Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God? (Part 1)
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It’s time for another Bible blog. And I want to write about something that we discussed in our Bible Study recently. I’ll write on this topic for the next few blogs. But it’ll all be around this same topic. The topic is basically a simple question to Jesus from His disciples, and a full chapter answer to this simple question. The question can be found in Matt. 18:1.
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
I don’t know about you, but if I put myself in the disciples’ shoes, and I have this kind of question in my mind, I know what I’m thinking of: Huge Evangelism events. Major church conferences. Mass conversions. Raising millions of Euro (or whatever currency you use) and giving all that money to Christ-honoring projects and/or to poor and needy people. In other words: Doing lots of big, major, visible and recognizable stuff in Christ’s name, and for Christ.
Can you relate to that? That’s what comes to my mind immediately, when I think of “being great in God’s kingdom”.
Now before I move on, let me be clear: God wants us to be great. Yes, He calls us to be humble, to be servants, etc. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to be great. On the contrary: He gave us the desire to be great. To be significant. To be important. To do meaningful work. God wants us to reach our full potential, and to be as great as we could possibly be.
So now that we have established this foundation, we can look at why so many Christians struggle with this. So here it is: God’s definition of how we can reach greatness is completely opposite of how we usually go about it. And we can see that in Luke 14, verses 8 onwards.
When you are bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest place; lest a more honorable man than you be bidden of him; And he that bade you and him come and say to you, Give this man your place; and you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that bade you come, he may say unto you, Friend, go up higher: then shall you have honor in the presence of them that sit at table with you. For whosoever exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
Basically, what God is saying is that you and I have a choice to make. Everybody is being humbled, and everybody is being exalted. We choose one. And then God chooses to do the other. The key is: You and I, we have first pick for our own lives. If we choose to exalt ourselves, God chooses to humble us. If we choose to humble ourselves, God chooses to exalt us. Simple Math, right? And logically, it’s easy to say what we should choose. I mean, what do I gain from exalting myself? OK, a little, maybe. But what do I have to pay back, when God is humbling me? A LOT! Now what do I have to pay if I humble myself? Granted, it’s a little bit painful. But compared to just the thought of God exalting me? I know what I should take. I know what makes most sense. If you were to translate God’s glory and our own glory into monetary values (like what Jesus is doing at the end of the chapter of Matt. 18) and then give those numbers to anybody who has just the slightest bit of common sense, then we know exactly what everybody will say: Humble yourself, let God exalt you. It’s the only thing that makes ANY sense.
Then why don’t we do exactly that? Why is it so difficult for us to cooperate with God’s ways? I mean, it makes perfect sense, right? Where’s the problem?
Well, I see two problems here. The first one is simply our pride. Our human nature doesn’t like being humbled. That was already the problem in the Garden of Eden. And it has been ever since, for every single one of us: Our desire to “be like God, here and now” has corrupted every aspect of life. Not that that desire is bad. It’s our destiny, we will be like Jesus.
Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
So it’s not bad to desire to be like Jesus. We will be. The problem is rather that to get there, we have to acknowledge that we can’t get there by ourselves. Every time we humble ourselves, acknowledge who we are without Christ,… we humble ourselves. And every time we do that, we have taken another step towards reaching our destiny: Being like Jesus. But it doesn’t come naturally. Our human nature desires to exalt ourselves. And every time we do that, God responds by humbling us. Our pride stands in the way. It was like that from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, it’s the root of every sin: Pride. Our desire to be like God, here and now, our own way.
Which leads me to the second problem I see: Having to wait and trust God. Humbling ourselves today will exalt us. But the problem is: Eventually. It’s not instant. We live in a world that worships instant gratification. Every advertisement focuses on “Get everything you want, here and now”. It’s the god of today’s world. God on the other hand wants to develop the Fruit of the Spirit in us. One of the attributes is “Patience”. Being patient, being willing to wait, expresses our trust in God. In other words: It’s evidence of Faith. We are not saved by patience. But when we show patience, it is probably evidence of our Faith and trust in God. And that’s evidence that we are truly saved.
Let’s be honest: In our human nature, we want to exalt ourselves. If we get our heads around the concept of “humbling ourselves so that God will exalt us”, then our 2nd idea is that we “humble ourselves today, so that God can exalt us tomorrow”. Or the day after tomorrow, at least. That’s the timing we have in mind, right? But that’s not God’s. His timing goes more like this: “You humble yourself for a lifetime. I’ll give you some glimpses of glory regularly, so you get a taste of it, want more, and keep going. So you won’t be all alone, wondering whether this works at all. But you have to understand: The ‘real’ time when you will be fully exalted won’t happen until you meet me, face to face.”
Is that what we want? In our human nature, no. Only by Faith. Is it easy? No, this is really, really hard. Does it make sense? Only by Faith, because everything else in the world works exactly the other way. But this is how God set it up. We can try to fight it, try to use our own wisdom, our own strength. But the simple reality is: Whatever we do, it won’t change God’s principle: Humble yourself, and He will exalt you. Exalt yourself, and He will humble you. You pick first. God will do the other part.
Let’s choose wisely today.
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