Lessons in Humility and Love
by Ellen White
ON one occasion, as Jesus was journeying with His disciples, the twelve disputed among
themselves as to which of their number should be greatest. They thought that Jesus, as the
promised Messiah, would set up an earthly kingdom, and reign in Jerusalem on the throne of
His father David; and John was no less anxious than His brethren to secure the highest
place in that kingdom. The disciples did not intend their words to reach the ears of their
Master; but He knew their hearts, and embraced this opportunity to give them a lesson in
When they were come into the house, Jesus asked, "What was it that ye disputed
among yourselves by the way?" Mark 9:33. The presence of Jesus, and His question, put
the matter in an entirely different light from that in which it had appeared to them while
they were contending by the way, and they held their peace. They could now see that
selfishness and pride of heart were at the foundation of their desire for the
pre-eminence. It is no wonder that shame and self-condemnation kept them silent. But a
little while before, Jesus had told them that He was to die for their sakes, and their
selfish ambition was in painful contrast to His unselfish love.
When Jesus told them that He was to be put to death, and rise again the third day, He
designed to awaken their interest, and draw them out to converse with Him on this subject;
but, wholly engrossed in their own selfish and ambitious hopes and plans, they failed to
comprehend Him, and they let this golden opportunity to obtain definite knowledge
concerning the great test of faith which awaited them, pass unimproved. Had this important
truth deeply impressed their minds, they would have been saved much anguish and despair.
Jesus would have spoken to them words that would have afforded consolation and hope in
their hour of bereavement and keen disappointment.
There was a radical defect in the characters of the chosen twelve, which must be
pointed out and remedied. And Jesus "sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto
them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his
arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name,
receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent
me." Verses 35-37. Those who possess the spirit of Christ will have no desire to
occupy a position above their brethren; and those who are small in their own eyes are the
ones who will be accounted great in the sight of God.
This lesson was not lost upon John. He saw his character in a new light. An act was
brought to his mind which he had supposed was right, but which he now began to question.
"Master," said he, "we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he
followeth not us; and we forbad him." Verse 38. James and John had thought that in
forbidding this man to work miracles in the name of Christ, they had had their Lord's
honour in view; but they began to see that they had been influenced by wrong apprehensions
and a jealous desire for self-preferment. They acknowledged their mistake, and meekly
accepted the mild reproof of Jesus: "Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall
do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us
is on our part." Verses 39-40.
But though so willing to make a personal application of the lessons of Jesus, James and
John were by no means ready to abandon their ambitious designs. Soon after this,
accompanied by their mother, they came to Jesus with the petition that they might be
permitted to occupy the position of greatest honour in His kingdom. Jesus answered them,
"Ye know not what ye ask." Matthew 20:22. He knew the infinite sacrifice that
awaited Him; that before the kingly throne there was to be humiliation and shame, and the
agonising death of the cross. And yet He would willingly endure the terrible ordeal for
the sake of seeing souls saved in His kingdom to enjoy untold bliss throughout the
ceaseless ages of eternity.
This was the joy that was set before Christ, the glory that He was to receive, and that
the two disciples had unwittingly requested to share. Jesus asked them, "Are ye able
to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am
baptised with?" Ibid. Little did they comprehend the bitter cup of which their Lord
spoke, or realise the fiery baptism; but they fearlessly responded, "We are
able." Ibid. Jesus said unto them, "Ye shall indeed drink of my cup, and be
baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my
left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my
"And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two
brethren." Verses 23-24. They were not less anxious than James and John to secure the
chief places in the kingdom of Christ; they were therefore angry with the two brothers for
taking, as they thought, an undue advantage. Aware of their ambition and their resentment,
Jesus reasoned with them. "Ye know," he said, "that the princes of the
Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon
them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be
your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant."
Verses 25-27. There was to be a difference between His kingdom and the kingdoms of the
world. "The princes of the Gentiles" were ambitious, and sought for place and
power; but their course in this respect resulted from false ideas of greatness and the
pride of the human heart. Among the disciples of Christ an entirely different state of
things was to exist. One was not to aspire to dominion over his brethren, and to seek to
be lord over God's heritage.
"Even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give
his life a ransom for many." Verse 28. He, their Master, had set them an example of
unselfish care for others. He was Lord of Heaven, and angels obeyed His word; yet He
condescended to take upon Himself the weaknesses and infirmities of human nature, to live
man's example and to die his sacrifice. He did not, while upon earth, choose for Himself
wealth and honour and pleasant associations; but His life was spent among humble peasants
in ministering to the wants of the needy and the afflicted. He did not shrink from contact
with the most degraded and sinful; He preached the good news of pardon and peace to all
who would accept it on Heaven's gracious and liberal terms. And in their ministry the
disciples were to follow His example.
The great lesson which Jesus taught on these occasions is thus expressed by the apostle
Paul: "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring
one another." Romans 12:10. The disciples were in a school in which Christ was
Teacher; and those who were willing to see their own defects, and were anxious to improve
in character, had ample opportunity. They were constantly receiving line upon line,
precept upon precept, showing them that meekness, humility, and love were essential to
growth in grace, and to a fitness for the work upon which they were soon to enter.
The instruction that Christ gave was not designed merely for the little group that
listened to His words, but was recorded for the benefit of all His followers to the close
of time. The truths He unfolded are of universal application, and should deeply impress
our hearts; for they were never more needed than at the present time. The desire for place
and power was never stronger; and there are many who think of others only to plan to
advantage themselves at their neighbour's expense.
The people of God should be firmly united in love, strengthening one another against
temptations and trials; but how often Satan diverts the mind to selfish objects. He knows
our wrong traits of character, and he takes advantage of every opportunity to arouse them
to activity. He excites contention, and leads professed Christians to seek for the
supremacy, while through pride and self-esteem he blinds their eyes to their own defects
of character. While the disciples were contending among themselves as to which of them
should be greatest, they little thought that Jesus heard them; but He read their hearts,
and understood their ambitious desires. Just so it is at the present time. Jesus is
weighing the character of every individual. If our motives are not pure, if our desire to
please self is stronger than our desire for righteousness or to glorify God, we may rest
assured that nothing is hidden from His eye, and that the desires of our hearts, as well
as the acts of our lives, will be considered in the Judgement.
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and
with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto
it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:37-39. Signs of the Times, January 15, 1885.