Did you know chickens have a social hierarchy? It’s where we get the phrase “pecking order.” The order is determined by pecking. The stronger and healthier chickens bully the weaker ones into submission, accompanied by a lot of squawking.
People have a pecking order too. On more than one occasion, the disciples argued about which of them was the greatest. In today’s passage, they asked Jesus to settle the matter. His answer shows that Jesus’ standard of greatness is radically different from ours. While we assess greatness based on prominence or achievement, for Jesus, humility is its true measure.
To make His point, Jesus called a little child to him and warned, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 2). Jesus was talking about status. To become like a child means to “take the lowly position” (v. 4). Children have no power or status. Similarly, the quest for position has no place in the church. During the Last Supper, Jesus would model this by taking the role of a servant and washing the disciples’ feet. He reminded them that in His kingdom, the one who wants to be greatest will be like the youngest.
The fight over pecking order has long been a temptation for the church. One of the first conflicts in the New Testament church happened when one group of widows was given preference over another (Acts 6:1). James warned believers not to play favorites by giving the wealthy special treatment (James 2:1–9). Paul criticized the Corinthian church because the poor were being overlooked at the fellowship meal which was associated with their observance of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20–22).
>> The greatest in God’s kingdom are not who we think. They are the ones who choose the path of humility. In the church, the truly great are those who serve like their Savior. If you aspire to greatness, find someone to serve in Jesus’ name.
Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Today’s Scripture is a reminder of God’s view of greatness. As you pray, ask God to show you what Jesus’ warning in Matthew 18 to “change and become like little children” means to you personally.