“But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your minister; And whosoever of you would be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)
From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians
For it to surface, spiritual pride needs a suitable context in our Christian life. In Mark 9:33-37 and in Luke 9:46-48, the story is told of the apostles disputing as they traveled on the road, who should be the greatest among them. They knew by then who Jesus was. They knew that they had been chosen to be the apostles of the Messiah the King. They suspected that events were coming to a head and that somehow Jesus would take His rightful place as the leader of the Jewish nation. They knew this opened up opportunities for them to occupy positions of leadership in Jerusalem. This new reality occasioned the dispute among them as to who should occupy the highest positions in the new upcoming kingdom.
This internal debate amongst these men could not have happened a few years earlier, outside of the context of their becoming apostles and disciples of Jesus. The thought of who would be the greatest among them in God’s upcoming kingdom on earth, which they mistakenly thought would be politically established in the very near future in the capital city of Jerusalem, could not conceivably have happened while they were ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, or revolutionary zealots. Only after successfully following Jesus for two or three years as apostles and disciples did this tempting context materialize into a foreseeable eventuality.
Matthew 20:20-28 tells the story of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus and asking Him if her two sons could sit on His right hand and on His left hand in His kingdom. This request could not have been made without James and John being in the inner circle of apostles close to Jesus. The extraordinary ministry of Jesus created high future expectations among His followers for the nation of Israel. This provided the context for this forgivable and understandable ambition on the part of the mother of James and John.
Jesus did not rebuke the mother of James and John for this request (He probably inwardly admired the courage of her advocacy for her sons), but simply answered that she did not clearly understand the thing she was asking of Him. The scriptures then say that when the other ten apostles heard what the mother of James and John had done, they did not get upset with her but they were “indignant” against James and John.
The response that Jesus has for the apostles arguing among themselves as to who should be the greatest was to take a child and set him as an example in their midst, and tell them that “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:48). The apostles and disciples learned this important lesson well, and had the right spirit regarding this issue in their first century ministries. After these specific lessons by Jesus, and after the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles (John 13:2-17), we do not hear anything more about who will be the greatest among the apostles or disciples.