Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Who's the greatest?

This summarizes what God seemed to be trying to teach me during my quiet time with Him today. To see how I structure these intimate encounters with God, look here.
Look: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24)

Before this verse appears, Jesus has just instituted the Sacrament. He then tells the twelve apostles that someone among them is going to betray Him and that condemnation will fall on the one who does this.

According to Luke, the apostles then shift into a debate as to who among them the betrayer could be.

But just as quickly, their short attention spans showing, they move to a different argument: Which of them is considered to be the greatest?

I checked on the Greek here for several key words.

The first is dispute. In the Greek in which Luke first wrote his book, the word is φιλονεικία (philoneikia). That’s a compound word, the first part of which means love, like in philadephia (brotherly love). Philoneika literally means lover of strife. It seems to refer to people who just like to argue.

At this dramatic moment, when their Lord has just told the twelve that He is going to be betrayed and die, their love for Him isn’t stirred. Instead, their first reaction is to see who they can pin the blame on for the betrayal. Then they indulge their love of dispute to argue over which of them is the greatest.

The greatest is with them, Jesus. Yet here they are, glorifying themselves. “I’m number one.” “I’m the greatest.”

It’s all so hollow. In a matter of hours, the one Jesus has already designated to lead this lot of losers, Peter, will deny any association with Jesus. Among those to whom he denies following Jesus is a powerless servant girl whose testimony is toothless in that ancient sexist world.

But neither Peter nor the other apostles mind pounding their chests with pride when they don’t feel threatened. They love a good argument when the risk is low. (They’re like moderns who battle with strangers on the Internet, but are loathe to confront or resolve conflicts face to face in their own daily lives.)

The other word I was interested in was considered. In the Greek, the word is dokia, meaning thought. The idea here is that the twelve were interested in how others perceived them. The question wasn’t really who was the greatest, but who people thought was the greatest. Rather than striving to be the greatest, they were aiming at being perceived as the greatest. (And we think that the whole desire to look good more than to be good is a new phenomenon.)

But Jesus, both by word and example, points the twelve to a different measure of greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27)

It’s true, as Proverbs 22:1 says that: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

But a true good name cannot be conferred by the world. The world is fickle. The world is confused, often confusing bombast and violence, wealth and possessions, for greatness.  True greatness, Jesus says, isn’t about celebrating oneself, pushing one’s self forward, bullying others, or even being seen as the nicest person in the room.

Looking great isn’t the same as being great. And we have to know the difference.

According to Jesus, true greatness=true servanthood. Just as Jesus came among us as One Who serves, we are to be servants.

So, Philippians 2:5-11 says: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In God’s Kingdom, Jesus has the greatest name because He is the greatest servant of all.

He descended deep into the sin, violence, and darkness of our world and then deep into hell itself, in order to, respectively spare those who trust in Him from sin and death and to proclaim God’s victory over evil to the demons.

Jesus emptied Himself of all the advantages of deity and became a servant to all for the sake of all.

His was the greatest act of service ever rendered, not just because He was and is God, but also because He was and sinless, yet bore our sin on the cross.

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8)

If we would have truly good names, names written in the book of life, we must daily give up our pretensions to greatness, we have to quit trying to be “all that,” whether among our families, churches, co-workers, etc., and seek, in the power of the God we meet in Jesus, to be servants.

Not servile.

Not suck-ups.

Servants: People who seek each day to be lovingly useful to God and to others. People who know where the real power is, emptying ourselves and letting the power of God’s Holy Spirit unleashed in believers in Jesus, be given expression and to take control of us. “...for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

My ambition is to have a faith like Paul’s, as expressed in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Listen: All I need is Christ. Christ alone. Through Him, God has given me life (Colossians 1:16). Through Him, God has given me new life 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 5:11-12). Through Him, God provides daily bread (although we human beings can be stingy about sharing it). Through Him, we know that more than daily bread, we need Him, the living bread from heaven.

When I’m full of myself or afraid or apprehensive or resentful or sad, I must remember that Christ is all I need.

Response: God, help me to act boldly with faith in Christ, knowing that You will empower me to do exactly what You want me to do. Help me to remember that when I give myself away to You and to those who need me, there isn’t less of me, there’s more of You and become more like the person You created me to be. Help me to live for Your glory, not my own. Help me to seek Your will, not my own. In Jesus’ name I pray.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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