I think something that gives me hope as I look at how much I have yet to grow as a Christian, is to look at Jesus’ disciples, and how much patience Jesus had to have with them.
One day, as they were walking down to Capernaum, they started squabbling about who among them was the greatest. Jesus heard them, but kept on walking as perhaps their voices became louder and more heated.
But when they arrived at the house they were staying at, he asked them,
What were you arguing about on the road? (Mark 9:33)
A very embarrassed silence fell in the room, as none of them wanted to admit what they had been talking about. So Jesus told them,
If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all. (Mark 9:35)
Perhaps at that, his disciples traded confused looks with each other. And so to try to get a clearer answer, they asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven then?” (Matthew 18:1)
In other words, “Who among us is the greatest?”
At that point, Jesus took a child into his arms, perhaps the son or daughter of the person they were staying with. And he said,
I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (3-4)
What was Jesus saying? He was saying two things. First, no one can even enter the kingdom of heaven unless they become like a little child.
What is a little child like? They are humble. They don’t think they know it all. That’s why they’re always pestering their parents with questions. More than that, they are dependent on their parents for everything.
And if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we need to be the same way. We need to humble ourselves before God. To admit we don’t know everything and to seek God’s wisdom and his ways. And we need to learn to rely on him. For our salvation, first of all, but then to rely on his wisdom and strength to live each day.
So often people don’t, however. They think they’re smart enough and strong enough to live life on their own. But as long as they think that way, they’ll never enter God’s kingdom. And even after they become Christians, people often struggle with this. I know I do. Too often, I live on my own wisdom and strength. And even now, I’m realizing how inadequate I am, and just how much I need him.
But Jesus’ second point is that greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured not by how many people serve you, but by how many people you serve. He said, “If you want to be great, you must become the servant of all.”
If you think about the great leaders in history, the people who didn’t force others to follow them, but were people that others wanted to follow, they were the people who lived to serve.
Jesus told his disciples that meant even serving those who can’t give you any “benefit.”
Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me. (Mark 9:37)
Let’s face it, serving children doesn’t bring much benefit in itself because children don’t have the power to give you much. But Jesus says that when you serve them, you’re really serving Christ. For that matter, whenever you serve anyone because you love Jesus, you really are serving Christ. And that’s the kind of person that Jesus considers great in his kingdom.
Are you looking to be great in God’s kingdom? Then be like a child. Humble. And willing to serve others, looking to their needs above your own, whoever they are, great or small.
Is that you?