Clamoring for Greatness: Confessions from Someone who Struggles with Insecurity and Pride

by Adam McClendon April 28, 2021

Luke 22:20–24: And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

We read in horror as Jesus predicts his betrayal. Immediately, we see the disciples questioning whether they would be “the one” to carry out this egregious act. However, it seems their concerns are short-lived. Luke explains that, shortly after that, these same disciples get into an argument with one another. Yes, they are arguing with one another during their last meal with Jesus. The meal was a place of fellowship and acceptance. The meal was an important time in that culture, but this was no ordinary meal. This was a meal during the time of the Passover and their last meal with Jesus. So, what were they arguing about?

They were arguing about which of them was the greatest. They are clamoring for cultural class status. “Which of us is the most important? Which of us is the highest class and most worthy? Which of us deserves the best seat and most honor?”

Jesus has repeatedly told them that he is going to die as the suffering servant and that they too are called to a life of service (Matt 20:26–28; Mark 8:31, 34–36). Jesus has just discussed the fact that one of them is a betrayer (Luke 22:22). This betrayer abides in their midst and will act against them to try and sabotage the ministry of Christ. Furthermore, the other disciples are going to let it all happen. They are ignorant of the proximity of the enemy. They are ignorant of the urgency of the moment. They are ignorant of the magnitude of the threat. At the same time, they are consumed with self. They are consumed with status. They are consumed with a desire for superiority.

As I read the irony of their dispute, I’m sickened. I’m sickened by their blindness. I’m sickened by their lack of compassion for Jesus. I’m sickened by their lack of sensitivity to the moment. I’m sickened that they are missing important conversation with Christ in order to indulge in petty conversation with one another.

Yet, if I’m honest, I’m most sickened because I see “me” in the text. I see that, all too often, my heart longs for the promotion of self. I, all too often, allow the voice of my ego to drown out the voice of my Savior.

In reflecting on this dysfunctional display by the disciples, I’m brought face to face with my own broken and misaligned desires. To help me better think about my heart and my desires, to seek to bring every “thought” (and motive) captive to better obey Jesus (2 Cor 10:5), I’ve created this list of questions. I pray that you too will find them helpful.

  • Do I first listen with an attentive heart ready to learn for personal application when I’m in God’s Word or is my mind on how I can use this text to teach others?
  • Do I focus my mind on the text of Scripture when I’m studying or is my mind on my next task that might bring about my next accomplishment?
  • Do I primarily mine the Bible for personal truth to be consumed like honey or do I mine the Bible for sermons, blogs, and tweetable material?
  • Do I ever call to check up on someone simply because of the status that person holds and the future opportunities it might bring me?
  • Do I try to make myself look better than I am in front of others?
  • Do I think I’m better than others?
  • Do I think my ministry is more or less significant than someone else’s based on numeric and worldly standards?
  • Do I listen to other pastors or denominational leaders and feel the pull of envy or pride? Does my heart hunger for prominence and power?
  • Do I find myself feeling proud when another leader stumbles and morally falls?
  • Are my ministry goals focused more on worldly success than shepherding well and following the voice of Jesus daily?

I wonder, how often do I miss a moment with Jesus because my attention is so fixed on myself? I wonder how much of my effort is spent trying to convince others I’m significant? I’m sickened by the fact that my heart often longs for significance over service.

But, I’m also grateful that God is a redeeming and purifying God. While I may struggle with desires for self, I’m thankful that in Christ, I do not have to give in to those desires. I’m thankful that he is renewing me and maturing me. By the power of the Spirit of Christ in my life, I can resist these desires for prominence and choose to walk in humility (1 Cor 10:13; Gal 5:16). So, this list of questions is a check-up for me. It’s a way for me to examine my life and seek to submit my life more fully to the Lord. It is a way for me to fight in this life (1 Tim 6:11-12) while I await the full redemption my Savior will bring at the end of the age when he removes all insecurity and pride from me.

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