The “Greatest” Misconceptions — Part 2

When I was growing up I learned to play basketball by playing with the black boys at Oakland Park and Whetstone Park in Columbus, Ohio. As far as I know none of the players were Christians, but I wanted so much to learn their tricks that I didn’t care. I soon learned to do behind the back passes, fancy dribbling, and to yell, “Hey, baby!” when I wanted the ball.

I now realize that they also taught me a negative character trait. Those were the days of trash talk. The object was to make your opponent look bad on the way to a successful basket. If you made the shot, you could laugh at him and give him a turn to do the same. For me it was all done in fun. Today as I look back on it, the style of play I learned was all about pride. I learned to walk away from the court thinking, “I am the greatest.”

Does this kind of arrogance cross over into the lives of Christians? Apparently so. If the disciples of our Lord struggled with this type of pride (Mark 9:33-41), there is no doubt that we will as well. Remember the four misconceptions that fueled their bloated self-esteem? In Part 2, we will consider the antidote or what our Lord expects of the “greatest” of his disciples.

Jesus expects great people to serve everyone (35).

Each of the disciples thought that he was the greatest for some reason. Because of this, our Lord had to teach them that the greatness is accomplished not by pushing to the front of the line but by serving others. This should not be viewed as a demotion but a mindset that places the needs of others before our own.

The first deacons are a good example of this mindset. When the need for servants arose, the apostles instructed the believers to look for “men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3). The account indicates that it didn’t take long to find these seven godly men because they were already known for such characteristics. And, as we learn later in Acts, one of the greatest early Christians was a man named Stephen, one of these seven. If we are to become great for the Lord, we, like them, will have to first be servants.

Jesus expects great people to stoop to the lowly (36).

To help the disciples get the picture, Jesus brought a child into the room. Apparently, the disciples and people in general didn’t think much of children for he began talking to them about “the least” with the child in mind. Despite his clear teaching, this attitude still surfaced a little later when certain parents attempted to bring their children to him (Mark 10:13-16). Remember how the disciples shooed them away? “Jesus is too important for such unimportant matters. Go home, you bunch of losers.”

In that instance and this one, the disciples were rebuked for their inflated feeling of self-importance. Jesus told them that the way they receive a little child in his name would reveal their view of him and God the Father. In other words, how we treat the least important of people reflects what we think about God. That ought to cause us think a bit more when an “unimportant” person crosses our path. What will we do?

Jesus expects great people to supplement the work (38-41).

Suprisingly, John (one of the three closest to the Lord) still chose to report about something that had happened recently. When a non-disciple attempted to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name, they quickly rebuked him. “You can’t do that! You’re not one of us!” Apparently, they thought they were the only one’s whom God was allowed to use at the moment. Nobody else was allowed to supplement their successful endeavors! Note that it must have been his success that made them jealous as they had been unable to do it themselves (Mark 9:18).

Jesus again corrected his disciples by showing them how foolish their thinking was. It would be rather difficult for someone to perform miracles in Jesus’ name and soon speak evil about him. As he considered the incident, Jesus viewed the man as an ally instead of a competitor. He even went so far as to promise a reward for those who simply gave a cup of water to them in his name.

What’s the point of all of this? He wasn’t talking about cooperating with sin or compromise; he was telling them to lose their individualism. The Christian life is not a clique where everyone has to be a member of my group before doing anything for the Lord. But sadly, some Christians adopt this mindset. Any success on the part of someone outside of “our circle” is viewed with skepticism. If we’re not careful, we will be sucked into a life of bitter jealousy which is completely nonsensical. Consider the following steps to a right view of other’s success.

1. Rejoice in what God has done.
2. Appreciate the fact that others are serving the Lord.
3. Thank God that he has chosen to use you, too.


Our Lord was very patient with the twelve. They deserved a beating for their hypocritical attitudes, but if we’re honest, we have to admit that we deserve the same. So, let’s learn from their mistakes. Let each of us seek to be a servant, pop the inflated ego, and rejoice in what God has done even when we’re not involved. I’m sure it will make a difference in our lives.

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