Have you ever noticed how fond Jesus seems to be of paradoxical statements?
"But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant."
"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
"Blessed are they that mourn..."
"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad!"
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
"But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first."
"And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant."
A lot of these sayings don't seem to make very much sense to our natural minds. But spiritually, seen from God's perspective, they make all the sense in the world.
Among these principles runs a common thread of the greatest vs. the least. And it seems clear that the qualification to being the "greatest" in Jesus's eyes is humility...servanthood...smallness.
The grandest stories are oftentimes due to the overwhelming odds facing the small protagonist. It's why we love stories like Rudy, David and Goliath, Gideon, the 300 and the Hobbit. One thing I think that draws people to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that the hero shaping huge events isn't of the great races of men, elves, dwarves, wizards or ents. It's the small, insignificant, unimpressive hobbits who are the greatest heroes.
J. R. R. Tolkien writes:
"Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."
I believe there is an essential spiritual principle we must grasp hold of here.
As I was praying a few months ago for revival, the thought that kept coming to me was that God delights in working among the simple, weak and small. That in order to have great things happen amongst us we must see ourselves as small in our own eyes. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. It brought to mind a lesson I learned in one of the first Bible studies I participated in.
We were studying the book of Romans, and as we often do, we brushed by the first couple verses to get on to the "good stuff" but the teacher stopped our reading at verse 2.
"Don't rush by this!" he cried out, passionately. "You don't realize what lessons we can learn from these verses...every word is important!"
I laughed. "So we should stop at the first word, 'Paul', and analyze it?" I asked, somewhat incredulously.
"Yes!" he insisted. "Look at what it says...'Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.' What do you know of this man?"
I briefly recounted what I knew about him. That his name used to be Saul as he persecuted the church, believing that he was doing God a service by rooting out this heresy and protecting Judaism, until God appeared to him on the road to Damascus and Saul realized that this Jesus whose followers he was persecuting was the God he claimed to serve. Saul was converted and became the greatest missionary the world has ever known, changing his name to Paul and writing two thirds of the New Testament.
"So why did he change his name?" the teacher asked.
"Do you know what those names mean?"
I shook my head.
"Paul comes from a Latin word meaning 'little'. 'Saul' comes from a Hebrew word which means 'desired'."
As he explained a light dawned in my mind. He was one of the brightest minds in the Jewish faith, training under Gamaliel. As he explained himself in a letter to the Philippian church much later in his life:
Philippians 3:4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
In terms of the flesh, his credentials in Judaism, he was aptly called, 'desired'. But when he had his revelation from God, he ceased thinking of himself as 'desired'. From then on, he started calling himself 'little'. All of his accomplishments and desirable elements faded in light of God's glory...he writes of this also:
Philippians 3:7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
It's interesting that of the two most famous Biblical figures named Saul, they seemed to have had opposite journeys. One went from Saul to Paul, but the other seems to have gone from Paul to Saul.
Saul was selected and anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king over Israel. At first he hid among the stuff, but as he grew more and more used to the kingdom, he started trusting his own judgment and several times he broke God's commands to do what he felt more expedient. When the Lord takes the kingdom away from Saul, Samuel goes to the root of the problem.
1st Samuel 15:17 And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?
Saul's success came from the Lord when he was little in his own sight. But when the success came, so did the pride and Saul grew larger in his own sight than was good for him, and the Bible says that the spirit of the Lord departed from him.
This is the danger we all face. Not to confuse God's blessings as accomplishments that come through some personal credit in ourselves. In contrast, we can see this attitude of humility in David's prayer after Nathan the prophet tells him the Lord's message that he can't build a house for God but his son will. Check out this prayer...
2nd Samuel 7:18 Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD, and he said, Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?
19 And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord GOD; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord GOD?
20 And what can David say more unto thee? for thou, Lord GOD, knowest thy servant.
21 For thy word's sake, and according to thine own heart, hast thou done all these great things, to make thy servant know them.
22 Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.
So how can we maintain the attitude of humility that is essential to walking with the Lord? I love this quote from Phillips Brooks:
"The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is."
I believe the psalmist was doing this when he proclaimed:
Psalm 8:3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?So what about you? Where are you at on the Saul-Paul scale? If you were small in your own eyes once, but now see yourself as inherently desirable, perhaps it would be wise to get into the presence of God and see what the real smallness of your greatness is! To realize where all your value comes from...and then God can use us for great things!