Who is the Greatest?
In any aspect of life, whether occupations, relationships or even spiritual lives, we want to be successful. There is certainly nothing wrong with this desire, as long as we harness such in alignment with the will of God. For example, the “hypocrites” during the days of Jesus were basing their greatness on the glory of men rather than the admiration of Almighty God (Matt. 6:1-8). The heathen Gentiles determined success simply by material wealth (cf. Matt. 6:32). These are but a few examples of misaligned success. Yet, in three chapters of Matthew specifically, this particular inspired biographer provides some principles from Jesus of how we can achieve greatness; he bookends this magnificent section of scripture with a discussion to answer the question, “Who is the greatest?”
First, we achieve greatness through the quality of humility (Matt. 18:1-6; 19:13-15; 20:20-29). The disciples of Jesus were interested in the subject of greatness, and using a physical illustration of a small child, He teaches that one gains greatness though humility. Later in Matthew 19, some tried to bring children to Jesus through the crowd so that He could bless them, and the disciples rebuked such an action. However, Jesus pointed out again that the nature of humility in children is a key to greatness in the kingdom of heaven. As if they still had not learned the lesson, the mother of James and John requested a political move to Jesus on behalf of her sons, which created a negative ripple through the other apostles. Thus, Jesus teaches again the need for humility based upon His own humility. Therefore, not only is it a quality that we need to stress, but we recognize that it is difficult to grasp.
Second, we achieve greatness though the desire to remove sin from our lives (Matt. 18:7-9). Jesus makes similar statements in the great Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:27-30. The essence of what Jesus conveys is that we must develop the quality to be ready to remove whatever temptation and sin there is in our lives. As children of God, we do this through repentance and confession (1 John 1:9). Harboring sin creates a calloused heart.
Third, we achieve greatness when we refrain from offending at all costs (Matt. 18:10-20). Because we are human and “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), we will offend others in our lifetime (cf. Matt. 18:7). However, how do we react when such occurs? We had better be willing to make it a priority of resolving quickly, even going before the congregation if the situation warrants such.
Fourth, we achieve greatness when we display forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35). After answering the question of forgiveness that Peter asked, Jesus gives a parable to demonstrate the need for forgiveness in our lives. When we think about how much God has forgiven us, how can we not display the same quality to a much lesser degree to our brethren?
Fifth, we achieve greatness when we achieve the divine standard of marital success (Matt. 19:1-12). Jesus resolves some issues about divorce in the Law of Moses and stresses the divine pattern for success in marriage. When we consider the amount of conflict in marriages today, we need to exemplify this quality ourselves and establish a beautiful pattern for our world.
Sixth, we achieve greatness when we are not materialistic (Matt. 19:16-26). Jesus met a materialistic man who was unwilling to part with his possessions. We cannot be such today.
Seventh, we achieve greatness when we follow Jesus without reservation from the very time we obey the gospel (Matt. 19:27-20:19). After discussing the need of possibly even forsaking all for Christ, He teaches a parable about those who would respond to the gospel at a later time. Nevertheless, at whatever point one responds, from that moment forward, he should serve God without reservation.
Eighth, we achieve greatness when we follow the example from our Lord of displaying compassion (Matt. 20:30-34). Just as He was compassionate to two blind men, we are to be compassionate to those in need.
I promise you that if you will study these chapters in Matthew from this light, it can change your life! Who is the greatest? Jesus answers this question by providing eight principles that guarantee success in His eyes.