“The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore, stop contention before a quarrel starts.”  Proverbs 17:14

“And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers…..”  Matthew 20:24

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…..Yet it shall not be so among you…..whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave…”  Matthew 20:25-27

Have you ever knocked a glass of water or drink over on a table with things like books, or some cloth decoration or papers on it?  If you have then you know as soon as the water hits the table, it starts to spread and no matter what you do to herd or guide it away from the books, paper or decoration, it goes where it goes and is very hard to channel it in the way you want it to go. In Proverbs 17, Solomon is saying that the beginning of strife is like that.  Like the spilt water, strife is going to flow where it will, often damaging many things we are desperately trying to protect it from.

So how do we keep strife in check?  Solomon gives us a hint when he extols us to stop contention before it can be started.  Looking at that word contention  in Dictionary.reference.com tells us that it means a struggling together in opposition and a striving in rivalry, competition or contest.  We see this rivalry and competition played out amongst the disciples.  It is interesting that, one, there are several examples of this striving throughout their time with Jesus and two, this particular example that Matthew chronicles happens right at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry as He is approaching Jerusalem, getting ready to enter on the donkey.

The disciples had been with Jesus over three years.  They had not only heard Him preach and teach about being a servant and being humble before God, but had seen Jesus be humble on so many different occasions.  Yet here we have two of Jesus’ disciples, two that had been with Him the longest, John and James, wanting to be placed in positions of great power; to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in the Kingdom of God.  Now whether the subject was first broached by the two brothers or by their mother is irrelevant.  It is clear the two wanted it.  More yet, they felt in some sense, that these positions were right for them to have.  Well you can imagine that the other 10 disciples had some thoughts on that subject; both in terms of the perhaps questionable worthiness of James and John, plus their own personal righteousness to be placed in those two special positions.  Scripture tells us they were greatly displeased at the two brothers.

Jesus was also displeased but not for the reason we might suppose.  You might think He would primarily be displeased at the arrogant nature of John and James and be on the side of the other 10.  Instead, Jesus is displeased by the entire display; not only John and James, but the other 10’s response to them.  You see they had been with Jesus for three long years and had shared every manner of His ministry with Him.  Yet even now, even at the end; none of the 12 disciples truly understood the nature of greatness; the overarching power in being a servant.  In today’s language they did not get why Jesus had come.  So Jesus sets them, as well as us today, straight on this position and power thing.

Sadly, not much has changed in a few thousand years.  For today, everywhere you look there is striving, there is contention.  We are spilling out the water of contention which is leading to strife in and between countries, in our businesses and even in our very families as well as within and most sadly in our very churches, which we proclaim are churches of Christ.  So often this strife is coming from our contention, our striving to be seen as first; to win the title of best, to be heralded as the greatest.  In each of these strivings, we approach the situation to quote a line from the movie Highlander -“In the end there can be only one!”. This is the way and the message of the world that we all too often buy into.

Jesus sets all the disciples and again, us, today straight.  In using the word Gentiles, Jesus is contrasting the rest of the world to His ministry, His methodology and what should be the actions of those will follow Him.  Jesus states that in the Gentile world, those who are rulers, those who have won the contention, those who, through their striving are recognized as the greatest, lord it over everyone else.  Yet the One who is the Only True Lord, says that is not the way to be.  As in Jesus and through Jesus, those who would strive to be great, instead of being able to lord that greatness over others, instead must use their greatness in service to others as a servant!  If want to be first, you must allow yourself, be content with, being the slave of the other. Ouch!!!!  Jesus is getting a little out of hand here isn’t He?  Jesus doesn’t really mean what He’s saying does He?  Well, seven short days from the day He talked about being a servant, the King of Kings would humbly fulfill His service to all of us by dying on the cross for us.

Here’s the thing Dear Sisters and Brothers with all this striving and contending.  We’re all equal.  We are all created in God’s image and we’re all fallen.  We all need the Grace of Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice to be made clean and be allowed to come into the presence of Our Heavenly Father.  As Paul, inspired by the Spirit wrote; we are all given different talents.  Within those talents we will have different positions, with some of those positions being those of leadership.  However, regardless of the position, there is nothing within that position that makes one more righteous, more worthy, more allowing for lording, than any other.  There is truly only one thing to strive for and that is to be more like Jesus Christ.  Of course here’s where the world and Satan come into the picture.  For Satan will try to change that striving from a personal growth process into a contention process of am I getting more like Christ than you are!  Silly me if I go there.

Thus, through the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ, let us contend together against this world, its prince and his message.  Let us strive to be more like Jesus Christ in desiring to be a servant.  The more we’re able to do those things, the less contention we’ll have in countries, our workplace, our families, our churches and yes, even in our very being.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we live in a world where contention is not only a way of life, but is rewarded in many worldly ways.  We confess, Dear Father, that we often fall into the temptation to strive and contend against our brother and sister to be seen as worldly great and be served.  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would see the glory and righteousness in being the humble servant.  That our striving would be to be more like Your Blessed Son, Our Savior Jesus Christ, contending with the message of the world and seeing success in serving our neighbor, our brother and sister and lifting them above us.  Give to us a joyful heart and blessings as we serve that the world would see the power in true service and give Glory and Praise to Your Most Holy Name for the service being provided.  This we pray in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen