Least is greatest in the sight of God

Published 8:19 am Friday, November 22, 2019

Harmony Church has suffered many losses over the years, but last week, we experienced the keenly painful death of a six-year-old boy named Weston Cosey. He was a vibrant little fellow that lived life fearlessly. His passing opened my eyes to the great impact that children make on our world. You can never go wrong investing in a child. Jesus esteemed children highly, but that was not the consensus of others that lived during biblical times. We will discuss that further a bit later in the article.
Humans have always desired to be the greatest. We often think this type of thinking is new today, but it has been around since the dawn of time. What is greatness? The world defines greatness through accomplishments and accolades. We can think about Alexander the Great who conquered the known world by 33 years of age, and then wept that there were no more worlds to conquer, Thomas Edison with over a thousand patents to his name, or consider Einstein and his amazing discoveries in quantum physics. Others might say real greatness is all about power. What does Jesus consider as greatness? This is a question he answered for his disciples. They argued often about which one of them were the greatest. Luke 9:46-48 says, “46 Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. 47 And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, 48 And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” It is interesting that these men sat in the presence of the Son of God and argued which of them was greatest! They were in the presence of the all-time greatest: JESUS! It is in this story that we see Jesus sit a small child before them and declare that this child was great.
In this short scene, we again see Jesus explaining the kingdom of God because the child was so incredibly vulnerable — physically, socially, culturally — he or she the one to whom Jesus directed the disciples’ attention. Greatness in the kingdom of God does not lie in accumulating wealth or advancing one’s status or monumental achievement. Rather, greatest rests in welcoming the stranger, caring for the weak, protecting and serving the one in need, and raising up those with no standing. This wasn’t the first time Jesus said this, and it wouldn’t be the last. Although he’s said it over and over, still people have a hard time understanding. He went to the cross, spread his arms wide, and shared through his own body the message and secret of the kingdom: God’s love is for all and especially for those in need.
One of the challenges we face when reading the Bible is the significant cultural differences between the world from which the Bible came and our own. In the ancient world, children were of little economic value. That doesn’t mean that parents didn’t love their children — they absolutely did! Rather, it means that children were, for all intents and purposes, an economic liability until they could contribute to the welfare of the family. For this reason, they had no standing, received little protection, and were given no particular social status. Children, along with women, old men, and slaves, were viewed as physically weak burdens on society who had little value to the wider life of the community. In Greece and Rome, it was an accepted practice to abandon unwanted children along the roadsides to die. Christians began collecting infants abandoned by their parents and raised them as their own. If pagans took in such abandoned children, it was most often for immoral purposes and child sacrifice.
According to https://dailyscripture.servantsoftheword.org, “Children had no rights, position, or privileges of their own. They were socially at the “bottom of the rung” and at the service of their parents, much like the household staff and domestic servants. What is the significance of Jesus’ gesture? Jesus elevated a little child in the presence of his disciples by placing the child in a privileged position of honor at his right side. It is customary, even today, to seat the guest of honor at the right side of the host. Who is the greatest in God’s kingdom? The one who is humble and lowly of heart — who instead of asserting their rights willingly empty themselves of pride and self-seeking glory by taking the lowly position of a servant or child.”
Jesus seemed to always find time for youngsters; he told his disciples that unless they became like little children, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. He warned his followers not to despise children or to cause them to stumble. Children were valuable and were to be treated with love and care. Jesus pointed out that children who were perceived as a burden on society were the great ones. Wow, this gesture was such an attention-getter for the disciples. The child stands as a type of the humble and childlike disciple. As spelled out more fully in Matthew and Mark, Jesus was here making the humility of little children to be the badge of greatness in the kingdom of God. This is evident in his connecting them, as he did here, with himself, and himself with the Father, the lesson being that, just as Jesus had emptied himself, forsaking all earthly honors, and being found among men as a servant made lower than the angels, in the same manner the truly great follower of Christ must exhibit the example of his Lord. How can we humble ourselves and be more like a child? Billygraham.org outlines 12 ways to be humble, and I would like to take the time to share five of those.
1. Accept a lowly place (Proverbs 25:6,7). If you find yourself wanting to sit at the head table, wanting others to recognize your contribution or become offended when others are honored or chosen, then pride is present. Purpose to support others being recognized, rather than you. Accept and look for the lowly place; it is the place of humility.
2. Purposely associate with people of lower state than you (Luke 7:36-39). Jesus was derided by the Pharisees for socializing with the poor and those of lowly state. Our culture is very status conscious and people naturally want to socialize upward. Resist the temptation of being partial to those with status or wealth.
3. Choose to serve others (Philippians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 4:5, Matthew 23:11). When we serve others, we are serving God’s purposes in their lives. Doing so reduces our focus on ourselves and builds the Kingdom of God. When serving another costs, us nothing, we should question whether it is really servanthood.
4. Be quick to forgive (Matthew 18: 21-35). Forgiveness is possibly one of the greatest acts of humility we can do. To forgive is to acknowledge a wrong that has been done us and also to further release our right of repayment for the wrong. Forgiveness is denial of self. Forgiveness is not insisting on our way and our justice.
5. Cultivate a grateful heart (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The more we develop an attitude of gratitude for the gift of salvation and life He has given us, the truer our perspective of self. A grateful heart is a humble heart.
Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord and our fellow man. 1 Peter 5:6a states, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” To become great, we must become the least of these!
(The Solution Column is provided by Pastor Brandon Young of Harmony Free Will Baptist Church, Hampton, and his associate, David Odom.)

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