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Gospel Questions. 7 – Who then is the greatest?

‘Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  Matthew 18:1

This is the last in our series of Bible questions from the Gospels. They might only have been little questions, but they raise some big issues! This question is no different. The disciples seem keen to ask this question at various points in their time together with Jesus, and every time, Jesus brings their expectations and aspirations crashing down with an explanation that reveals God’s kingdom to operate very differently to those of the world. As always, Jesus answers the question and then gives much more, so to understand the whole answer, read down to verse 14.

In a nutshell, Jesus says that we must ‘become like little children’ (v3) to even enter the kingdom of heaven. Many preachers have spoken about this; our need to be humble, straightforward, trusting, loving. The challenge here is not understanding the picture, it is putting it into practice! Admittedly, this is the challenge with all Jesus’ teaching (‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’ John 10:17), but in an ever-increasingly complex and sophisticated world, this particular challenge can be daunting. It is, of course, an attitude of mind and spirit that affects what we do rather than keeping a set of rules, but all the influences and draws of the ‘basic principles of the world’ (Gal 4:3) fight against our obedience to this command (and, if you read v3 again, you will see that it is a command rather than a recommendation).

If we are brutally honest, we see and feel the influence of the world system right through our lives. Without wishing it to be the case, we can feel a sense of competition with other individuals and churches, exultation when something goes well for us, and inferiority when something goes well for someone else! In the case of churches, our differences can set us apart from each other as well as define what is important to us. Unless these sorts of undercurrents can be exposed and rooted out, God cannot bless us in the way that He wants to, because we are in disobedience to His command.

Many voices are saying that this time of lockdown and pause is God pressing a ‘reset’ button in His people. 2 Chronicles 7:14, (‘If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land,’) has been quoted for many years, and is being used again at this time. The important thing is that we discern the third condition here, what ‘wicked ways’ we need to turn from, as the first two conditions are simple enough, at least to understand. It is easy to think that there is nothing wrong with us or our churches, but God often does not see things that way; see the letter to the church at Laodicea in Revelation (particularly 3:17). Not humbling ourselves as little children might be far more important to Him than it is to us.

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