And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.…
Let us ask ourselves why our Lord has done so much for mankind in proposing a life of service as the true life of man. Service, I apprehend, is thus necessary in some shape for all of us, because it involves the constant repression of those features of our nature which constantly tend to drag it down and degrade it. Aristotle remarked, more than two thousand years ago, that all our faulty tendencies range themselves under the two heads of temper and desire — bad temper or ill-regulated desire. When the one element is not predominant in an undisciplined character, you will find, in some shape, the other, and sometimes you will find the one and sometimes the other at different periods in the life of the same man. Now, service — that is, the voluntary undertaking of work in obedience to the Higher Will — is a corrective to each of these tendencies.
1. It is a corrective, first of all, of temper in its ordinary and everyday form of self-assertion or pride. The man who serves from his heart cannot indulge in self-assertion; he represses self if he tries to perform his service well. Each effort, each five minutes, of conscientious service has the effect of keeping self down, of bidding it submit to a higher and more righteous will; and this process steadily persevered in ultimately represses it, if not altogether, yet very considerably. And what a substantial service this is to human nature and to human character. Be sure of this, that self-assertion, if unchecked, is pitiless when any obstacle to its gratification comes in its way. The self-asserting man delights in making an equal or an inferior feel the full weight of his petty importance; he enjoys the pleasure of commanding in the exact ratio of the pain or discomfort which he sees to be the cost of obedience; and thus, sooner or later, selfassertion becomes tyranny, and tyranny, sooner rather than later, means some revolt which carries with it the ruin of order. The tyrant in the State, in the family, in the office, in the workshop, is the man bent on the assertion of self; and, despite the moments of passing gratification which he enjoys, such a tyrant is really more miserable than his subjects, for the governing appetite of his character can never be adequately gratified; it is in conflict with the nature of things, it is in conflict with the laws of social life, it is in conflict with the Divine will; and when it is repressed, curbed, crushed by voluntary work in obedience to a higher will, a benefit of the very first order has been conferred on human nature and on human society.
2. And in like manner work voluntarily undertaken in obedience to a higher will corrects ill-regulated desire. Distinct from gross sin is the slothful, easy, enervated, self-pleasing temper which is the soil in which gross sin grows. The New Testament calls this district of human nature concupiscence — that is to say, misdirected desire — desire which was meant to cleave to God — at least, to centre in God the eternal beauty, but which, through some bad warp, does, in fact, attach itself to created objects, and generally to some object attractive to the senses. This evil can only be radically cured by making God the object of desire — that is to say, by a love of God; and a true love of God will express itself in service — the service of man as well as of God (1 John 4:20). Service keeps this ill-regulated desire at bay, and it centres the soul's higher desire or love more and more perfectly on its one legitimate object. And then, incidentally, it braces character, and this is what is wanted if a man is to escape from the enervation of a life of sensuous and effeminate ease.
Parallel VersesKJV: And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.