The first issue threatening to divide the followers of Jesus was the egos of the leaders in training.
“A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest” (Luke 22:24).
The threat of ego traces a line all the way back to the first sin to disrupt that harmony of the universe. Prior to this disruption there was only one will in the universe and everything found it’s peaceful place in that will. But before humanity existed, another created being abandoned his place within God’s order in a delusional effort to exalt himself. We know him under many names. He is Satan, the devil, the evil one, etc… The only explicit reference to the sin that occasioned the fall of Satan is found (interestingly) in a list of qualifications for Church leadership. After listing required traits for local Church leadership, the apostle forbid a potential leader from being “a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (I Timothy 3:6).
Conceit (i.e., thinking more highly of yourself than you ought) is the sin behind what most of us think of as original sin. The tendency toward conceit is a danger always near to the human heart. It threatens not only to disrupt personal joy and contentment but also harmonious relationships. Mirrored audaciously in the worldview of the Pharisees (Luke 18:9-14), it’s the opposite of trait found in those who are justified before God. Conceit is also a flagrant violation of the mind of Christ taught in Philippians 2:3-10. Jesus countered temptation toward conceit by repeatedly contrasting greatness in His kingdom with earthly notions of greatness. Jesus also warned that humility had eternal significance in terms of kingdom entrance (Matthew 18:2-3;Luke 18:15-17).
Anyone in a leadership role understands the tensions between conceit and humility. Behind this tension is the issue of how we measure greatness. Human society always tends toward divisions that exalt some people over others. But in the Lord’s kingdom there is a grand reversal of most of the expectations in culture. The followers of Jesus must intentionally resist standards of greatness that conflict with what the Lord taught and demonstrated.
Many examples could be provided. One thinks of the description of Jesus in II Corinthians 8:9 – “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” To the believers in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16).
Personally, I am grateful for an earthly father who taught me to be as comfortable in the presence of a Senator or a Judge as I am with any other person. He taught me to always look beyond the things that humans use for markers of greatness or for that matter, of lowliness. While giving honor to whom honor is due, I simply don’t rate or rank people based on these kinds of outward distinctions. As a follower of Jesus, I learned that this is the way of the Master.
But my flesh always wants to forget the warning of Galatians 6:3 – “ If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” and what is forbidden in Romans 12:3 – “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
I am brought to perspective whenever I think of Jesus words, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27).