What a difference this would make if everyone in the church today adopted this mindset! If, instead of seeking a “seat at the table” or seeking to control “power structures,” we stooped low in order to serve others for God’s glory and their good we would find the true greatness after which we ought to be seeking. The kingdom of God is countercultural, and the way of the kingdom is the way of the cross; it is the way of service to the King and to those in His kingdom; it is wanting to see others use their gifts and advance. It is wanting to see God work powerfully through all of His servants, rather than seeking to simply advance our own selfish agendas and pursue our own self-interested goals.
For well over a decade now, I have heard Christians approvingly employ phraseology about social and ecclesiastical constructs—phrases such as “a seat at the table” and “power structures.” I have a friend who—when he was first coming into the denomination in which I serve as a pastor—told me that he had a mentor who taught him that he needed to position himself strategically around influential people in order to get ahead in the denomination. I passionately sought to emphasize that forming lasting friendships with godly men who will walk alongside you in ministry ought to be our goal; and, that serving others rather than using others is the way of the kingdom. I am often astonished by the bravado I hear bandied about in ecclesiastical circles as acceptable Christian posture. However, I shouldn’t be surprised. The gospel records bear witness to the fact that the quest for self-interest and fleshly greatness was in the hearts of Jesus’ own disciples–as it is in my own heart.
On several occasions in the gospels, we find the disciples either seeking self-motivated greatness or arguing among themselves about who is the greatest (Mark 9:34; Luke 22:24). One of the most revealing passages in this regard is that which concerns James and John asking Jesus (actually, putting their mom up to asking Jesus) to put them one the right and the other on His left in glory (Mark 10:35–45). This passage provides us with the most instructive example of the depravity of the human heart regarding the question for personal greatness, and the remedy in the form of the example of the redeeming work of Jesus.
Jesus had recently told His disciples that He was going to be handed over by His own countrymen to the Gentiles in order to be beaten, mocked, scourged, and crucified (Mark 10:32–34). He had made perfectly clear that the purpose for which He had come into the world was to suffer and be glorified. To this point, His disciples had not yet fully understood how He would establish the Messianic kingdom. Jesus taught them about His death and resurrection. In this way, He was preparing them for the mission on which He would send them—namely, to carry that message to a lost and perishing world.