27 “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:27–28, NKJV).”
The ambitious quest for superiority over others is conquered by the truth Jesus uttered and lived. Dominance over fellow disciples in the body of Christ is defeated by complete servitude. Only when we yield ourselves as slaves to serve others are we like our Master. The Lord humbled Himself to become human, and further still, to die on the cross for the sins of the world (Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus is not great because people served Him. He is great because He served others, including us. He gave His life as the ransom (redemption price) for our sins (1 Tim. 2:6). His disciples forego the prideful pursuit of glory from others. God honors those who give themselves in service to Christ and others. Christ has shown us the way. (1) Like Jesus, we must desire to do God’s will instead of our own. “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God” (Heb. 10:9; Matt. 26:39, 42). (2) Like Jesus, we must humble ourselves (Phil. 2:5). A slave (bondservant) is lowly in spirit. Pride never elevates us in the Master’s sight, while humility delivers grace from His hand (James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet. 5:5-6). (3) Like Jesus, it takes personal sacrifice to serve God and others. Jesus gave His life. We are to deny ourselves and bear our cross, giving our lives in His service (Luke 9:23; Gal. 2:20). Do you want to be great in the kingdom? Enslave yourself to the service of others, and your reward will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 25:34-40).
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God (Hebrews 6:1, NKJV).
Just as there are “basic principles of the world,” there are “elementary principles of Christ.” The writer introduced “first principles of the oracles of God” in Hebrews 5:12 and explained that Christians who “partakes only of milk” are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness – spiritual infants ill-equipped to use God’s word to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:13-14). Please meditate with me on the place of the first principles of Christ in your life. (1) First principles are foundational (Heb. 6:1). They are a starting point for faith, not the end. Just as infants are fed milk first and progress to solid food, we begin with first principles and progress to the solid food of God’s truth (Heb. 5:12). (2) First principles help Christians become skilled in using God’s word (Heb. 5:13-14). First principles like repentance, faith, baptisms, miraculous gifts, resurrection, and judgment provide a framework to use God’s word as we mature (advance spiritually, Heb. 6:1-2). (3) First principles must be remembered and built upon (Heb. 6:1). We are exhorted not to linger only on the elementary principles, lest through neglect our faith recedes, and we fall away (Heb. 6:3-6, 11-12). The first principles of Christ lay a foundation of faith upon which we can continue to build and mature as we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18–19, NKJV)
The “former commandment” is “the law” given at Mt. Sinai to Israel. God annulled (set aside, abolished) that law because it was powerless to perfect (complete) the one who comes to God. The law served its purpose of identifying sin (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:19). It sought to rein in Israel’s sinful conduct by teaching her holiness and the divine blessings that come from obeying God (Deut. 4:13-14; 8:1). But that covenant was temporary and “made nothing perfect” (Gal. 3:19-25). The law did not have the power to redeem souls from sin; it could not save the lost (Heb. 10:1-4, 11). It was a “shadow of the good things to come” in Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:1). Christ and His gospel (not the “former commandment”) bring a better hope to those who draw near to God for forgiveness. We dare not go back to the law of Moses to justify our worship and service to God today. To do so forfeits the grace that is in Christ (Gal. 5:3-4; 1:6-9). Remember, we are not saved by the “shadow” (the first covenant) but by the “substance” of the covenant of Christ (Heb. 10:1-4, 10-12).
42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall 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 a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45, NKJV)
As it was in the days of Christ, so it is to this present hour. Worldly ambition drives many to exercise dominance and control over others, measuring their greatness by positions of power. Such is neither the measure nor the ambition of Christ’s disciples. When a dispute arose among His apostles over positions of prominence in the kingdom, Christ taught that importance and favor are measured by service and sacrifice, not subjugation (Mark 10:35-41). Jesus set the high bar of lowly greatness, serving and dying to save the lost. To be great and first in God’s sight is what matters. So, let us use His measurements of greatness, and serve others as He served us.
But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30, NKJV)
Jesus had corrected the apostles’ implication that only the rich could enter the kingdom of God and have the blessings of salvation and honor (Matthew 19:23-28). All who sacrificially give their lives to faithfully serve Jesus are blessed now and eternally (Matthew 19:29). Jesus summed up this exchange with His apostles by reverting to where it began. Those who seek and expect places of honor from men will not find it in the kingdom of God. Such will not enter His kingdom with that as their expectation. The humble in heart, who do the will of the Father, are “first” (blessed) in the kingdom. Jesus had earlier taught the one who humbles himself as a little child “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). Let us remove every vestige of prideful expectation from our hearts and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Remember, the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36). We must not expect it to conform to our expectations. Kingdom citizens conform themselves to the king’s will, and are eternally blessed for doing so (Romans 12:2).