Enslaved by Entitlement

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ebe-thumbWho Wants to Be a Millionaire? was for many years a popular television game show. I would guess that most people would want to be a millionaire. But as I recently read the Gospel of Luke, I concluded that perhaps an even more popular show might be called, Who Wants to Be the Greatest?

As I read Luke 9, I was struck once again by the stark appearance of what was both a selfish and an insensitive question. In v. 46 we read, “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them should be the greatest.” What a question! How could they ask such a self-serving thing? But then I found myself deeply convicted as I realised that, all too often, this is how I approach life: I too want to be “the greatest.” All too often, I desire to be served rather than to serve. I am too eager a contestant.

Such a pursuit has characterised humanity since man’s fall in the Garden. Yes, even those who have experienced the gospel struggle with this selfish pursuit. And such competition is anything but a lighthearted game. In fact, it can be enslaving, if not ultimately deadly to the soul.

We should note that the disciples actually asked this question on two different occasions. In spite of being admonished by the Lord about the folly of such a pursuit, they once again faced conflict over this question. In fact, on the next occasion James and John got their mother involved (see Matthew 20:20–28)!

In each case, the disciples asked this ugly question in the context of the Lord having just spoken of His impending betrayal, arrest, beating and crucifixion. He also mentioned His resurrection.

It would seem that the disciples believed the resurrection, for they were keen to know their position in the Lord’s kingdom upon His resurrection-sealed victory. We can commend them for their initial faith that Jesus would rise from the dead. However, the timing of their question about greatness highlights their insensitivity to the Lord’s impending suffering, and higlights their ignorance of the fundamental purpose of our Lord. He clarifies this in Matthew 20:28: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” If the disciples would embrace this paradigm then all selfish ambitions for greatness would go out the window. This is our need as well.

If you approach the Christian life, particularly with reference to church life, with the mindset that we are entitled to be served, then be sure that you will find yourself enslaved by discontent and perhaps even bitterness. After all, you will reason that if others refuse to acknowledge your greatness then they must be the problem.

Now, all of those who have been perfectly sanctified may skip this paragraph, but having been a member of the same church for nearly 21 years, I know the temptation towards a disposition of entitlement. I know the tendency to excuse a selfish attitude with sentiments like, “Well, I have served for so long; certainly it is their turn to serve me.” Have you ever wrestled with that? Perhaps the longer that you are in a local church the more tempted you will be towards such thoughts of entitlement. But let me caution you with the corrective that I preach to myself: Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. A contemplation of the cross is a sure antidote to selfish and enslaving thoughts of entitlement.

It is true that you will serve others who will thoughtlessly take you for granted. You will minister to people in the time of their need who may not give you a second thought when you are in need. You may experience deep disappointment at the hands of those that you love. In fact, you may experience what Paul expressed: “The more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). But does this strike a familiar note with you? Did not Jesus give of Himself—literally—only to be despised and rejected of men? After three years of selfless ministry to the Twelve, did they not all forsake Him at His time of greatest sorrow and need? We answer with a sombre, “Oh me! Amen.” Yet note that Jesus loved these disciples to the end—and beyond. He took the initiative to restore them and to reorient them after His resurrection. He did not take His things and leave them to fend for themselves. No, and a thousand times no! He kept serving them—even in His glorified body. And He still does so today on behalf of His present-day disciples as He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.

One is compelled to ask, why? Or perhaps better, how did Jesus continue to serve those who were so self-centred? How did He maintain His joy even as He served the ungrateful? What empowered Him to serve to the point of giving His life for rascals who dishonoured Him? How did He avoid the sense of entitlement that ultimately breeds bitterness? Simply, He was secure in the Father’s love and in who He was.

Volumes could be (and have been) written on this subject, but I merely want to scratch the surface with this observation: We will be delivered from the enslaving power of entitlement to the degree that we are basking in God’s everlasting love for us. As Rick Warren has observed,

Only secure people can serve. Insecure people are always worrying about how they appear to others. They fear exposure of their weaknesses and hide beneath layers of protective pride and pretensions. The more insecure you are, the more you will want people to serve you, and the more you will need their approval.

So, find your security in Jesus Christ. By continually looking to our Saviour, who gave His life as a ransom for us, the shackles of the hard taskmaster of entitlement will loose its painful grip. Truly to know, and to follow, the example of the one who is the truth will make us free indeed.

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