“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. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44 NKJV).
The sport of kite-fighting may be, so far as I am aware, unique to South Asia and near-by regions. In other countries flying kites is a leisurely activity of spring where participants and spectators enjoy mild weather and the beauty of colorful kites playing in the breeze. No so in South Asia. There youths will gather and compete in attempts to cut the strings of competitors’ kites by flying their own into them. The last kite flying belongs to the winner. It can be a fierce and even ruthless contest.
Humanity’s competitive nature constantly amazes me. We will contest anything. Many of our hobbies are competitive sports where we strive to beat our friends or competitors. But that is only the beginning. We want to exceed others in academics, our jobs, our knowledge – literally in every sphere of activity. Each wants to be the best, get to the top, or win the prize.
In some ways this is good. The desire for excellence is an essential to human achievement. The race may not always go to the runner with the most talent, but rather to the one who desires it the most. We depend upon that competitive spirit as motivation, and it often is the difference in success and failure.
But, like every other characteristic, the desire to be the best can lead to excess, corruption, and many evils. How often do we read of cheating in athletics? Use of illegal drugs, violation of rules, even attacks upon competitors, make headlines regularly. Some will seemingly do almost anything to win. This is true in the political arena as well as in academics, professions, and even religion.
One is hard pressed to decide which of Jesus’ many teachings is the hardest, in terms of putting it into practice. Trusting God to provide while seeking his kingdom is difficult (Matthew 6:33). Turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) goes against our instinct for survival. And of course the golden rule – “Therefore whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12) – goes against the selfishness seemingly natural to all.
But perhaps the single most difficult command Jesus gave is that in Mark 10:42-44. In his kingdom, among his followers, there is to be no striving for mastery. None. Zero.
No one is to seek to be first or to become the “boss.” Rather, all are to try only to serve others, to be as helpful to the weak and needy as they can be. Any personal achievement or recognition will come as serendipity – a blessing given by God according to his will, at his discretion. One cannot win by trying to win.
The key to understanding and submitting to this principle is realizing that in Christ’s kingdom “winning” has an entirely different meaning than in most other realms. We do not compete with others for a single or limited number of prizes. Each one seeks only to please God, to achieve fellowship with him. That is awarded on the basis of his criteria, and by his grace.
Like the hypocrites of old, we seek the favor and applause of other people (Matthew 6:2). And like them, any such reward we receive will be temporary and insufficient. True exaltation is given only by God, and it is given to those who humbly serve. That is the prize for which we must strive. And we should encourage and help all others to reach the same goal.