Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who is the Greatest

We all like to compare ourselves to others.  We like to make ourselves feel better because we can always find someone worse than we are. Of course, that is much easier than comparing ourselves to the standards God has set for us.  Today I want to talk about comparing ourselves to others and take us through a few Bible passages that illustrate those who compare themselves to others.  One theme we will see is that the one doing the comparing is the one who has the problem with God. 

First let's look at the account of Mary and Martha:
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. "But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42 NKJV
Here we have 2 sisters, Mary and Martha.  Martha was running around serving guests but not really spending time with anyone.  Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Martha was upset that Mary was not lifting a finger and complained to Jesus.  Jesus chided Martha saying that Mary is doing right and that Martha was doing wrong.  What can we learn from this?  First of all, if you are resentful towards those who do not serve the Lord while you are serving, you are serving with the wrong heart.  When we serve God rightfully, we serve as a result of our relationship with Him and in response to His calling.  We serve unto the Lord and for the Lord and whatever anyone else does is of no concern.  Becoming resentful of others in our service is a result of pride in all that we are doing for God.  Remember, we GET to serve God and if it is not seen as the privilege it is, then you need to check your heart.  We see from Jesus' response that He never asked Martha for any of the things she was doing and so Martha was serving in her own strength and of her own pride at being a good hostess.  Jesus went there to spend time with Mary and Martha and Mary chose to cherish that precious time she had with her Lord.   What else we can learn from this is that relationship comes before service both in time and in importance.  God desires our hearts first and serving too much without nurturing that relationship will lead to the burnout that Martha experienced.  I can tell you from person experience, how true that is. 

Next let us look at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  Luke 18:1-14 NKJV
Again we have two people.  We have a Pharisee and a tax collector.  The Pharisee puffed up in his pride thanks God for him not being like other (in his mind) more sinful people.  His righteousness (in his mind) is premised on the fact that is he better than others.  The tax collector, on the other hand, knows he is a miserable sinner unworthy to even be in the presence of God.  He did not base his righteousness by thinking of some worse tax collector but based his righteousness (or lack there of) in how he stands before God.  That is the right heart.   We are not to base how well we are on how we compare to others.  When we stand before God, we will stand before God alone.  We can not say "But God I was not as bad as that other guy over there."  When we stand before God (and despite being saved we will stand before God to give account of our lives not for the sake of losing salvation but to the sake of rewards) He will measure us according to His Word, and not the actions of others.  We need to recognize that no matter how good we may think we are in comparison to others, we are still only getting into Heaven by the grace of God.  None of us is worthy of salvation.  We all have fallen short of the Glory of God.  We all deserve damnation, but by the awesome mercy of God by sending His son to take that penalty for us, we will not receive what we deserve. 

Next let us look at the parable of the Prodigal Son (or at least the end of it):
"Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.' But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 'But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 'It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'" Luke 15:25-32 NKJV
We all know about the Prodigal son.  He took his inheritance from his father and went out and partied until he used up all that money. He found himself poor and destitute and living and working in the most miserable of conditions.  He hit rock bottom and realized that he never had it better than when he was with his father.  And so he went home fell down before his father pleading for mercy and acceptance and his father took him back in. He did not just take him back in as a servant, but restored him as his child.  Now we see how his brother reacted.  His brother was upset that they were celebrating the return of his brother.  He complained saying how he was always loyal and faithful and he never had a party.  In his own pride and envy, he missed the point.  The celebration was for his brother's repentance. His brother was living in sin and has repented and returned to the father.  The point is that it is not about what the brother did for his father as his father recognizes that, but it is about the prodigal's return to his father.  Instead of rejoicing of his brother's repentance, he was jealous of the attention he was receiving.  He was more focused on his own feelings than about the salvation of his brother.  May we never get so puffed up.  I used to visit Trenton State Prison where I spent time with convicted and admitted murderers who came to Christ in prison.  Many people would say they do not deserve salvation and many would say that they wished they wold burn in Hell for their actions, but God says differently.  Our heart should rejoice with God and the angels at their repentance, but instead many get caught up in their own selfishness.  Just like in the Prodigal Son, the sins of those men are between them and their Heavenly Father and if He chooses to forgive them (and He does), what have we to say?  Don't be so prideful to think you deserve salvation any more than anyone else does.  The whole point of mercy is that we don't deserve it.  It is about God's awesome and unmerited grace.  God loves and longs for the murderer in prison just as much as He loves you just as the father loved and longed for his prodigal son as much as his brother.

And, finally, let's take a look at Peter:
Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble." Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." Matthew 26:33-34 NKJV
Here we have Peter who is bragging to Jesus about how strong he will be for Jesus.  He is puffed up in pride, in his own strength, making himself above all others in saying that he would stand by Him if all else fell.  Jesus puts him right in his place telling him that, in fact, he will fall.  May we never be so puffed up to think we are above others and think that we will not fall.  David, a man after God's own heart, committed adultery with Bathsheba and sent her husband off to die to cover it up.  We also have the example of Peter, an Apostle falling.  And while we know the end, I doubt anything thought Judas would fall at that time.  None of us are above falling and when we pride ourselves into thinking we are too strong to fall we are at the greatest risk.  We must abide in Jesus and rely on His strength or we have no hope but to fall.  Peter's error was in comparing himself to others.  He said that he was stronger than his companions.  He may even have been stronger comparing his strength to theirs, but he was not relying on the strength of God.  It does not matter how strong you or I are in terms of resisting temptation, it matters how strong God is and how much we abide in Jesus and rely on that strength. 

So who is the greatest in the kingdom?  I daresay that question does not even matter.  Here is how Jesus answered that question:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 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. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Mathew 18:1-4 NKJV
It goes without saying, but Jesus is amazing.  I just imagine those apostles falling all over themselves of the great things they have done for Jesus bragging about which one will be the best and there goes Jesus putting a child in their midst and saying be like that.  I can see their jaws drop. I can imagine their thoughts regarding a child.  How strong can a child be?  Not very strong at all.  What can a child do?  No much.  What does a child know?  Nothing really.  What even can a child contribute?  Again, nothing.  But that is the point isn't it?  A young child is all about relationship.  They cling to their parents with nothing more important in their lives than that love they receive from mom and dad.  They rely on their parents for everything and always ask for their parents help.  They do not know much of anything and so they ask their parents all sorts of questions about almost anything.  The child knows nothing, can do nothing, and is completely reliant on his or her parents.  Oh to be like that young child to God.  To realize that of ourselves we are helpless and must cling to the strength of God.  Being the greatest is not about being better than others, but by humbling yourself and having that childlike love for God.  And the more humble you are, the less you will think of yourself especially in comparison to others.  And being humble, like the tax collector we read about earlier, we will see ourselves in relation to Jesus and strive for that.  We will see how inadequate we are and how awesome He is and we will cling to Him to be more like Him.  Humility is the key to greatness in the kingdom of God.  And there lies the great irony here.  You will not be the greatest in the kingdom by desiring it or striving for it.  You will become the greatest by giving up those desires and just trusting God to make you into what He wants you to be.  If you want to be the greatest, you have to first assume you are the lowest. 
So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 14:7-11 NKJV

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