Greatness. In some way, we all seek it. We want to do great things. We want to accomplish greatly. Though the motive for greatness may vary from person to person, the fact remains that we are greatness chasers. The importance and recognizing and understanding this cannot be understated by the simple principle that says what we seek is what we treasure.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21). It’s an astounding fact put in simple words: your desire affects your loyalty to the God of Heaven. What kind of greatness do you seek?
Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? That is a question the apostles would ask Jesus (Mt. 18:1). They didn’t ask for the sake of curiosity, but they wanted clarification of the position for which they would be applying. Later on, the mother of James and John would personally ask Jesus, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom” (Mt. 20:21). This wasn’t simply a mother’s request but James and John asking through their mother. Earlier on, Jesus had spoken about the apostles sitting “on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt. 19:28). Of course, these weren’t actual physical thrones but spiritual in nature. However, what the apostles James and John were asking for were the prominent seats among the promised thrones. The problem was that they had the wrong perspective of Jesus, the kingdom, and even themselves. Jesus simply responds, “You do not know what you ask.” (Mt. 20:22). With the wrong perspective, the wrong kind of greatness will always be sought. This will be vital to further understanding the positions that we chase in God’s kingdom.
The greatest problem of humanity is a failure to properly understand Jesus and His kingdom. I would suggest that the second greatest problem is a failure to understand ourselves. In Scripture, the constant refrain is that we are of a dual nature. We have a natural, physical side and we have a spiritual side. The natural side makes sense to us because it’s what we live out. It’s what see, hear, feel, taste, touch, and experience on a daily basis. What we do not know without God’s intervention is the spiritual side. Because we can’t experience it like we can the physical, we come to know the spiritual side by faith (Heb. 11:1). So the Bible grants us the incredible blessing of entering the mind of God. We find out so many things about us and about Him, so many things about proper perspective and reality, so many things about truth and untruth, simply by examining how God interacts with people. He took on flesh, dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14), and He interacted with us. And it’s through these interactions with people that we better understand our real nature and need.
Our real nature is spirit. God is spirit (Jn. 4:24). His word is spirit (Jn. 6:63). Jesus came to give us spiritual life (Jn. 10:10). God made us in His likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). This exposes who we really are: spiritual beings inhabiting physical shells. If we can understand our real nature, then we can understand our real need.
Our real need is to see and live for the spiritual reality. So when we read Scripture, ultimately everything we read should have spiritual application. In John 4:1-26, the subject is thirst and water, but ultimately, it’s not about physical thirst and water. In John 6, when Jesus feeds the 5,000, the emphasis isn’t ultimately about physical bread. In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind, but it’s not ultimately talking about physical blindness and sight. This will be the constant language of Scripture that is trying to get you to understand spiritual reality through physical means.
The physical exists so that the spiritual could be explained.
Our physical existence is merely a means to see something greater – a greater reality that cannot be perceived by physical eyes. The mistake we make is when we invest so heavily here in this physical reality that’s simply the means to a greater thing and is temporary at best. What this means is that you and I will not find lasting joy, meaning, purpose, and greatness living exclusively for the physical.
Perspective matters. Jesus taught His disciples about the characteristics of His kingdom citizens (Mt. 5:3-10). He used parables to describe different features of the kingdom. Jesus repeated, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” followed by an illustration using something physical to explain a spiritual truth (Mt. 13). Standing before Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (Jn. 18:36).
Jesus says the kingdom is spiritual. It is first and foremost spiritual in nature just as we are. And just like we have a physical side, so does the kingdom in the church (Mt. 16:18-19). Given the fact that the kingdom is spiritual, it’s amazing how many Christians still fight like it’s not. They may profess a spiritual kingdom yet they fight over physical position and feel justified in the process. Like the apostles James and John, we still seek the prominent places when we think of the positions of being in the limelight (i.e. the preacher or song leader) or the positions of authority (i.e. elders, men) as being the greatest; whereas those who receive little notoriety or are in submissive roles are thought of as the least. This is a dangerous attitude as it can cause those who “can’t do much” to consider themselves as not being important or great in the kingdom. The proper position will be discussed further in another article.
There’s the physical kingdom of this world where Satan reigns and then there’s the spiritual kingdom of heaven. For which kingdom are you seeking greatness? The answer to this question largely determines the positions we seek, covet, jostle over, fight for – it will even determine whether we are satisfied with our God-assigned roles or whether we fight to change them.
Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom.” We seek first what we SEE first. If we can’t see first the spiritual, we will never understand the proper position of greatness in God’s kingdom. It begs the question, what do we really see first and foremost? Is it a spiritual kingdom?
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:28-29