James and John were two brothers and disciples of the Lord. They came to him asking if Jesus would grant them to sit at his right and his left hand in his kingdom. (Verse 37) There was a lesson for them and the rest of the disciples to learn and Jesus used this discussion to show them the problems of pride and the value of humility.
Jesus responded to the two saying that they would suffer as he had suffered and go through same baptism as the Lord. But to grant their request was not for Jesus to give. (Verses 39-40) To sit at the right and left hand of the Son of God were high positions of power, authority and glory. Seeking such places of honour is a mark of pride. It is the way of the world to seek to be in power over other people and this is not the way of the Lord.
What is interesting in this scripture is that Jesus did not say they could not sit at his right or left hand. He said only that, “…it is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Verse 40)
You can ask the Lord for almost anything, but the answer may not always be “Yes.” When we ask for anything though we need to examine our own motivations. What or who is the beneficiary of the request? Is it for ourself or others? Will it bring glory to God or not? Will it help or hinder our walk? Is the request motivated by pride and arrogance or humility and love?
When we consider questions such as these it can bring some perspective to our prayers and requests of God so that we ask rightly and then have a greater chance of success in our requests. When we ask rightly we are more likely to be granted the request than if we ask in a self-seeking or arrogant and prideful manner.
Let us consider the request of James and John in the light of the questions posed above. Who benefited? James and John. Was it for themself? Yes it was. Will it bring glory to God? No it would bring glory to James and John. Would it help or hinder their walk with Christ? It could be neutral, but I would suspect if Jesus had said “Yes” they could have been trapped in pride which definitely would not help their walk. Was the request motivated by pride or humility? Pride would be at the root of a request of this nature.
As we can see, an analysis of this request suggests it is not the kind of thing we should ask of God, and the likelihood of a successful outcome would always be remote.
If we took a modern request that thousands of people in the world make of God asking him that they could win the lottery. Consider such a request in the light of the questions above and you will see it fails in every point as well.
But we see the compassion of the Lord for these two men, as well as the rest of the disciples, needed to learn this lesson. He did not get annoyed or angry with them, nor with the other disciples who became indignant at the two brothers for making such a request. Instead Jesus taught them the lesson of the Servant-Leader.
In Christ, those who are called to positions of leadership, as the two brothers were, are called to serve and not be served. In the world as a person gets promoted into leadership they rise through the ranks of an organisation and have others serve them. But in Christ as a person is given the responsibility of leadership they do not rise above others, but they move into the positions of service where they are serving others and thus working for the Lord. They may be the leaders of the church, but they are to guide, teach, counsel, preach, minister to and aid the flock. They are not meant to “fleece” the flock and use the flock as their servants, holding them in positions of bondage like a tyrant.
As Jesus himself said in verse 45, “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He provided the example for us. Jesus came to serve God, we must do the same. It is not for us to seek personal honour or glory, but to seek the glory of the Lord and God. We are working for him and as “employees” or servants of the Lord it is our responsibility not to bring the name of the Lord into disrepute, but to give him glory and honour. Thus we serve as servants for the true Master.
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