“But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your minister; And whosoever of you would be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.” (Mk. 10:43-44)
For it to surface, spiritual pride needs a suitable context in our Christian lives.
In Mark 9:33-37 and in Luke 9:46-48, the story is told of the apostles disputing as they traveled on the road, who should be the greatest among them. They knew…by then…who Jesus was. They knew that they had been chosen to be the apostles of the Messiah the King. They suspected that events were coming to a head and that somehow Jesus would take His rightful place as the leader of the Jewish nation. They knew this opened up opportunities for them to occupy positions of leadership in Jerusalem.
This new reality occasioned the dispute among them as to who should occupy the highest positions in the new upcoming kingdom.
This internal debate amongst these men could not have happened a few years earlier, outside of the context of their becoming apostles and disciples of Jesus. The thought of who would be the greatest among them in God’s upcoming kingdom on earth, which they mistakenly thought would be politically established in the very near future in the capital city of Jerusalem, could not conceivably have happened while they were ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, or revolutionary zealots.
Only after successfully following Jesus for two or three years as apostles and disciples…did this tempting new context of events start to actualize into a foreseeable eventuality.
Matthew 20:20-28 tells the story of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus and asking Him if her two sons could sit on His right hand and on His left hand in His kingdom. This request could not have been made without James and John being in the inner circle of apostles close to Jesus. The extraordinary ministry of Jesus created high future expectations among His followers for the nation of Israel. This provided the context for this forgivable and understandable ambition on the part of the mother of James and John.
Jesus did not rebuke the mother of James and John for this request (He probably inwardly admired the courage of her advocacy for her sons), but simply answered that she did not clearly understand the thing she was asking of Him. The scriptures then say that when the other ten apostles heard what the mother of James and John had done, they did not get upset with her but they were “indignant” against James and John.
The response that Jesus has for the apostles arguing among themselves as to who should be the greatest…was to take a child and set him as an example in their midst, and tell them that “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:48).
The apostles and disciples learned this important lesson well, and had the right spirit regarding this issue in their first-century ministries. After these specific lessons by Jesus, and after the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles (Jn. 13:2-17), we do not hear anything more about who will be the greatest among the apostles or disciples.
But the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, in place of a worldly coronation and political reign in Jerusalem, also removed from the apostles the previous context of determining who would have high positions in the supposed new government…under Jesus.
The first-century church of new Christian converts was the actual kingdom that resulted from the ministry of Jesus, not the worldly reign of Jesus the political King in Jerusalem.
In the context of the New Testament church, Jesus’ teachings about the least being the greatest, Jesus washing the apostle’s feet, and Jesus using a young child as the example of the correct attitude for spiritual leadership, now made perfect sense to the apostles.
Luke 20:46-47 reads:
46 Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the market places, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts.
47 Who devour widow’s houses, and for a show make long prayers, the same shall receive greater condemnation.
When the apostles disputed among themselves who should be the greatest, they were on a parallel road in terms of attitude with these scribes. Although they did not realize it, they too were similarly thinking about wearing long robes, being greeted as “somebody” in the market place, having the highest seats in the synagogue, and occupying the chief rooms at festivals.
The sinful pride side of their natures was showing itself in this dispute, on account of the context of the possible upcoming rulership of Jesus in Israel. This would have been the beginning of church-leadership personality conflicts, power structures, political intrigue, and unholy ambition in the Christian church.
That is why Jesus took the time to speak to them about this important issue on several occasions.
And that is why, in God’s infinite wisdom, He produced a different context for His Bride…the Church…from what the apostles had in mind as they disputed on their way to Jerusalem who would be the greatest.
God had in mind the humble New Testament church that could evangelize the world without the burden of worldly ambitions and concerns. The three thousand new converts on the Day of Pentecost would need church leaders who were humble shepherds and “servants of all”, not self-important people more concerned with their outward appearances, titles, and reputations like the scribes of Luke 20:46-47.
In Peter’s speech to the multitudes on the Day of Pentecost, there is not a hint about himself, or about any personal ambitions regarding what he plans to do or to build in Jerusalem.
Everything in Peter’s message is about Jesus, and about people coming to Christ through faith.
Peter is no longer thinking about having drapes measured for his large corner office in the Temple. Peter is fishing for men according to his true calling (Mk. 1:17), not fishing for financial donations to build something.