You Have Left Your First Love

In the book of Revelation, Jesus takes the opportunity to address seven churches and talk about their good and bad characteristics. Recently, something happened that made me think of one of these letters, the letter to church at Ephesus.

To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, “These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. … But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”

Revelation 2:1-3, 6-7 NKJV

This part of what Jesus had to say to the church at Ephesus seems very positive and encouraging. The Ephesians had not fallen prey to false doctrine. This would be particularly encouraging considering Paul’s warning and admonition to the elders in Ephesus on his third preaching journey (Acts 20:28-32). He also says they had labored without “becoming weary.” How many of us would be thrilled to receive such commendations directly from Jesus?

Yet, in one of the verses that was not included above, Jesus threatened, “Or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place…” (Revelation 2:5 NKJV) Considering the other positive statements about this church, what could they have done that jeopardized their relationship with Christ? Jesus accuses, ” I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4 NKJV) The indication, then, is that while they had maintained certain outward attributes of their relationship with Christ, their love for Him had, in fact, faded.

How is a “faded love” displayed. This is often reflected in a reduced level of zeal and excitement for the object of one’s love. How might this be reflected in our relationship with Christ?

  • To help us understand, I want to present another example of a fading of a certain kind of love. Consider a relationship between a man and a woman:
    • When they first meet, there is generally a lot of excitement to be together. They don’t want to spend time apart.
    • Additionally, in most cases, whenever they are going to be together there is a high level of willingness to be at their best when when they are together. This includes physical appearance, how they conduct themselves, how they spend every moment together talking to each other and being close to each other.
    • Then they get married. And, at first, during the “honeymoon phase,” they continue to try to please one another and spend time together.
    • Unfortunately, in most cases, in time there becomes a sense of “we have the relationship, we don’t really have to work on it.” Work, children, hobbies, and other activities began to take away their time together and erode the emotions of love between the couple. There is no longer the strong desire to spend every available moment together.
    • This relationship may not in an affair or a divorce, but they are together while not necessarily “in love” any more. It’s just not the same relationship it once was.
  • Compare this with what happens with many Christians:
    • Many new Christians are full of zeal and enthusiasm.
    • They are in love with Christ and His word. They spend time studying and growing in the knowledge of His word.
    • Maybe their enthusiasm and love for Christ is exhibited in talking to others about Christ.
    • They may strive to increase their ability to serve: Men wanting to lead in worship; Women wanting to learn to teach.
    • But then, time passes. The relationship becomes stale. Family, children, work, hobbies began to take their time away from Christ and His Word.
    • Maybe they never “fall away” in the sense of stopping assembling with the saints. Maybe they never accept false doctrine.
    • But, they no longer have the zeal to study the word of God. They may feel that they no longer need to serve because the have “served enough.” They believe they have a relationship with Christ, but they no longer have a love for the relationship.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that something happened to me recently that sparked these thoughts. I was cleaning out an old file cabinet trying to get everything to fit in a smaller storage unit. I came across some old notes I had made when studying 1 Corinthians when I was a younger man. What I saw made me ashamed of recent attempts to study God’s word. I saw detailed notes and in depth research trying to understand the meaning of God’s word. I saw study that took time and effort. I saw study that reflected a deep love for God and His word. And, I realized that I haven’t studied the Bible that way in a long time. I have a lot of “reasons” why I haven’t studied like that in long time, but I believe the underlying root cause is failure to love Christ and His word like I should.

So, how do we correct a loss of our “first love?” Jesus tells the Ephesians the answer: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first work.” (Revelation 2:5 NKJV) The answer is two-fold:

  • Repent: Change your heart. This love for Christ and His work is not optional to be Christian. Christ requires not just our rote service, but our heart.
  • Do the first work: Apply that love to our lives. It will change how we act. It’s not possible to love Christ as we should and not behave differently.

What motivates us to this love? One motivation is provided in this text: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7 NKJV)

Dan Fontenot

(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

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Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds…

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. {Matthew 5:20 NKJV}

What is Jesus talking about when He says that the righteousness of a citizen of the kingdom must exceed the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees?

True righteousness is not only about how you act, but how you think. It is about a heart of righteousness and not just righteous acts:

  • “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” {Matthew 5:21-22 NKJV}
  • “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” {Matthew 5:27-28 NKJV}
  • “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all…But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” {Matthew 5:33-34, 37 NKJV}
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” {Matthew 5:43-44 NKJV}

Another aspect of true righteousness is being righteous for the sake of serving and pleasing God, not being seen by men:

  • “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” {Matthew 6:1-2 NKJV}
  • “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” {Matthew 6:5-6 NKJV}
  • “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” {Matthew 6:17-18 NKJV}
  • “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.'” {Matthew 23:5-7 NKJV}

Another aspect of true righteousness is applying the same standard of judgment to yourself that you apply others:

  • “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank [is] in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” {Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV}
  • “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, [that] observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay [them] on men’s shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers.” {Matthew 23:3-4 NKJV}

Does your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?

Dan Fontenot
(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

A Personal Reading Journey

This post will vary from my normal format of trying to spend as much time in the text of God’s word as possible. I simply wanted to share a few observations from a recent experience. Rest assured, future posts will return to my normal content.

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, we lived near a library. In the summer I would make many trips and read many books. I could read for hours at a time.

At the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to return to taking some time for reading. So, I went to the nearby library and checked out some books. But, before I got started a thought dawned on me. I had never read the Bible. Now, obviously I have read parts of it and probably at one point or another have read all of it. But, I had never sat down with the goal in mind of reading through the Bible like I read through a novel. When I get into a novel, I read it every chance I get. I may not put it down for hours. I may read late into the night. But, I had never attempted to read through the Bible with that kind of passion and intensity.

So, I decided to set aside the books I had checked out of the library and read only my Bible. I then decided to take all but one of the games off my phone. I was trying to remove as many distractions as possible. I also determined that all those times that I would normally just surf the net or play games I would turn into opportunities to read the Bible.

I surprised myself with what I accomplished. I finished reading the New Testament in 19 days. Then, I completed the Old Testament in the next 70 days. So, all total, I completed reading the entire Bible in about 90 days. This was an amazing experience for me. I want to share a few personal observations.

  • The Bible is an amazing and powerful story to read

This may seem like a simple observation, but reading the Bible in such  a short period of time was a totally unique experience for me. Reading the four gospels one right after another helped to unify the stories told in several of the gospels. Hearing the teachings of Jesus over and over through the gospels reinforced the messages Jesus taught to his disciples and others of His day. These are messages and life lessons that we still need to learn and apply today. Picturing the events of Him as He was betrayed and crucified in each of the four gospels was powerful. To think that God in human form submitted Himself to die for our sins is an amazing story.  Then to read the book Acts and see the faith of the apostles after the events of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension put an interesting perspective on the events of the early church. Reading the letters to churches immediately after hearing the stories of the early church made it easier to think about the new faith of the Christians to whom the letters were written. The images of Paul’s persecution in his preaching journeys was fresh in mind as I listened to the letters he wrote to these Christians whose faith was being challenged both from within and without.

The story of the Old Testament and God’s people prior to the time of Christ was also quite interesting. People often describe God as a God of wrath and vengeance in the Old Testament. But when I read through the whole story what stood out to me is that God has always been a patient and gracious God. He has always wanted people to have time, opportunity, and the will to change. Only when He had exhausted every attempt to change their hearts did He finally bring devastating judgement on those who simply refused to serve and honor Him.

  • Our prayers should be better

I was impressed with frequency with which prayers are recorded in the Bible When we think about prayers in the Bible we often think primarily about the book of Psalms, but there are prayers recorded in many books of the Bible: prayers of kings, prayers of prophets, prayers of priests, prayers of ordinary people, prayers of men, prayers of women.

I was also impressed with the nature of the prayers. So many times our prayers are treated more like an interference in our lives and we just want to rush through them and get back to our lives. The prayers in the Bible are expressive of praise, honor, and glory to God. Many of the prayers are lengthy. Jesus was said to have spent all night in prayer. Many of the them do nothing but praise God. Often prayers are prayers of repentance, but not merely generic (“forgive me if I sinned”) prayers of forgiveness, but expressions of specific guilt and deep regret. And the prayers of thanksgiving are often lengthy and descriptive in thanking God for the riches of his grace.

  • Reading is not studying

While we certainly need to read, there were many places where I want to go back and dig deeper. The Bible is so full of information that one simple read through will not begin to scratch the surface of the rich treasures of knowledge stored in its pages. This experience has rekindled my desire to get back into God’s Book, study further, and have a better understanding of what He is trying to tell us. There is a reason He recorded and preserved these messages.

  • Just reading caused me to think about some behaviors

As I read the story of God’s people and His desire for them to be righteous, I could not help but think about some of my own actions that might not be in line with that. How can I read God’s word and then turn around and watch and support TV and movies that clearly undermine the principles of God’s word and His righteousness? How can I try to fill my mind with the messages of His Word and then listen to music that glorifies lifestyles and attitudes that are so contrary to what He is telling me through these stories?

  • I could read more and do better

While I am thrilled about having the opportunity to read God’s word in such a short period of time, I also know I fell short at times and didn’t always use time wisely during this stretch. I pray that this experience will only spur me to read more, study more, and learn more because there is no more important task in our lives than to understand and apply God’s word in every aspect of our life.

Dan Fontenot

That You May Believe

In previous posts we examined:

  • That only worship and service that is authorized by God is acceptable to Him. (“By What Authority?“)
  • God has revealed this authority through the scriptures. (“These Are Written“)

Some, however, have argued that Bible is too hard to understand. Or, that everybody that reads it will understand it in their own way and therefore it can mean anything.

What does the Bible reveal about this?

  • 1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. [Luke 1:1-4 NKJV]
    • Was Luke correct that by reading his account the reader could have confidence in their knowledge of Jesus’ life and teachings?
  • 30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. [John 20:30-31 NKJV]
    • Did John, in fact, write his gospel in such a way that someone reading can come to believe in Jesus?
  • 1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles– 2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: [Ephesians 3:1-5 NKJV] –
    • Did Paul write a book that when it was read would give the reader the same insights Paul had or not?
  • 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden [wisdom] which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed [them] to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. [1 Corinthians 2:7-13 NKJV]
    • Paul says his words reveal the word of God as revealed word for word by the Holy Spirit. Will we say that the Holy Spirit does not know how to reveal things in a way that man can understand them?

All of these passages show that the Bible was written in a way to be understood. In fact, God considered them clear enough that He Himself said the scriptures are all that a man of God needs to fulfill His work: “16 All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV]”

This does not mean that all scripture is easy to understand:

15 and consider [that] the longsuffering of our Lord [is] salvation–as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable [people] twist to their own destruction, as [they do] also the rest of the Scriptures. [2 Peter 3:15-16 NKJV]

But, notice that Peter’s answer to this is neither to throw our hands up in despair nor to simply turn to the “scholars” for the answers. He puts the responsibility on the reader to be aware of this danger and grow in knowledge to avoid the pitfalls:

17 You therefore, beloved, since you know [this] beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory both now and forever. Amen. [2 Peter 3:17-18 NKJV]

As a closing thought, think about the whole concept that God would not reveal His word in a way that men can understand it. What would that say about God’s power and ability? What would we think of a man who could not write a book that other men could understand? Would we blame the reader or the author? Thus, claiming that God’s revealed word is not understandable is an accusation against God and His ability to reveal His word.

Which God do you believe in? The one with the knowledge and wisdom to reveal His word to man in a way that can be understood or the God who can’t?

Dan Fontenot

(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

These Are Written

In the previous post, “By What Authority?” we discussed that there are only two sources for religious or spiritual authority. One of those, the authority of man, can and should be rejected. The authority of God, however, cannot be rejected. We know that Jesus was given all authority:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” [Matthew 28:18 NKJV]

We also know that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, as the “Comforter,” to guide the apostles into all truth:

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own [authority], but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” [John 16:13 NKJV]

This was promise to the apostles, not to all Christians. The promise was to those “who had been with him from the beginning” (John 15:27) and who need to be reminded of the things He had previously told them (John 14:26). Neither of these apply to anyone alive today. But, since neither Jesus nor the apostles are on the earth today, how can we know the what the will of heaven is? Consider the following verses:

  • 30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. [John 20:30-31 NKJV]
  • 1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles– 2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), [Ephesians 3:1-4 NKJV]
  • These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may [continue to] believe in the name of the Son of God. [1 John 5:13 NKJV]
  • 16 All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV]

What we see in all of these is that the will of heaven has been passed down to all generations through the written word. The real question is whether we are willing to read and listen to the message God is sending to us. In coming articles we will look at some of the stumbling blocks people put in the way of hearing and understanding God’s will as revealed in the scriptures.

Dan Fontenot

(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

 

By What Authority?

Authority is  concept that most people understand many situations.

  • Not everyone has the authority to make laws. If we did, chaos would reign because every individual would make laws that benefit themselves. Thus, we have a system of government that is designed to make laws and those who are elected are given the authority by the people to pass laws to govern our society. That authority comes primarily from the constitution of the nation or state as set forth by our founders.
  • Not everyone in a company has the same level of authority. Some have authority to purchase items for the company. Some have authority to make rules of behavior for employees of the company. Some have authority to grant time off for employees of the company. This authority ultimately is granted by those highest up in the company, whether it is the owners themselves in a private corporation or those appointed by the stockholders of a publicly held company.
  • In social organizations such as clubs or charities, there is a chain of authority that is generally established by a charter of some type. Those who lead in these organizations are bound to follow the charter or other guidelines set forth when the organization was created.

In each of the cases mentioned above, those who fail to recognize the ultimate authority in each situation can find themselves facing severe consequences for violating that authority. Most people understand and recognize this. It is part of why we have jails to house criminals and courts to settle civil disputes.

But, this concept of authority is neither new nor unique to the non-religious world. The Jews of Jesus’ day understood the idea of authority. Even more, they understood the concept of Divine authority. We have record of an occasion where they questioned Jesus about this very concept:

23 Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” [Matthew 21:23 NKJV]

As Jesus so often did, rather than give a simple, straight answer, He took advantage of the teaching opportunity and turned the question back on those questioned Him:

24 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: 25 “The baptism of John–where was it from? From heaven or from men?” [Matthew 21:24-25 NKJV]

Jesus’ response is interesting because it only gave them two choices for John’s source of authority: heaven or men. This is the crux of what we need to understand. When we claim we are serving or worshiping God, we must determine by what authority we are engaging in the activity we claim honors His name. Is what we are doing authorized by heaven (God) or men? Note in there reaction that they clearly understood the consequences of each choice:

25 … And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. [Matthew 21:25-27 NKJV]

They knew that whatever is authorized by heaven cannot be rejected. However, they had not followed John’s teaching and this would put them in an awkward position. By contrast, if they could justify themselves by saying it was from men. This would make their rejection of John’s teachings acceptable because the authority of men is not binding in spiritual matters. The problem for them was the multitudes. They believed John was a prophet and teaching was from heaven. So they dodged the question and said, “we don’t know.”

Many religious people today dodge the question in various ways:

  • The Bible is too hard to understand, we just can’t know what the truth really is.
  • My church says this is the right the thing to do.
  • This just feels right and I can’t believe God would be displeased with something that makes me feel so good.
  • If certain things in the Bible are true, that means a lot of people are going to be lost.
  • And the list goes on…

Because of the intent to keep these articles relatively short, we are not going to address each of these in this article, but we will in subsequent articles. But think about this as we close and you think about whether or not having authority matters…

  • Could a new hire at a company walk up and fire his boss because he doesn’t like something about her? Why not?
  • Can an employee use company funds for any purpose they desire? Why not?
  • Can a member of a charitable organization with a charter for raising funds for cancer research on their own decide to use the funds for hurricane relief? Why not?
  • Can lawmakers make just any law they want without any regard for the structure of our government? (I know that’s a loaded question when it comes to real life, but in principle?)

Why, if we can understand in every other phase of life, the importance of authority for what we do, is it so hard to understand that we must have authority for what we do to honor and glorify God? Clearly Jesus expected that men could know the difference.

In subsequent articles we will look at…

  • God has clearly revealed His will to mankind and expects man to understand and follow it.
  • The ability to communicate His will to man and expect man to honor it is one of the things that sets God apart from the idols of men.
  • Failure to recognize the authority of God and His revealed will carries significant penalties.

Dan Fontenot

(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

 

Whoever Desires to Become Great

It is a typical human trait to desire to be great. I am not saying all men are power hungry or greedy, but most like the idea of being recognized and having others do things for us. In fact, we may get our feelings hurt if we aren’t helped by others in times of need or times when we feel like we “deserve” it due to our position. Our society measures greatness by power that is wielded over others. The power may come through fame, fortune, political position, or some other means. Thus, it comes as no surprise that even Jesus closest disciples sought power. Note Matthew 20:20-21:

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” [Matthew 20:20-21 NKJV]

Sitting at the right and left hand of a king was a position of power and influence. The other apostles recognized this because they were quite upset by request:

And when the ten heard [it], they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. [Matthew 20:24 NKJV]

So, since they all wanted the positions of power and influence, how did Jesus respond to this request? I think it is safe to say they did not get the response they were expecting:

25 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– [Matthew 20:25-27 NKJV]

Jesus said if you want to be great, you must serve others. How does that fit into our society’s idea of greatness? But, Jesus didn’t stop there. He explained that not only should they serve others, but they should serve in a manner that followed His example:

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 20:28 NKJV]

Jesus provided the ultimate example of service by allowing Himself to die a torturous death on the cross. When confronted by Judas and those with him in the garden, He noted that He could have called twelve legions of angels to prevent what was going to happen (Matthew 26:51-53). But, He didn’t. Because He came to serve mankind. Paul stated it this way in Philippians 2:5-8:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, [and] coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to [the point of] death, even the death of the cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV]

So, if we want to great in the kingdom of God, we need to quit asking, “Why isn’t everyone else serving me?” and start asking, “What can I do to serve others?”

Dan Fontenot

(editor’s note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)