1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Most modern organisations have mission statements. Whether they be multi-billion dollar international corporations, a small family business, a public service organisation, a school or a Church – if you go onto their website or read their brochures, more often than not you’ll find a mission statement of some kind – a brief statement where they spell out who they are and what they stand for.
If we were to apply this same principle to the mission of Jesus and His Church, we could easily use His words in Mark 10:44-45: “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
This is His personal mission statement. Of course there are many other verses in the Bible that do just as good a job of summarising why Jesus came, but the focus of this specific passage of Scripture is on servanthood.
Serving others is not natural for sinful human beings, so the words of Jesus here challenges our very nature. However, if we are to become authentic followers of Christ, the things that marked His life are to mark ours. This means that our personal mission statement should be one of serving and giving, just as Jesus taught us.
The opposite of that, of course, is to be served and to receive. We can live our lives with a passion to be served and to receive, or we can live with a passion to give and serve.
Hold your hands in front of you for a moment. Clench one of your hands into a fist and leave the other open. This is the choice facing each follower of Christ. Am I going to choose to live with a clenched fist expecting others to serve me, constantly wanting to receive things, or am I going to live with an open hand, and with an attitude of giving and serving?
A man said to his minister one day, “You preachers talk a lot about giving and serving, but when you get right down to it, it all comes down to basin theology.”
“Basin theology? What’s that?” asked the minister.
“Remember what Pilate did when he had the chance to give Jesus His freedom? He called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole thing. But the previous night Jesus called for a basin and proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples. It all comes down to basin theology: Which one will you use?”
Twice in Mark chapter 10 we find Jesus asking the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” But the reasons for His questions and the answers He receives are very different. The second occasion is in verse 51. A blind man by the name of Bartimaeus approached Jesus who asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus’ answer (which was miraculously granted) is, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
The setting for first time we see Jesus ask this question in Mark 10 is radically different. James and John, two of His disciples who happened to be brothers approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” So Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Their amazing reply is “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
The clumsiness of the disciples is well-documented, but this statement of James and John, and the angry reaction of the other ten is right up there on the stupidity scale.
After all they’d seen and witnessed after being with Jesus, their view of following Him was not, “How can I serve Jesus?” but “What can Jesus do for me?” The root problem was selfishness.
Remember that at this point in Jesus’ ministry, the general feeling among His followers was that Jesus had come to free the Jews from Roman oppression. They had yet to understand their need for eternal salvation, as they mistakenly believed that eternal life was their birthright. Because of their spiritual short-sightedness, their most pressing need was political freedom.
They believed Jesus was going to establish an earthly political kingdom, and James and John wanted to be number 1 and number 2 in that kingdom. What began as selfishness moved into pride. They wanted to be above the rest of the disciples.
Where did this selfish, prideful attitude come from? You’d think that some of Jesus would have rubbed off on them. Three factors may have contributed to this attitude:
Matthew records this same episode in chapter 20, but interestingly enough, he tells us that their mother was with them, and in fact asked Jesus the same question: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Wanting the best for our children is a good thing. One of the tasks of parenting is helping our kids to find their gifts and then to nurture and encourage them as they grow older, but it is a very easy thing to overstep the mark. I was never going to be a top sportsman when I was a youngster, and my dad knew it too. He would often take time off work to come and watch me play rugby or cricket, but he would always be supportive. Not once did he scream at me in front of my mates because I missed a tackle or played a silly shot, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that. One or two of my teammates who were far better players than I was didn’t enjoy the game as much as I did because of the unfair pressure their parents put them under.
So one of the factors that may have prompted James and John to make this strange request of Jesus was unreasonable pressure from their own family.
Secondly, they were part of an inner circle of the disciples and had been privy to some incredible spiritual moments. In the previous chapter in Mark’s gospel is the account of the transfiguration of Jesus, and only James, John and Peter were there. The other nine disciples, for some reason, were not with Jesus that day. We have to be careful with the spiritual moments God gives us. We need to guard against allowing our spiritual knowledge and experience to build pride in our lives. When the Lord ‘treats’ you by giving you a unique insight into a situation, or you feel that He has blessed you more than He has blessed someone else, you must remember that He does not do these things for your glory. Whatever God does, He does for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself. So instead of swelling up with pride, ask “Lord, what is it you are teaching me here? How can I use what you have done for me to benefit others and at the same time bring glory to you?”
A third factor which may have led James and John to ask Jesus their question was their privileged social standing. Their call as disciples of Jesus gives us an important clue of their upper class status.
“When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.” (Mark 1:19-20)
The key words here are ‘hired men’. This tells us that their father Zebedee owned a business and hired employees. In those days most fishermen were father and sons and one boat. There were very few fishing families in Galilee with the wealth to actually hire people to fish for them, so we can see that Zebedee was a cut above the rest of the fishermen, and James and John had come from a relatively wealthy family.
There is nothing wrong with wealth. God, in His infinite wisdom, blesses us with material things, and while there may be some who have more than you, there will always be people who have less than you. But this does not make you a better person than them. They too are made in the image of God, and He loves them with the same measureless love that He loves you. As Christians we must be very wary of regarding others as lower than ourselves simply because they are below us by worldly social standards.
So whatever it was that had shaped their character, when James and John said to Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory,” the motive behind this was selfish ambition. Selfish ambition has no place in the Kingdom of God and in the Christian Church. But ridding our hearts and the Church of selfish ambition is a lot harder than we might think, because of who we are, and how our own interests define our behaviour. We instinctively want everyone else and everything to meet our needs.
Jesus had to teach these two brothers a lesson in servanthood and humility, and because we are just as selfish and self-centred as them, we need to learn the same lesson.
Jesus answered the two brothers by saying, “You have no idea what you’re actually asking for.” Because we lack spiritual insight, there is so much about God and the spiritual realm that we simply cannot grasp, but by His grace, He does teach us as we walk with Him.
The first principle He teaches James and John is the cost of discipleship. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”
There is so much of our worldly selves which we need to cast off and overcome if we are ever to learn just what it means to live our lives for God and His glory. The path to glory and greatness always takes us through suffering and difficulty. The Christian life is not easy, and we have to know this truth. Jesus gives us some idea of the cost of discipleship in Luke 14:26-27: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters - yes, even their own life - such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Don’t be put off by the word hate here. The NLT adds the words ‘by comparison.’ Remember His words in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The real question is, are we prepared to love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?
The second principle which Jesus teaches James and John is the total ‘otherness’ of Christian love. Everything which has shaped and defined us as self-centred human beings throughout our lives now needs to change. You’ll sometimes hear people say how Jesus has turned their lives upside down. What they really mean is that Jesus has taken their upside down lives and turned them the right way up.
In the world, greatness is measured by how many people serve you. In Christ’s kingdom greatness is determined by how you serve. It’s not a matter of authority and control but of humility and service, and this takes a radical mind shift for sinful human beings. It’s not impossible though, because as we look back through the history of the Christian Church, there are many wonderful examples of how God has taken some extremely powerful, selfish and self-centred individuals, and has turned their lives around in the most amazing ways.
After Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, an act of the utmost servanthood, He told them “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Of course, He was also talking about things to come, as within hours, He served all of humanity in the most incredible way on the Cross of Calvary. It was here where His whole life, characterised by selfless servanthood reached a climax.
This is what the apostle Paul was writing about in Philippians 2: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ 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 to death - even death on a cross!”
All of this is summed up in Jesus’ mission statement in Mark 10:45. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
We need to go back to Philippians 2 for a moment. Paul implores his fellow Christians to take on the very likeness of Jesus. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” These are the Christlike qualities we should seek for our own lives. And how do we do it? The key is in verse 4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Do you want to learn to do things like loving and forgiving as Jesus did? Then learn to serve. Ask God to give you a passion for serving others.
Put others and their interests before your own, and you will be amazed at just how much of your own selfish nature God will change.
All of these things though come at a cost. It is not easy to give to others to the detriment of yourself.
Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, summarised the cost of discipleship like this: “When you serve God, do not expect a reward. Be prepared instead to be misunderstood, suspected and abused. An evil world cannot speak well of holy lives. The sweetest fruit is most pecked at by the birds. The tallest mountains are most battered by the storms. The loveliest character is the most assailed. If you succeed in bringing many to Christ, you will be charged with self-seeking, or popularity hunting, or some such crime. You will be misrepresented, belied, caricatured, and counted as a fool by the ungodly world. If you serve God, the probabilities are that the crown you win in this world will contain more spikes than sapphires, more briers than emeralds. When it is put on your head, pray for grace to wear it, and count it all joy to be like your Lord. Say in your heart, ‘I feel no dishonour in this dishonour. The world may attribute shameful things to me, but I am not ashamed. People may degrade me, but I am not degraded. They may look on me with contempt, but I am not contemptible.”
Am I living my life expecting others to serve me? Do I expect others and even God to ask me, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Or do I look around and see the people in my life and my circumstances as opportunities to serve both Christ and others?
Put your hands out in front of you again, and clench one into a fist. Which hand best represents your attitude to life and to others?
Are we closed-fisted or open-handed?
Being open-handed doesn’t mean that we will never receive and that we should never be served - there are many times when it is our privilege to be served, and we very quickly learn that it takes grace to receive as well as to give, but what is the real passion of our hearts?
Which hand more accurately defines your life - receiving or giving?
So much of our culture is designed to make us feel good. We are driven by our own desires, wants and needs, but the radical message of Jesus counteracts that.
Ultimately we need to ask ourselves these questions: “Who is really in control of my life? Why am I following Jesus, and what am I doing for Him?”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Mark 10:35-45
It is easy for us to be critical of James and John after the fact, as we have the benefit of hindsight, but in which ways does their request of Jesus summarise human selfishness and ambition?
In Matthew 21:22 Jesus says, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Of course, we’re well aware that not every prayer for fame and fortune is answered, but why do you think that so many seemingly noble prayer requests are answered with a firm no?
Read Philippians 2:1-8
As Christians we know that we are to imitate Jesus, but why do you think we find it so difficult?
Why is selfless servanthood so hard?
As we look at the history of the Church, it is clear that putting the interests of others before ourselves is possible.
Discuss some of the examples we’re able to learn from.
What about you? What are some of the things (with God’s help) that you feel you need to give up in order to be able to serve others better?
What do you understand by the term ‘cost of discipleship?’
On Sunday we considered the principle of living with either a close-fisted or open-handed attitude towards others.
Which would you say best describes the attitude of our congregation?
What do we do well, and where can we improve?