Then there was an argument among them as to which of them would be the greatest. - Luke 9:46
When men get together, they love to talk—about themselves! They tell war stories from the battlefield or (more likely) the football field. They talk about the fish they caught (and the one that got away), the deal they closed, the raise they negotiated, the car they drive, or the promotion they’re expecting. The issue is not so much competence as competition. They’re not necessarily trying to show that they are great—just that they’re greater. The competitive instinct seems to come with the testosterone.
When Jesus’ disciples got together, it was no different. Luke tells us that the disciples had a difficult time understanding why Jesus, at the height of his popularity and success, told them that he would be betrayed. In their minds, he stood on the brink of triumph. In his mind, he was staring at a cross. Jesus was trying to convey to his students that he was about to take the lowest possible place (Luke 9:44). They responded by getting into “an argument . . . as to which of them would be the greatest” (9:46). So sure were the disciples that Jesus would banish the Romans and restore Israel’s independence and glory, with Jesus himself as the supreme ruler, that the only significant thing remaining to be discussed was the role that each of them would play in the new administration. And that made the competitive juices flow.
But Jesus, who “knew their thoughts” (9:47—presumably when they saw him coming they abruptly changed the subject), chose not to discuss who would be greatest. Instead, at a much more elementary and necessary level, he illustrated what it means to be “great.” Placing a little child before them (in that culture a child had practically no social or legal status), Jesus told them that a great person is one who reaches out to people whom, like the child, society regards as insignificant. In ministering to the “insignificant” there is a sense in which we minister to the Lord himself.
Jesus was not deifying the poor or the helpless. He was reiterating the worth of all of God’s creatures. That being the case, the great man is not driven to compete and compare. He is much more inclined to reach out to the lowly than to be grasping for the top. Should he ever worry that his masculinity is slipping, he looks again at the one who was—and is—the greatest!
For Further Study: Luke 9:37-48
Excerpted from The One Year Devotions for Men, Copyright ©2000 by Stuart Briscoe. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
For more from Stuart Briscoe, please visit tellingtthetruth.org.
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