What were you arguing about?

Proverbs 31:10-end, James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a and Mark 9:30-37. from the Question Mark series of talks? (From Mattingley)

We had two different talks on this topic, this one was used in Mattingley and was by Jonathan Bushman.


James 4 verse 8, Come near to God and he will come near to you.

3 weeks ago Caroline and I went shopping for new Smart Phones. I had been looking forward to this for some time. What I really wanted was a Samsung S6 Edge the latest and greatest phone. However I went to the shop with my wife, who rightly challenged me on what I really needed to use the phone for. My head knew she was right and we bought a Samsung S5, a model that has been in use for at least 2 years! In doing this I saved £20 a month over 2 years. Marketers know that people want to buy the latest and best hence why they charge so much. The human condition is that we want to have the best and be the best. It is unsurprising that the disciples excited as they are about what is happening around Jesus are arguing about who is the greatest in Jesus' forthcoming Kingdom. Jesus though calls His disciples then and still today not to human made gratification and glory but to something much bigger a life of servant hood in His eternal Kingdom. This is not always easy and involves sacrifice but if we are sustained in Christ's love then great things can happen.

Who is the Greatest

The gospel reading today is set after a turning point in Mark's Gospel, Jesus has told his disciples that he will die on the cross. Jesus is preparing his disciples for this and for the life they will lead once Jesus is no longer with them. Jesus says again in Mark chapter 9 verse 31, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after 3 days he will rise.' We then read in verse 32, 'But they [the disciples] did not understand.' It is no wonder then that they had arguments. In Mark 9 verse 33, Jesus asked his disciples, 'What were you arguing about on the road?' but they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. This is not the only occasion that we read in the Gospels about the disciples arguing about greatness. Neither is it the last time we read about Christians arguing with each other. We read in James chapter 4 verse 1, 'What causes fights and quarrels among you?' James goes onto write, 'Don't they [the arguments] come from your desires that battle within you?'

This is indeed what was happening with the disciples their argument was coming from desires that battled within them. As James writes in chapter 4 verse 2, 'You covet but you cannot get what you want so you quarrel and fight.' The disciples it seems misunderstood what God's mission was all about. They had seen so much with Jesus miracles and healing and now they hear of a crunch point death and resurrection, perhaps this kingdom is going to take off there will be an overthrow of the Roman's in Judea. They started to align themselves for position, what they did not realise was that Jesus had much bigger plans that went far beyond Judea. It was not a matter of who would be the leader or in what position because Christ desperately needed each and every one of them to play their part in humility and grace. They did not understand and wanted their share of the cake for the new order.

One of the things we have to teach our 4 year old daughter is that the things really worth having in life take time and effort and patience is needed. So when we plant a sunflower seed in spring, despite her protestations it takes time to water it nourish it before the sunflower grows to its full potential. We can't plant a sunflower seed and after lunch see a sunflower. However waiting and nourishing a plant and then seeing the full flower is much more rewarding.

The disciples wanted to shortcut their way to greatness. However today they are are recognised and celebrated because they followed Christ, because they denied self and carried their cross, sometimes literally. So we too often look for shortcuts to happiness, to get to the top. We forget or do not hear our call to a wider ministry but focus on ourselves, our own well being and in the process we argue with others, fail to serve Christ and serve those in most in need in this world.

Thing Big (Jesus' Call to Servant hood)

Jesus however called the disciples to Servant hood. He says in Mark 9 verse 35, ' Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.' Jesus then took a little child, interestingly in Aramaic the word for child and the word for servant is the same. In fact there were a number of similarities between children and servants in Israel at this time. Both children and servants had no legal status they were owned by their owners and/or parents. Parents could do with their children like slave owners could do what they wanted with slaves and/or servants. Hence what Jesus is saying is radical, instead of being the greatest the disciples should approach God's Kingdom in humility as a servant of others. In Mark 9 verse 37 Jesus says, ' Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.' Jesus was turning the world upside down, he was not there to reward his followers with special positions or rewards, no, the most important people in Jesus' kingdom are those who have the least in the world. James sums this approach in the reading we had today from James chapter 3 verse 17, 'But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.'

Jesus calls us to servant hood in something much bigger than ourselves, something that will outlive our earthly lives but to which we can make a contribution. I often think of how even in our daily lives we can think small or think big. For example when it comes to the environment we can think small about what is convenient for us and helps our bank balance or think big and make that extra effort to recycle things or install those solar panels even though subsidies are being reduced. Perhaps more challengingly there can be individuals in our church with whom we really struggle and given the diverse people Jesus calls into his Kingdom it is very likely you will meet someone in your church who rubs you up the wrong way. Do we continue to serve God's kingdom and work with these people to serve the wider world and think big or do we think small about the disagreements that we might have with these individuals!

Let's be humble, let's follow the servant hood route and think big beyond ourselves about the mission Christ is calling us to.

How Can we follow

Following Jesus into servant hood, denying ourselves, thinking big about the wider cause and mission we are serving all sounds very commendable, however Christians over the centuries have struggled to live up to these ideals. It is difficult especially under pressure to see the bigger picture, to always believe that the way of servant hood is the best way. James was writing his letter to Jewish Christians who struggled who meet these ideals. James wrote in chapter 4 verses 7 and 8, 'Submit yourselves then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.'

We cannot possibly meet the high standards of behaviour and completely deny ourselves by some super human discipline. No, we need to be in Christ. We need to submit to him, and from Him will come our strength. I spent much of the last 4 years working with Bitumen, working out new ways to produce it. One of the things I found out is that the asphalt we put on a road is 95% stone and 5% bitumen. Yet the bitumen coats and strengthens every stone and infuses the whole mix. We need to be infused with God's Holy Spirit if we are to be effective servants. That's why prayer is so important, regular reading of our bible, fellowship be that in a normal church service or at Fellowship groups or mid week services whatever you do it is important to be strengthened especially if your calling is outside of normal church circles.

The disciples were of course arguing about Greatness, comparing notes if you like about themselves in the way we might compare smart phones! They had got it all wrong, we sometimes get it all wrong. Christ calls us not to be greater than other people in the eyes of the world but to think bigger than that and be servants of his Kingdom. He is and will be always there for us to support us and if we trust him, follow him then we can experience something greater than anything the world can give the joy of living in Christ's Kingdom. Amen

Jonathan Bushman, September 20th, Mattingley