The Greatest

By:  Pastor Jackie Roberts 

Luke 22:24–27 (ESV) “24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

I used to wonder why the disciples would sit around, in the presence of Jesus, and have these discussions. With the goal of self-promotion in the aura of true greatness, they polluted the waters with selfish conversation.  This choice, so unseemly inappropriate, is the perfect imperfect example of the human condition put on display for all to see. The funny part is that we, modern day Christians, do not see our continued participation in this folly.

The Christian faith is built on certain essential doctrines, upon which (to be considered orthodox) we must have unity. The deity of Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the resurrection of Christ, the gospel, monotheism – there is only one God, and the trinity. These essential doctrines are the incomparable truths of the Christian faith. Peter Meiderlin in the 1600’s wrote a paper on the theology of Augustine, which included an idea that spread widely through the church, the form we are most familiar with goes like this – “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas” – it is a latin phrase which translated basically means, “In necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom; in all things love”. This idea, however, is foreign to the human condition. Why? We want everyone to agree that our position on whatever, is the greatest! Another way to state this is we major in the minors. We tend to elevate uncertain beliefs to the place of necessary beliefs; thereby sacrificing truth for certainty.

The natural question is how do we ascertain the necessary beliefs in which we must have unity? Simply put those beliefs that are clearly taught in scripture. The Word of God is the final arbiter and authority in all things. Where the scripture is clear we as a church should be unified behind its teachings, where scripture is unclear we should have the freedom to discuss and debate without fear of excommunication. In all our discussion the Word of God is the final word and our opinions about it are secondary. Why then, in so many discussions today, do we demand that all Christians think like we do about uncertain things? Why do we assume that true Christianity is republican? Why do we allow the uncertain things of this world to divide the house of God behind carnal issues? Why do we think it is ok to build straw men out of other opinions and knock them over assuming that should end the discussion? Are we not still demanding of one another to recognize one’s self as the greatest, or my view as the most intellectual, or my stand as the most godly?

When considering men and women in this time, it has often been said  that we have lost both the ability to engage in meaningful discussion about difficult issues and the capacity to resolve conflict through debate and critical thought. Instead, we isolate from those who disagree with us and become the weaker for it. Our churches don’t interact with those that hold to different views in areas of  uncertainty and we miss out on what each member of the body of Christ has to offer to the body as a whole. Paul asked the church of Corinth this question.

1 Corinthians 1:10–13 (ESV) 10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

In this verse if we substitute, “I follow Paul”, for I follow Trump, or I follow Hillary, or I follow this platform, or I am for common core, or if you really want to be like Christ you will home-school;  aren’t we being just as divisive?

So, what am I saying? Just this – we need to learn to really listen to one another, not to hear, but to listen. We need to learn how to focus on the issues and not let the discussion devolve into ad hominem attacks on the person. We need to see, really see, to part the veil and get a glimpse of what is really being said by the other, the opposing viewpoint. Jesus was good at this. He would part the veil of a rich young ruler and answer the question he was really asking. Shouldn’t we attempt to do the same.

James said this to fellow believers in James 1:19–20 (ESV) “19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

What if the church became a place where we listened to one another, really listened?  Where we heard the heart of one another, where before we responded to them, we took the time to really understand what they were saying, and why they were saying it. Or, in other words, what if we were obedient to what the scriptures tells us, and we listened before we responded. Realizing that our anger is the evidence of a weak argument trying to show itself strong. What if the church is supposed to be filled with a variety of men and women who have differing opinions?  A church, who will not allow division, but rather growth using the freedom to come together under the authority of scripture and discuss issues with the goal of strengthening the body. What if Peter Meiderlin was right and we should have unity in the essentials, freedom in the uncertain, and love ruling over it all?  It seems that would be a more hospitable environment in which the church could flourish rather than the chorus of self-promotion as we clamor for the title of “the greatest.”