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Applying the Bible: Mark 9:30-50

Steve has been a follower of Jesus for around 50 years. Below he works through some questions reflecting on Mark 9:30-50.

Big truth: True greatness is to be servant of all

Key verse: 9:35

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all”

Reflection: Jesus again teaches about his coming death and resurrection, but the disciples don’t understand. They then argue among themselves about who is the greatest, and Jesus uses this opportunity to teach them about true greatness in the kingdom of God. True greatness is to be last of all and a servant of all, not to be jostling for position, not to be full of pride or rivalry or ambition. In fact, these sins are so serious that Jesus talks in the strongest possible terms about cutting them off! Pride and rivalry and selfish ambition and self-promotion are disastrous – they make us fit only for judgment in hell, and they can even cause others to stumble too. Jesus’ followers must be different – true greatness is sacrificial service of the lowest among us.

Thinking it through:

How does Jesus’ idea of greatness challenge the world’s?

In Mark 10:45 Jesus says that he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Sacrificial service is  at the heart of how we live as Christians and in our relationships. It’s as radical as some of Jesus’ other teaching. See the Sermon on the Mount e.g. love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also. 

All this is totally contrary to a worldly way of thinking which has to do with power, status, entitlement, wealth, and self fulfilment and gratification. However we know which will last and which won’t. 1 John 2:17: “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”.

How do we model that when we are in a position of authority e.g. the boss of a business? The call then is to act fairly considerately and generously whereas the worldly way would be to use and perhaps abuse the power and control and sometimes enjoy doing so.

In a church setting ‘being at the front’ and leading in some way can be more attractive than helping with the tea and coffee and washing up week in and week out. But we need leaders See notes on ‘boss’ above but everyone needs to be valued Romans 12:16 ‘ …do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…’ Who do we associate with? To illustrate, in our previous church there was a homeless man who used to come to the evening service. It wasn’t always pleasant to be close to him but one guy (not me) always made a point of sitting next to him and talking to him.

When are we tempted to buy into the world’s way of thinking?

Speaking personally just about all the time!  Some examples:

  • When I used to preach – disappointed if no-one commended my ‘word’. 
  • Sport. I want to win and can be very competitive
  • Business/Career. I want to be successful and known as such.
  • Church life. I want to be respected and considered important.
  • House/car etc. I want them to be really nice.

Hope I still have some friends after this!

Jesus takes sin very seriously, especially the disciples’ sins of rivalry and selfish ambition in this passage. Ask God to expose and reveal ways in which we haven’t taken our sin seriously enough, and ask him for help to turn away from it.

Working it out:

What steps can you take to practically serve members of your church family, even when it’s unseen or costly?

See above. Also, get to know people, not just those who we relate to easily or can be helpful to us but also those we find difficult or awkward. Prayer needs will emerge. How can we or others in the church help? What can we share in terms of material things, time or practical help e.g. giving lifts? Practice hospitality Romans 12:13. As an example of practical assistance, Carl and Alex helped us with food deliveries during the lockdown.

What steps can you take to ‘cut off’ pride, rivalry and other sin that causes others to stumble?

A consistent daily walk with God making time to read the Bible and to pray including asking to be kept from pride etc.

Be in a prayer triplet or similar where challenges can be shared/prayed through. A prayer triplet involves commitment to meeting one or two others regularly for prayer. However to be really helpful there has to be or the development of a level of trust where there can be the sharing of concerns at a deep level knowing that sensitive confidences will be respected. Prayer triplets often don’t get there. Our older son, who is a vicar, recommends having ‘an accountability partner’ someone who knows us well and whom we know well with whom deep issues can be shared and each is ‘on call’ for the other in a time of crisis.

Listening to close family or relatives who know us well. I find that my wife (and children) are particularly good at keeping me grounded even if I don’t always appreciate what they say at the time.

Be sensitive to other people’s sensibilities e.g re alcohol.

Funny but true: If I feel I’m getting rather pleased with myself about something, I sometimes play a little jingle in my head followed by the warning ‘PRIDE ALERT’

Here’s another slightly separate thing on vv 1-3 of Psalm 1.

Apparently there was an old vine at Hampton Court Palace which for many years appeared to be dead and was ready to be dug up. One day it suddenly burst into life – its roots had reached the Thames. So it may seem sometimes that our lives are fruitless but if we continue to abide in Jesus (John 15) we will fruitful in the season He has appointed.

Praying it in:

Dear Lord. We thank you that you came to earth not as a worldly conquering king but as a defenceless child. As well as bringing salvation, you showed us a different way of living. Help us not to be double-minded, to have a foot in both camps; one with you and one with the world. We pray that we would abide in you, know how to serve you and others and bring fruit in due season. In your name we pray. Amen.


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