Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to be Great, Day 3

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth invites you to consider true servanthood.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: During the American Revolution, the story is told of a man in civilian clothes who rode past a group of soldiers who were out repairing a small, defensive barrier. The leader of this group of soldiers was shouting instructions, but he was making no effort to help his soldiers.

So when the man on the horse asked the leader why he wasn’t helping out, he responded with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal.”

Well, the stranger apologized. He got off his horse and he proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. Then when the job was done, he turned to the corporal and said, “Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.”

With that, George Washington got back on his horse and rode off.

Leslie: It’s Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Holiness: The Heart God Purifies, for Thursday, June 1, 2017.

Nancy’s continuing in the series "How to Be Great." We’ll see that George Washington was embodying biblical principles in the account we just heard.

Nancy: That story reminds me of what we’ve been talking about over the last couple of days as we’ve looked at this recurring issue that the disciples had with the matter of position, rank, and greatness.

We’ve looked at two incidents. The first in Mark chapter 9, and then another one in Mark chapter 10, and today we’re going to look at a third occasion where this issue surfaces. It’s so recurring with the disciples. I think it must be recurring with us as well.

Now, this third occasion takes place in the Upper Room at the last supper that Jesus is having with His disciples before He goes to the cross. There are two scenes in this incident. One is talked about in John chapter 13. The second, which we’re going to focus on, is talked about in Luke chapter 22.

And because both scenes are not in any single gospel account, it’s not clear which of these scenes comes first, but they both take place in the context of the Last Supper. It’s clear that the two scenes are related.

The first scene I’ll mention, though it may not have come in this order, is from John chapter 13, and it’s a story you’re familiar with.

It says beginning in verse 4:

Jesus rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (vv. 4–5).

Now, if you’ve studied this passage at all, you know that this task of foot washing was a necessary one. It was a matter of basic hospitality, but it was a task that was normally assigned to the lowliest of the menial servants. So for Jesus to fulfill this task was unthinkable. It had to be shocking to the disciples.

And then we go down to verse 12:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them . . . "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant [a slave, a doulos] is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him" (vv. 12, 14-16).

Now, with that backdrop, let me ask you to turn to the  Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, and here’s the scene we want to focus on. Luke 22, beginning in verse 19. We’re in the same setting of the Last Supper, and verse 19 tells us:

He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table." . . . And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this (vv. 19–21, 23).

Now, you’ve got the scene. It’s been painted really clear for us. Jesus has symbolized the pouring out of His blood and the breaking of His body in the breaking of the bread and the giving out of the wine. He has told them that one of them would betray Him. And in that context, this next verse is stunning. It’s hard to imagine.

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (v. 24)

It takes my breath away to think of this. In the context of communion, a dispute as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

And, by the way, commentators think that it may have been this dispute that actually prompted the foot washing episode. We don’t know which came first, so we can’t say that for sure, but regardless, it’s unbelievable timing in the worst sense of the word—speculating over who would and who would not betray Jesus. In that context, they had this disagreement, this argument, this cross of words and spirits about who was the greatest among them.

I don’t know what prompted this. Were they jealous over the way they were seated at the table, over who would be seated closest to Jesus? I don’t know. The fact is, they were in the presence of the One who was the greatest figure of all human history, the One who had created them—arguing about which one of them was the greatest.

I mean, it’s ludicrous. It’s like a group of nine-year-olds in a room with the strongest man in the world, arguing about which one of these kids can bench press the most weight. It’s laughable. Who cares? Who cares who’s the greatest among the disciples when Jesus is sitting in the room?

Well, the sad thing is, we care. We’re no wiser or smarter or more spiritual than those nine-year-olds or those foolish disciples talking about who’s the greatest while Jesus is talking about laying down His life for their sin.

Now, self-promotion is not always as overt as it is in this passage. This conversation is, like, almost unfathomable for me. As I’ve been meditating on these passages, I keep thinking, Well, we don’t say those things—"Who’s going to be the greatest, who is the greatest?” It’s usually more subtle than that in our minds and in our conversations.

I catch myself sometimes wording things to put myself in a better light or imagining myself to be the hero in a crisis situation. I’m sure no one else ever does that, but I do. And that form of pride is really no different than what we’re reading about here in the Gospel of Luke. It all comes from the same source—the drive of our flesh to be appreciated and valued and esteemed by others.

So it can be this teenage girl who’s struggling to fit in with the “in” crowd. It can be the corporate executive who fudges numbers in order to appear to be more successful. The drive all comes from that same twisted view of what it means to be great, of what it means to be first.

And you know, it’s not just in the secular world, this whole self-promotion thing. There’s a lot of it in the evangelical world, sadly. I get a lot of evangelical world news press releases. I read a lot about what’s happening in the evangelical world. I want to know what are the trends, what’s happening, what are the things we need to be addressing in our Bible teaching and speaking to women about.

But we’re so concerned about image, about posturing, about positioning ourselves. It’s like Muhammad Ali Bible Church, you know? He was, “Who’s the greatest? Who has the most? Who is the first?” This concern about rank, about status, about privileges, it’s a competitive spirit that shows itself in a desire to be exalted above others.

The issue of comparison is huge among all women, including Christian women. It shows itself in marriage. Who’s sacrificing more? Who’s working harder? Who’s more sensitive? Who’s the most spiritual? There’s just the desire to have the upper hand, to be in control of the relationship, to show that I’m right.

Moms, you know better than I how this takes place between moms and their children. Who’s developing the most quickly? Whose ten-month-old is the closest to jumping through hoops, or whatever. Who’s learning the most quickly? Who goes to school the earliest? Who learns to read the fastest?

We have spiritual ways of talking about all of this, but God knows the heart. Who’s involved in the most activities? Which kid gets accepted to which colleges? Who gets the best scholarships? Who got the best job, and the entry-level position, what they’re making? It’s the mom of James and John that we saw in the last session, wanting to exalt and promote her kids.

It happens in church. Who gets asked to teach? Who gets asked to sing solos or to be on the praise team or to lead some other aspect of the women’s ministry? Who gets credit? Who gets thanked and recognized for their hard work? Who has the largest class?

It happens in the work place. We’re so concerned about titles and positions, where we fit on the org. chart. Who gets what perks? Who gets a raise? Who gets which office? Who gets an office at all as opposed to a cube? That’s a big thing that causes a lot of angst in some people today. Who gets to sit in on what meetings? Who gets the best assignments? Who gets the least desirable tasks assigned? This comparison of salaries and benefits and raises and promotions, it’s just rife throughout our culture.

And sad to say, it happens in ministries, this competitive spirit. That’s what the disciples were experiencing. In all three of the incidences we’ve looked at, the disciples’ concern is about position, about self-promotion.

In Mark 9, they argued with one another about who was the greatest.

In Mark 10, James and John, their mother said, “Grant us to sit on Your left hand and Your right hand in Your kingdom.” It’s position.

In Luke 22 that we’ve been looking at, there’s this dispute that arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

I think the Lord would not have inspired in the writing of the Scripture all of these accounts to be written if it weren’t for the fact that God knows this is an issue with all of us. We’re all naturally oriented this way. We may not use the language, “Who’s the greatest?” But it’s in our hearts to care about who’s the greatest and about being the greatest.

The focus is on ruling, on controlling, on being in charge, on being elevated, and that results in competitive spirit, in argumentative spirits, in self-importance, selfish ambition—my way is right. I want to be first. And then we have disputes and conflicts and squabbling. I want to tell you, I want to say it with all the love in my heart, but it’s a grievous thing to me. This is where divorce comes from. This is where conflicts come from between siblings, parents and children who haven’t talked to each other for years. This is where church splits come from. It’s all over the place.

While I’ve been working on this series, I’ve been also engaged in a couple of different situations, one related to a family and one related to a church, where there is this kind of thing going on. I don’t even have to say who or what it is because it’s everywhere. It’s in every family to greater or lesser degrees. It’s in every church to greater or lesser degrees. It’s in our ministries; it’s in our work places because it’s in our hearts. It’s not someone else out there who is striving to be first. It’s us.

Now, you may not be engaged in the center of the debate in your church or your family, but this is where . . . This is where world wars come from—people who want to be first. They want to be great. They want to be on top.

And in all three of these occasions that we’ve been looking at in the gospels, Jesus’ response reveals a whole new order, a whole new way of thinking. He contrasts the world’s way of thinking with God’s way of thinking.

The earthly perspective on leadership and authority, He contrasts with God’s perspective on leadership and authority.

He contrasts the world’s way of achieving greatness with God’s way of being great—the kingdom of man versus the kingdom of God. There’s this huge contrast in the Scripture between these two ways of thinking.

The one is the way that comes naturally. It’s the way the disciples thought. It’s the way we think. It’s the way we’re naturally oriented to think. Jesus calls us to re-orient our minds and our values so that we think in a totally opposite way about leadership and greatness and success and being first and what all that means.

But we don’t naturally think in God’s kingdom way. That’s why we have to be born again. That’s why our minds have to be renewed by the Word of God so that we begin to think God’s way, which is topsy-turvy from the way we naturally think.

And so Jesus says in verse 25 of Luke 22 (and you’ve actually heard this before in another instance, but He says it again), “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.”

But then contrasted to that is verse 26: “But not so with you.” That’s the way the world does it. That’s the way the pagans do it. That’s the way the Gentiles do it, but not so with you. This is a strong, imperative, negative. He’s saying, essentially, “But you, not so. You’re different. You’re not from the kingdom of darkness. You’re in the kingdom of light. You’re not children of this world. You are children of God, and it should not be so that you should think the way the lost world thinks about these things.”

Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves (v. 26).

You want to be first? We all want to be first. Don’t sit there and look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about. We do want to be first, and Jesus says, “If you want to be first, listen up, you’ve got to be last. You’ve got to be servant of all.”

Now, this was a revolutionary way of thinking to eastern minds, and it’s a revolutionary way of thinking to our western minds. Ever since Genesis chapter 3 and the fall of man, this is a revolutionary way of thinking. Okay?

In the eastern way of thinking, the older one was always more important than the younger one. The one who was being served was always considered more important than the one who was doing the serving. And it’s true in our way of thinking. You think about the person eating at the expensive restaurant. That person is important. The waiter, the one who is waiting on that person, he’s the one who is working for tips. He’s menial.

Now, one may be making more money than the other, but Jesus was saying, “That has nothing to do with who’s the greatest with who matters most.” Jesus turned this world’s system upside down and inside out.

Verse 27 of Luke 22: “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table?" That’s how we think. The wealthy man going to the important, big restaurant. But—here’s the contrast—"I the Son of God am among you as one who serves.”

What is He saying? “I’ve taken My place, not as the one reclining at the table, but the one who is serving.” And that’s true greatness. And we saw earlier in this session about how Jesus illustrated that by washing the feet of the disciples. Unthinkable. Listen, the disciples probably would have gladly washed Jesus’ feet, but to think of washing each other’s feet? No. I don’t think so. And Jesus says, “You serve the least. You serve all.”

Jesus says, “I’ve taken the place of a menial servant, and in My kingdom, that is the definition of true greatness. That is the pathway to true greatness.”

Now, let’s make it just a little bit more personal. How do we treat the, quote, “little people” in our lives, the ones others would consider little people, the ones sometimes we consider little people, people who wait on us, the cashier in the grocery store, the wait staff in restaurants, cab drivers, the receptionist in the doctor’s office.

  • Do we ignore them? 
  • Do we demean them in our thinking or in our attitude or in our speech?
  • Do we look over them to get to the great person?

You know, skip the receptionist in the doctor’s office. You want to see the doctor. Now, again, the receptionist probably isn’t the one who is going to cure what’s wrong with you, so there’ a sense in which it’s not wrong to want to see the doctor, but in the process, do you ignore the little person, the person who is there serving? Or do you realize that person may be the greatest in the kingdom of God?

Are you impatient with them? And how often in our culture is it considered to be acceptable to be impatient or harsh or rude to people who are in those serving positions that we don’t consider great? We’ve got to get our thinking re-oriented.

What about children? How do you treat children? Now, I enjoy children, and I do love them, but I found myself noticing them in a whole new way because of meditating on these passages where Jesus said, “If you’re great, you will receive the least of these, the little children, and you will want to become like them.”

And I found myself just . . . our church just seems to have thousands of children. I don’t know. There are many, many, many of them, and I found myself not just moving past and overlooking them, but actually seeing them—seeing them—and speaking with them and developing more of the heart of Jesus for the least of these.

They can’t do anything for me. I don’t need them. They’re not big, important people, but in God’s economy, they may be the greatest ones at church on Sunday.

Do we have a class mindset? We say we don’t. We talk about parts of the world that we say do, but, you know, we do have a class mindset in this culture. We look at certain people and certain social-economic status, and we think less of them, or people who maybe don’t have the kind of educational background and don’t speak so well or not so attractive, or . . . there are so many different ways that we rank and rate and measure people. Do we have a mindset that esteems all these as better than ourselves? Do we value others?

What about our family members? Are we as eager to serve them as we would be to serve a guest or someone, “important” who came into our home? Listen, I come into people’s homes, and they’re so gracious, and they welcome me, and they’re kind. And I get some great meals and some great T.L.C., just attention and love and kindness. I’m so grateful for that, and I love the hospitality of God’s people. But it’s so easy in our own homes just to ignore the people we actually live with and to not treat them and value them as worthy of our respect and our attention and our focus.

Let me just wash you as we close this session with some Scripture.

Through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:13–14).

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another (Rom. 12:10).

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:4–7).

While we were busy barking out orders like that corporal in the Revolutionary War, our Commander-in-Chief showed up in civilian clothes. We didn’t recognize Him at first. He came down from His royal position in heaven and became one of us. He rolled up His sleeves. He got down in the trenches with us, and then He got down on His knees and pulled out a towel and said, “How can I serve you?” That’s true greatness.

Leslie: Wow. I need to be reminded of a biblical definition of greatness all the time. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been pointing us to Jesus, the greatest Man who ever lived and became the servant of all. That message is part of a series called “How to Be Great.”

Do you know there are people praying for you as you’re hearing today’s Revive Our Hearts. Listeners pray that this ministry will be effective among those who hear it. Like Emily—she’s praying. She wrote to us and said,

I appreciate Revive Our Hearts and pray for you and the ministry often. I hope to some day give to the ministry, Lord willing. Our finances are still coming out of the tomb they’ve been in since we got into the name-it claim-it false theology and other bad mistakes we made fifteen years ago. But God is good and we are finally doing better but still not making all the bills just yet. I am praying that I will be able to give and support your ministry more and more as God enables us to do so. But until then, I do pray and hope that God continues to bless you and the staff and moves in powerful and mighty ways to show off how good and great He is.

Nancy, I know it’s so encouraging when you hear that listeners are praying.

Nancy: Leslie, I’m so glad for the way the Lord is using Revive Our Hearts in Emily’s life. I'm also thankful for her prayers for this ministry and for her heart to be able to support it if and when the Lord makes it possible. And if Revive Our Hearts has ministered to you, would you pray that way too? If you are in a place now where you can give, I want you to know that your gift will help make sure you keep hearing Revive Our Hearts. It will also help us provide solid teaching day after day for Emily and others who aren't able to give at this time.

Leslie: And thanks to all who gave generously in the month of May as we let you know about serious needs in the ministry. For the latest update on the May fiscal year-end goal, visit ReviveOurHearts.com. In order to get a final tally, we’ll need to receive all the gifts that were postmarked by May 31. We’ll give you an update as soon as we can.

Okay, practically, what does a gospel-oriented view of greatness look like day by day? Some friends have been listening to this series, and they’ll talk about the way it’s been affecting them. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you be truly great. It is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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