitude. Where he was most Master, he was most Servant. He was like a shepherd, the servant to the sheep. He was like a nurse, servant to the child. In the whole course of his life on earth our great God and Savior took the place of a servant, or slave. If we are the servants of God, we are the servants of men.
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.
Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true,
And know that all I’d do for You
Must needs be done for others.
Savior, help me in all I do
To magnify and copy You.
That I may ever live like You,
Help me to live for others.
A Great Ransom
Not only has the Son of God given us a noble example of self-denying love and service by his obedience to God for us, he has, by the sacrifice of himself ransomed us. He gave “his life a ransom for many.” The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God gave life to ransom, redeem, and deliver God’s elect, the many he came to save, from the guilt of sin and the curse and condemnation of God’s law and justice, and to bring us into “the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”
The ransom price he paid was his own precious blood (Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Rev. 5:9). The ransom price was paid for “many,” and paid for them in particular, as the objects of his special love. The many for whom the Lord Jesus gave his life a ransom are the many ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48), the many given to him in the covenant of grace (John 6:37-40), the many for whom Christ makes intercession (John 17:9, 20), the many who are called by God the Holy Spirit (Rev. 19:9), and the many who are saved by God’s free and sovereign grace (John 1:12-13).
If you would live for Christ, live for others; if you would serve Christ, serve one another. Make Christ the example by which your life is governed. Make Christ himself your rule of life. Here is your motive — You are not your own, You are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
“How many heart aches would it have saved me in days past, had I learnt of Jesus the humbling lesson he here taught them, in what the growth of grace consists: namely, in being more and more lowly in heart, from a conviction of unworthiness, and more and more to see my need of Jesus.” (Robert Hawker)