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Sheridan: God’s Kingdom not about competition


Matthew 18:1 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ ”

Rivalry for supremacy infiltrates every part of our American culture. Most people want to be on top, win the prize, or get the advantage. Sadly, this desire even occurs in Christian circles. But Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of Heaven is not about competition. It’s about faith and love!

I am not a competitive person. Just ask anybody who knows me! I start playing a game and as soon as the heat gets cranked up, I shut down or back out. I don’t like the pressure, and it feels very uncomfortable when I realize someone’s unspoken attitude (or clearly stated taunts) towards me is “You’re going down!”

Yet many people love a strong sense of competition, and it pops up everywhere. When students enter high school, an emphasis is placed on grades and accomplishments. Who will have the highest GPA? Who will be the MVP of the team? Which musician gets the first chair?

Sadly, the rivalry doesn’t stop once you walk across the stage at graduation. Business people seek to get ahead and neighbors race to keep up with or surpass the Jones family next door.

But the worst type of competition is the one that takes place amongst God’s people. Within the church doors, believers often have unspoken desires to move up the ladder of influence, to attain upfront leadership positions, or to garner respect because of their outward displays of propriety. This is not a new problem in Christian circles. This sense of spiritual competition first reared its ugly head with Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus spent months teaching His disciples about God’s heavenly kingdom and revealing His identity as the Son of God, the King of Heaven. As the disciples began to grasp the reality of Who He was, He also began to make them aware of His impending death and resurrection.

As the group of disciples mulled over all these conflicting thoughts, they wondered about how this heavenly kingdom would be organized. True to human nature, their competitive sides came out, and they discussed amongst themselves a burning question.

Finally, they decided to come right out and ask Jesus for the answer. “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus, using an object lesson to redirect their misplaced mindset, set a little child before them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Jesus wanted His disciples to see that their self-centered attitudes went against the character of true kingdom citizens. Instead of getting caught up in competition, they must have the humble, trusting attitude of a child. Children don’t compete for their place in the family, but humbly come to their father for everything and begin to emulate his attitudes and actions.

Genuine kingdom citizens are born from above. The Gospel of John records Jesus saying to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Genuine kingdom citizens also imitate their King Who humbled Himself by coming to this earth. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give Himself a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The disciples’ worldly mindset and Jesus’ response remind us that we cannot win our way into the kingdom or climb the ladder of success the way the world does. “[It is] by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Just as a child looks trustingly to his father to provide and protect, we must look to our heavenly Father for salvation and life. When we do, He promises us a place in His kingdom where He will transform us into His image. The proof of this transformation unfolds as we love others, putting them first rather than competing against them.

Competition, while part of the fiber of our earthly culture, has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. The greatest in this spiritual paradigm are not those who trample others to win. Instead, it’s those who put childlike faith in the heavenly Father and then love and serve others as He does!



Sandra Sheridan is a midwest wife and mother of five. She shares her letters to her children with our readers. Visit her at www.VersesFromMama.com.