Sibling rivalry can be a very unpleasant thing. It divides families, straining relationships beyond the family, and leaving scars that linger for a life time. The reasons for this are as complex as the situations in which they arise. But the pain they cause because the parties involved demand a place of importance in the family is life shattering. The tragedy is that such division can become violent, life-threatening, emotionally traumatic, and disempowering. Those caught in the midst of such rivalry often fail to see the hurt they inflict on others, and those who eventually see it, have no other choice but to walk away from their families or fear being consumed by such behaviour.
Tragically, such behaviour also exists in the church as well. For whatever reason, people see the church as a place to claim some sort of personal authority. They see it as a place where they can assert their “greatness” in the world. Such people cause similar wounds and pain upon the family of God as any form of sibling rivalry. They divide communities, place Pastors under all forms of spiritual and emotional, even physical, abuse. The search for power is a dangerous and destructive thing, especially in the church itself.
So when the disciples ask Jesus “who is the greatest in the kingdom of God”, Jesus places a child in their midst and answers, “anyone who humbles themselves like this child.” The condemnation he places upon those who engage in power plays of superiority in the church, who lead others to sin, is severe. While acknowledging temptations come, it is the one who brings them, and scatters the sheep because of them, that has most to fear. But Jesus’ intent toward these humbled ones, the lost sheep, the child, is never to lose them. He seeks out the one who was lost over and above the others who are found. Jesus’ heart is always a missional heart. This same heart lies at the structure of church discipline, whose aim is not to divide the church but to save the lost one and restore him/her to a place of childlike humility within the family of God.
As church, we have a great onus placed upon us to remain humble before God. Every time we gather as a family in worship, we place ourselves under the awesome majesty of our Father in heaven, whom the angels see, and whom he sends to watch over and care for us. When we place ourselves under the shadow of the cross, when we dine at the table of the Lamb, we can’t help to be humbled. But we can’t help but to be stirred deep inside for the lost sheep who are not with us as a family in the life of our community. There is no space for people seeking importance in the church. The only ones of great importance are the ones lost, waiting for us to go with the Spirit and find them.
The world, now more than ever, needs to see a church that is humble and at ease in the presence of the Father’s watchful care. We need to not be seduced by the power games the world is playing, and refuse to allow them in our own midst. For such rivalry is simply destructive, and disempowering. Instead, let us as church be humble, and in that humility allow the Spirit to declare to the world that to be truly a family, one has to let go of oneself and cling to Jesus.