Summary: Faith is not about a church doctrine or power or privilege. It is about service to others-service to the point of sacrifice. It can be expressed equally through individual actions and experiences.
What is the one human quality that drives us to success while causing all sorts of problems at the same time? It is ambition. Ambition is one of the driving forces in our lives. It propels us to excel in our jobs. It pushes us to reach our goals. It can give us a reason for living. Ambition is one of the tools that the world uses to measure success.
There is another way to measure success-one that is not of this world-and that is the topic of the Gospel reading from Mark 9:30-37. We sometimes think that we can measure success the way the world does. We mistakenly believe that if God receives glory for what we do, then it should be glorious for us also. We must remember God’s faithful servants from the Bible, and we must remember that their situations were far from easy or glamorous. For example:
• Noah built.
• Abraham moved.
• Moses led.
• Josiah restored.
• Rahab protected.
• David conquered.
• Nehemiah repaired.
• Ruth stayed.
• Jeremiah preached.
• The poor widow gave.
• The Apostles went.
• The early church persevered.
Ordinary people did extraordinary things and even though they may have thought their actions were insignificant at the time, the Lord through his word, has allowed us the opportunity to see the role these good people played in the greatest story ever told.
I read a story recently about a couple of school kids. One had gotten into some trouble and was going to have to walk a few laps at recess and wasn’t taking the news very well. Another student who wasn’t even a close friend stepped in to offer encouragement. She informed her peer that she wouldn’t have to walk alone. She’d stay by her side, cheering her on the entire time. When the teacher remarked what a wonderful thing she had just done, the student shrugged and replied, “It’s no big deal. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Can you image a world if everyone had the same attitude? Can you imagine a church if everyone had that attitude? It’s those Kingdom-minded thinkers who change the world. Those who forgive, love, go the extra mile, and live righteously, not out of a sense of obligation, not because they’re trying to earn their salvation, not to be seen by others, but because that’s what they’re supposed to do.
The Lord might also call us to do simple, humble acts that show compassion toward other people and which display God’s character. These deeds are not done for personal gain. They are done out of an outflow of God’s love in us and for his glory.
Jesus argued that the way to be successful or get ahead in the spiritual world is to become like a child. In Jesus’ time, children and women were seen as little more than property. Little children were considered useless until they were old enough to help with housework. In other words, they were humble and lowly. The child in this passage represents all of God’s people. The greatest people in God’s kingdom are not the rich and the powerful, but the poor and the helpless; not the ones with the most servants, but those who serve others the most. Jesus argued that if we help those who are humble, lowly, poor, or oppressed we will be successful from a heavenly point of view.
The disciples did not realize this. They were still thinking of success in worldly terms. They were concerned with using earthly ambition to get ahead in heaven. Jesus knew that this was what the disciples were talking about, even though they did not answer his question. You see, Jesus knows everything about us-what we think, what we feel, what our thoughts are, etc. He knew what their problem was and he also had the solution. The disciples tried to hide their discussion, but you can’t hide anything from God. (Pause)
The disciples could not understand the true meaning of power described by Jesus because they were afraid to ask the right questions. Instead of asking how they could better understand and fulfill Jesus’ mission, their main concern was finding out how each of them could become the greatest. The disciples’ attitude was one that Jesus had to address. We have to do the same. If not, we will end up conspiring with sinners to defeat righteousness. God disciplines his children by speaking the truth to power and offering correction. We and the disciples need to learn that the true heavenly power that Jesus inaugurated is in the form of service to others.
It can be difficult for us to let go of our desire to succeed in earthly ways. It is part of our human nature for us to be in control. We want to be independent. We want to be in control of our lives and our goals, and this includes the desire to succeed. We need to let go and let God control our destiny and successes if we want to be first in his eyes. We need to let go of our desire to get ahead and replace it with a desire to serve others, especially the less fortunate.