Who Will Be Greatest?

Last week I talked about the folly of basing your ministry success on the worldly point of view. Related to that is a mistaken notion that troubles many Christians: that they might be way down towards the bottom rung when it comes to who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The mistake works like this. Many Christians see Billy Graham or _____________ (put the name of your favorite Christian leader here) and think, “Wow, I’m not even close to him! He’s got to be just behind the Apostle Paul as the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll be way, way down there, but at least I’m going to be higher than _____________ (put in the names of those who do less than you—you may want to use additional paper).

This perspective also motivates a lot of Christian cattiness: “Sure, he ministers a lot, but he’s wrong about _____________ ” (put in the doctrine you’re righter about here).

I often ask Christians who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Will it be Billy Graham (I vary it depending on whom I’m talking to), or will it be the woman who was abused as a child, who couldn’t go to college, who ended up working at a convalescent home, but she loves those in her charge, she faithfully cares and prays for them, and she shares the grace of God as often as she has the opportunity?

No one ever answers.

Then I say, “The answer is, I don’t know.”

That’s the right answer, right?

I mean, we don’t know which one of the two will be greater in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You see, the Lord isn’t going to evaluate us based upon the raw numbers of people witnessed to, taught, or prayed for. If that were the case, then those who spoke to the greatest number of people, or who wrote the most books, or both, would win.

What the Lord will evaluate us on is how far we got with what He gave us. In other words, we aren’t all on one ladder and those higher up are better than we and those below us, well, aren’t. Instead, in Galatians 6:3-5 we read: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” In other words, we have all been given different abilities and insights and so God’s opinion of us isn’t based upon a one-size-fits-all standard. Instead we will be judged on what we accomplish with what He gave us in the first place. Thus Jesus said, “To him who is given much, much is required.” And James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

I’ve been given some opportunities in life that others haven’t—and I’m going to be held responsible for that! (This is a very humbling and sometimes scary thought, by the way).

But this is freeing. Freeing because once I realized that I’m going to be judged based only upon what I’ve accomplished, then I’m not comparing myself with other faculty members who can’t seem to sit down at a keyboard without having another award-winning book pop out of it!

Remember that most in public ministry get a lot of worldly benefits from that ministry. I want to teach well, not only because I want to please the Lord (I wish it were so), but also because I don’t want my hearers to think I have a donkey brain. After all, you don’t get a lot of earthly kudos out of cleaning bed pans.

You see what I mean. Good things, even ministry things, done only for wrong reasons will not be rewarded (1 Cor. 13:1-3). That’s why Jesus stressed that we should not seek the praise of men.

So let’s all work hard at pleasing Jesus and not worry about who appears to be doing more for the Kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 4:5: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”

Amen.

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