The world today teaches us to get to the top, be the best, ensure that we build up our reputations no matter what the cost. How do we do this? We compare ourselves to each other, assess how we are doing in respect to those around us, massage our egos by comforting ourselves by the mistakes that others make. How do we avoid the comparison trap and be humble?
How competitive are you?
I wouldn’t say that I’m a hugely competitive person when it comes to games and sports; I generally play games for the fun of playing and, whilst winning matters a little, I’ve played with many people for whom winning seems way more important than anything else.
Yet, when it comes to competitiveness in life, I’m afraid that I probably rate quite highly.
I spend far too much time comparing myself to others in how I look, how good a mum I am, how clean my house is, whether I’m a good Christian or not, etc etc. The habit of comparisons and judging others is an addictive force that is hard to resist and is often such an ingrained pattern of my thinking that I don’t even know I’m doing it.
It’s not that I like criticising others, even in my head, but my own insecurities often lead me to assessing how I compare to those around me to reassure myself that I’m doing ok.
And there’s another way in which I tend to be competitive. Not only do I compare myself to others, but I also tend to work too hard at maintaining my own reputation. It’s important to me to achieve so I tend to get caught up in the world’s standards for how that achievement might by measured.
Why is it so important for me to live up to these standards? Because I want others to think well of me, to admire me, to notice me.
The problem with maintaining these high standards is that I hide my weaknesses, afraid that if they are exposed, they will lead to my reputation of being a good mum, wife, home-maker, Christian, etc being ruined. So, I keep striving to create this façade of perfection, comparing myself to those around me and making sure I measure up highly.
We are working through a series called Christian Names where we look at what kinds of imagery the Bible uses to describe God’s followers. In our passage today, Jesus teaches His disciples that they must become like little children making a strong point about what it means be humble.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
There has been loads of speculation about what aspects of being a child Jesus was getting at here: innocence, gentleness, expectancy etc. But let’s make sure that we don’t miss the main point of what Jesus was saying, over-looking it as we search for appealing child-like features that we can try to attain.
In our world today, children are seen to be hugely important, given vast amounts of attention and encouragement from the adults around them and are almost elevated to the status of mini-gods at times.
This is far from how it was when Jesus gave this teaching. In the ancient world, children had zero status, were unimportant and were often given menial tasks to do around the home similar to that of servants.
Jesus’ teaching here was a challenge to the disciples’ question about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
He says they must become like little children to illustrate that the kingdom of God is for the humble, for those who reckon themselves to be unimpressive and unimportant.
Jesus calls us as His followers to not try to seek status or an impressive reputation but to humble ourselves as little children.
His example of humility demonstrates this and acts as a huge challenge to us, Philippians 2:6-8 tells us that Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient – even death on a cross!”
In Mark’s Gospel we are told that the disciples were not just asking the question about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven but were actually arguing between themselves about it (Mark 39:33-34).
Now, I don’t know about you, but I often read about the disciples and think “Those silly disciples!”. It’s easy to see the accounts of the way they behaved as slightly farcical and disconnect ourselves from their rather petty actions.
And whilst it is true I would never openly argue with another Christian about who was the best follower of God.
But I have a tendency to inwardly draw comparisons towards others so I make myself feel better
I pursue a perpetual desire to display outward appearances of success.
I strive to hide my weaknesses for fear of looking worse than the people around me.
All these ways of elevating myself are contrary to this humble living that Jesus teaches.
So, it’s clear that I feel just as insecure and have the need for approval and status that the disciples felt.
It is an ongoing prayer of mine “Help me, Jesus, to be humble”.
That He would work through my insecurities and help me to live according to His kingdom standards, not the world’s standards.
That I can feel secure in my identity in Him, knowing His unending love for me and grow in His plans and purposes for my life, not worrying about how I compare to those around me.
That I can receive His peace, free from the anxieties and pressures that performing for the standards imposed by society put on me.
That I can be small enough to know the greatness of God, magnifying Him in all I do, not myself.
That I can be openly generous to God’s other children and in those relationships of grace and humility be blessed by the presence of Christ Himself.
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