Where people choose to sit is fascinating—in the cinema, on a bus, in a restaurant, in church. Is it just me, or have you too ever wondered why the back row in church is so popular? Will the floor collapse under the first row if someone dares sit there? And why has Mrs Smith sat in the same seat every Sunday for 40 years?
Does it really matter where you sit? It mattered to James, John and their mother. Matthew records her asking Jesus: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your Kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 – NIV). What a request! At first it might seem this is just a normal Jewish mother wanting the best for her sons. However, it appears that James and John are quite at ease with their mum’s proposition. When Jesus challenges them as to whether they can walk the same path as him (Mathew 20:22 – NIV) their reply is positively confident.
In this request we have an example of another obstacle to our faith, one that must be cleared if we are to grow as followers of Christ: the hurdle of self-importance.
These two disciples reckon they have something special going on, and deserve something better then everyone else. They want to “be awarded the highest places of honour” (Matthew 20:21 – The Message) in God’s Kingdom. James and John have ‘stars in their eyes’. They can already see their names up in lights, in starring roles. They can almost hear the rapturous applause in their ears! The stars in their eyes make them blind to the huge hurdle in front of them. Unless they are prepared to drink the cup Jesus is to drink, they have no right to a place in the Kingdom. That is the way of humility—the very opposite to what they are displaying before Jesus.
Overcoming the Hurdle
Self-importance is a towering hurdle for many people. All humans have a basic need for recognition. On the world stage people are clamouring for status and position. We too can get puffed-up ideas of who we are. Maybe that revolves around our qualifications or occupation, our wealth, church position, social class, achievements, how-many-generations Christians we are—or something else. Whatever it is, it makes us want to stand up and announce, I’m the man! or I’m the woman! This phrase, used in popular culture—so I’m told by my pre-teen children—translates into I’m the best, the main player, the top. With this statement we want everyone to know about it, and make sure we are treated appropriately. It is sheer self-importance and arrogance.
Let’s be clear about it: self-importance and arrogance have no place in the life of a Christian. We have nothing that is worth boasting about in Kingdom terms. Paul, in fact, describes himself as ‘nothing’ (2 Corinthians 12:11 – NIV) and warns, ‘If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” (Galatians 6:3 – NIV).
Self-importance is a hurdle we must conquer if we are to continue running forward in our Christian faith. There is no greasy pole or pecking order in the Kingdom of God. As a Willow Creek song by Greg Ferguson clearly states:
The ground is level
at the foot of the cross,
we all are equal
in the light of the cross.
How do we leap over this hurdle?
First, we must realise that we cannot do it ourselves. We must truly acknowledge our desperate need for Christ and recognise that we are nothing without him. We must ask the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, and encourage the growth of humility within us. We must turn from declaring, I’m the man! to proclaiming, You’re the man!—in worship to Jesus alone.
Consider the picture of Jesus given in the Philippian hymn (Philippians 2:1-11). May our daily prayer be, More of him and less of me’. Only then will this hurdle of self-importance be defeated.
By: Capt Jane Alton
Salvationist, November 2003