But Jesus called them to him, and said, You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them…
The daring request of the mother of Zebedee's children roused the jealousy of the other disciples. This was natural, and quite in accordance with the customs of the world. Nevertheless, Christ disapproved of the feeling. It showed something of the same selfish ambition that the two brothers had displayed.
I. WORLDLY DIFFERENCES OF RANK ARE NOT TO BE ALLOWED IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
1. The necessity of this rule. It springs from the essential characteristics of Christianity.
(1) Brotherhood. In Christ rich and poor, high and low, are brothers, members of one family. We are to call no man master in the Church, because we are all brethren. No institution of man is more democratic than the Church of Christ - when it realizes his idea.
(2) The supremacy of Christ. One is our Master, even Christ (Matthew 23:8). For a man to exercise lordship is to usurp the kingly office of Christ. Not only is he supreme; he deals directly with every soul in his kingdom.
(3) The worthlessness of external pre-eminence. Christ cares for nothing of this sort. Of titles and offices he takes no account. Character and conduct are the only things that he observes and judges us by and character and conduct are quite independent of official position and nominal rank.
2. The application of this rule. It has been and it is now so grievously neglected and outraged that we ought to expose the wrong with a reformer's courage.
(1) In hierarchical pretensions. The papal claims are here out of court. Therefore the friends of the papacy do not favour the reading of the New Testament by the people. But all domineering priestliness is equally excluded.
(2) In worldly position. Differences of rank that have nothing to do with ecclesiastical order are also quite out of place in the Church. They may have their use in the world. But they cannot confer any privileges in spiritual and religious matters.
II. CHRISTIAN GREATNESS IS GREATNESS OF SERVICE. It is not hierarchical power and dignity. It is not secular wealth and titles. It is a purely moral greatness - the result of conduct. They stand highest in the kingdom of heaven who best serve their brethren.
1. The grounds of this greatness.
(1) It is Christ-like. They will be most honoured by Christ who best resemble him; they will come nearest to him in rank who follow him most closely in conduct. Christ was the servant of all.
(2) It is inherently excellent. God honours Christ himself for this very reason. He humbled himself and took on him the form of a servant - "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:9). To serve is to manifest energy in unselfishness and kindness - the best of all things witnessed on earth.
2. The pursuit of this greatness. The words, "and whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant," are not the threat of a punishment for ambition. They are an indication of the way to true greatness. This is not, like worldly greatness, reserved for the privileged. It is within the reach of all. If any wish to approach the honours coveted for the brothers James and John, the way is open. It is to be first in service, to excel in self-sacrificing toil for the good of others. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.