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Eternity 129 - The Greatest In The Kingdom

The question of who shall be the greatest in the Kingdom gets a lot of play in the gospels and the inverted order of the Kingdom is emphasized.The kingdom virtues of greatness are also a hot topic among those in ministry today! Here are the key verses on this topic (parallel verses omitted):

(Matthew 18:1-5 NKJV) At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" {2 } Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, {3 } and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. {4 } "Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. {5 } "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

(Matthew 20:25-28 NKJV) But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. {26 } "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. {27 } "And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; {28 } "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

(Matthew 23:11-12 NKJV) "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. {12 } "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

(Mark 9:34-37 NKJV) But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. {35 } And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." {36 } Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, {37 } "Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me."

(Luke 22:24-30 NKJV) Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. {25 } And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' {26 } "But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. {27 } "For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. {28 } "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. {29 } "And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, {30 } "that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

(John 13:13-17 NKJV) "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. {14 } "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. {15 } "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. {16 } "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. {17 } "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Jesus does not dispute that He is a King, leading a kingdom. He even says quite explicitly "And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, {30 } "that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." So it is not their place or their ambition that Jesus disputes but the means of getting there. Its not their desire to become great that is the problem - but their mechanism for doing so.

Greatness in the Kingdom does not come by lording it over others (Matthew 20:25,26;Luke 22:25,26) but through child-like humility (Matthew 18:3, 23;12 Mark 9:36,37) and lowly, sacrificial service of all (Matthew 20:27,28 23:11, Mark 9:35, Luke 22:26-27, John 13:13-17).

Now what does this mean in practice? It can mean small things like a Christian leaders washing his own dishes after a pot-luck supper. It can be as large as having an open-door policy or having non-dominating mission and church structures. Lets look at the practical outworking of these three things one at a time.

(2 Corinthians 1:24 NKJV) Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.
(1 Peter 5:2-3 NKJV) Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; {3 } nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;

Thus the bishops of the middle-ages who built castles, and lived in luxury and sold indulgences and lorded it over the flock and dominated their faith with threats of excommunication were acting completely contrary to the will of God. So are tyrannical deacons and elders, pulpit bullies and pompous board members. Christian leaders should be examples of humility, not regarding themselves as "the elite" and not acting in dominating ways. If the apostle Paul refused to be dominating, how much less right do you and I have! Leaders are to build up younger Christians, not stand over them.

This can apply in small things as well as large. Does a leader have time for the "little people" or do they wave them away only speaking to leaders and senior pastors? Do they demand five-star accommodation or humbly accept that which is offered? Do they conspicuously display the latest technology in order to boost their elite status - or do they simply, humbly use technology as a ministry tool?


The greatest Christians often have a clear, transparent, unworldly, child-like simplicity about them. Names that come to mind include Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, Charles Wesley, George Verwer, Brother Lawrence, and John Stott.. These are not sophisticates. They are smart, intelligent people but they are so very, very humble. John Stott regularly visits Manila and goes to my home church where he takes time to talk to ordinary folk and washes his own dishes. John Stott's meekness is evident to all.

What did Jesus mean when He said "unless you be converted and become as little children" ? I think He means that our worldy ego has to die, that our "manly pride", our adult sophistication, our competitive ambitious spirit has to be converted into meekness and humility and graciousness. How do you react when slighted or injured? Do you call a lawyer - or do you bear it graciously without threatening? (1 Peter 2:23, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8) Is your honor, status, pride and face central to your existence or your love of God and neighbor? Are you satisfied with being little? As little as a little child? Does being "be-littled" make you fly into a rage? If so you need some more converting.


Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. He could have arrived in splendour, set up a huge palace, and then said "OK you lot, I'm God, I'm in charge, now toe the line, and kiss my signet ring!". But He did not do so. There is no record of Jesus having servants though others certainly did His bidding. He was a great leader but He never belittled people, never put others down and never treated the less fortunate with scorn. Jesus was not brusque with the poor, the prostitutes, the tax-gatherers and the sinners. Rather He took their needs seriously. He did not pander to the rich and powerful but served all sectors of society according to their need for Him. He did not serve as long and as far as it was convenient but gave His life on the cross.

Does this mean that I am not to hold powerful committee positions or that in order to be spiritual I should spend all day washing floors instead of preparing bible-teaching material? Not really, but if I have to wash floors I should not shrink from it. That's what Jesus indicated in His foot-washing example. And if I do hold powerful positions I am to do so as a servant, caring for those in my charge and being an example to them. Christian leadership is a stewardship not an ego-trip.

Finally leaders cannot "pick and choose" who to serve but must be servants "of all" - of the difficult, the anxious, the slow and inefficient, the poor, the unglamorous, the socially awkward, the young, the old, the educated and the illiterate. We cannot just serve rich businessmen or powerful politicians. And "all" includes all races and ethnicities. Leaders must serve Europeans, Africans, Asians, Australians, Hispanics, Indians, Arabs and so on. Christian leaders cannot model themselves on corporate executives, politicians or generals and other "kings of the Gentiles" . Rather we must model ourselves on Christ if we are to be "the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven".