CHRISTADELPHIAN BIBLE POSTAL COURSE No. 49
Reading: Matthew 18
Matthew’s account of the life and teachings of Jesus includes a number of statements on human ambition. All of them seem to condemn or at least warn us about this very strong driving force in our characters.
The disciples seemed to have a problem about who was the greatest in their group. There is no doubt that they argued about this many times. It must have seemed important to them at the time. Apart from Jesus, who was the leader?
Another question that concerned them was who would get the places of honour in the Kingdom that Jesus was promising to them. Each time Jesus was aware of this argument amongst his disciples or on the occasions when they openly questioned him about it he responded with clear and concise teaching. We will make this our starting point. Look first at Matthew chapter 18 verse 1 to 4. The question was, “Who is the greatest?” Jesus’ answer was to provide them with the illustration of the little child. Innocent, trusting and, in the midst of adults, humble. His message was “You need to be like this to be my disciples”. Look next at Matthew chapter 20 verse 20 where we read of the mother of two of the disciples seeking special places of honour for her two sons James and John. It is a natural thing for a mother to want the best for her children but once again Jesus takes great care to point out that this is a human emotion and it does not fit in to the needs or purpose of his church or for his future Kingdom. All of the wonderful things that God has prepared for those who will become part of this Kingdom on this earth are for him to give and he will do so to those he considers worthy. It is not for us to be ambitious to gain special places in the church now, or in the kingdom of the future. Just look now at the whole of Jesus’ answer to the mother of James and John it is from verses 22 to 23.
In verse 24 we read that there is trouble when the other ten disciples hear of this request; you can imagine the anger and indignation. On this occasion Jesus uses his own relationship with the twelve men as an example, verse 25 to 28. Whoever wants to be great must be the servant.
Our next example is in Matthew chapter 23 where Jesus warns his disciples to beware of putting on an outer cloak of sanctity or holiness when really the motivation for their lives was pride and human ambition. If you read from verse 1 to verse 12, you will get a clear picture of this teaching. This instruction includes us today if we want to become disciples. It is also for those of us who are already baptised.
Jesus was using the religious leaders of his times to illustrate the wrong way of worshipping God. In verse 1 we are told that the disciples were part of the multitude of people listening to this teaching. How humiliated and angry the Pharisees must have been. However, the message is the same as previously given to the disciples, “Let he who would be the greatest be as your servant”.
Now this very clear doctrine from Jesus is not the way human beings usually go about things, is it? There are some people who are naturally unambitious, content with a simple life-style, ready always to be servants. They have no wish to be masters over others.
However, the rest of us do have ambition in our jobs or in our families. Perhaps we want to get to a position of honour in the society we live in, whether it is in the city, the town or the village. In all of these places many people try very hard to get to a position of influence and power either in their job or in local affairs.
How do the teachings of Jesus fit in with this kind of ambition? Well, remember that Jesus’ entire teaching was aimed at men and women who would eventually be his followers. Anything that got in the way of being a disciple of Jesus was suspect then and it is the same today. There is no doubt that Jesus showed a very good example himself and the central feature of that example is shown by the events that occurred in the upper room just before his crucifixion. Look now at John’s gospel chapter 13 verses 3 to 15.
If Jesus the Son of God could kneel on the floor in front of each disciple and wash his feet, the work of a servant, then all of his disciples from that time on should be more ready to serve than to command.
Depending on the society we live in and the customs of that country, the washing of the feet of honoured guests may be still the thing to do. Where it is not, the lesson still applies and we need to translate it into terms of service to others. Those of our family, our neighbours, work-fellows or just the people we meet each day that we can help in some small way.
So is our human ambition wrong then? That will depend on whether anyone gets hurt. If we achieve what we want by pushing other people out of the way, by using cunning and unacceptable methods to get promotion then the answer has to be no. If we obtain a job by bullying or dishonesty when it should have been given to someone else, then we are disobeying the instructions of Jesus.
Obviously, everything depends on what our final objective is. Will that objective just give us a feeling of power or revenge on others who we do not like or will it benefit people?
Can we be a good organiser or a good boss?
Can we be the one to heal divisions between people? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves and there are some good examples in the Bible that will help us to do this.
Look first at the book of Esther chapter 3 verses 1 to 9. There you will meet a man called Haman who was a trusted advisor in the court of the King of ancient Persia. Haman was an Amalekite and an enemy of the Jewish people. He devised a plot to have all Jews throughout the Persian Empire put to death.
The reaction when the plot was discovered is in chapter 4 verse 3. How he plotted to do this reveals his evil ambition to harm others.
If you have time to look at the whole book of Esther, you will find that it is exciting to read and it will show you an example of how God looked after his people in an unexpected way.
The next example I want to look at is Daniel, a man of enormous faith in God. He was a man of great capability and impressive humility. In all of his extraordinary life, Daniel always gave God the credit for the miracles that happened and never claimed any special gifts for himself. Look now at the book of Daniel chapter 2 verses 26 to 30.
Human ambition can be exciting as you push for what you want but it is important to think about the example of Solomon the greatest Jewish King. He found that when you get to your objective, the end result is far from satisfactory. You may have tried everything and own everything but can never be satisfied. To find out about Solomon’s problems look now at Ecclesiastes chapter 2 and read verse 1 to 11. Solomon says in verse 26 that a better course of action is to follow God’s way.
So what then is God’s way? It is that way clearly spelled out for us by Jesus. It is the way where all who would be leaders must also be servants. It is a way where the character of a man or woman is directed to love and compassion, to mercy and the desire to help those around us. Our best example will always be Jesus himself who, though he will be a great King over all nations when he comes back to this earth, could spare time and energy for the poor and sick. He had time for the lame and the blind, the leper and those afflicted with mental illness.
We will not be able to heal the human misery that surrounds us each day as he could but we can turn any ambition we have into an action plan to help others in any way possible.