Who Is Greatest Among Us?

by High Priest Jack O. Evans

Vol. 19, Number 3, Sep/Oct/Nov/Dec 2018 Issue No. 76

In Matthew 18, we read that Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). To answer their question “Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily, I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2). With this statement, Jesus implies that his disciples had not yet been converted and had not become as little children. This should cause us to ask ourselves, “Have we been converted and become as little children?”

King Benjamin said children are “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things” (Mosiah 1:120). Somehow, it seems to be in man’s nature to want to be a little better or considered greater than his neighbors or brothers. Often when people are given a title, they develop the attitude that the title allows them to exercise authority over others. When men exalt themselves, feeling that they are a necessity for the success of God’s great plan, the Lord often causes them to be set aside. The desire for selfexaltation brought strife into heaven. Lucifer sought for himself the highest place, refusing to recognize that the Spirit of the Most High is manifested in unselfish ministry. Lucifer wanted to be equal to God and to have his power. Jesus, however, “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:7–8).

Jesus went on to say, “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). We see that the greatest attribute we need in order to obtain greatness in the kingdom is humility. To be humble is characterized by modesty or meekness in behavior, attitude, and spirit. It exhibits submissive respect. Too often those of us in the church fail to humble ourselves sufficiently, but rather try to humble others through humiliation or giving them a lower status or condition.

When it comes to priesthood authority, Doctrine and Covenants 17:8–11 defines different levels of authority, from the apostle to the deacon. However, verse 12s ays, “Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon, is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost which is the one who ordains him.” Therefore, how can any priesthood member be lifted up above a brother since we all have received our authority through the same power of the Holy Ghost?

God does not look upon his priesthood as having lesser or greater authority, but considers them of equal importance, albeit there are different callings according to the gifts and talents he has given us. The sincere, contrite soul is precious in the sight of God. He places his own signet upon men, not by their rank, not by their wealth, not by their intellectual greatness, but by their oneness with Christ. “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…. but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:1–2).

President Joseph Smith III, in defense of the Reorganization as stated in the “Foundation of Reorganization,” Church History, Volume 5, page 354, states:

“The powers of government, and the ‘law, to be my law, to govern my church’ (D&C 42:16) had been conferred; divine wisdom had dictated both. The purpose for which they had been conferred had been clearly set forth; the
design unmistakably stated. Neither design nor purpose contemplated a hierarchy of priestcraft and oppression, of lust, wealth, priestly aristocracy, or power.”

Doctrine and Covenants 104:3b states, “The Melchisedec priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church, in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things.” The emphasis here should be on “to administer in spiritual things,” and not on “power and authority.” This is in agreement with the statement made by Joseph Smith III as stated above.

Doctrine and Covenants 104:4 declares, “The presidency of the high priesthood, after the order of Melchisedec, have a right to officiate in all the offices in the church.” And Doctrine and Covenants 104:7 says, “The high priest and elder are to administer in spiritual things, agreeably to the covenants and commandments of the church; and they have a right to officiate in all these offices of the church when there are no higher authorities present.”

From these scriptures we understand that the Melchisedec priesthood has authority to administer in spiritual things. The right to officiate in any office of the church says if the high priest or elder sees that the ministry of a deacon is needed, but there are no deacons available, the high priest or elder may perform that ministry. Remember that Jesus, our teacher and our example, said that, except we humble ourselves as a little child, we cannot enter the kingdom. If we are not eligible to enter his kingdom, how can we be servants (or ministers) of the King?

When Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said unto them, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests, and unto the Scribes, and they shall condemn him to death; and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify. And the third day he shall rise again” (Matthew 20:17). We are then told that the mother of Zebedee’s children (James and John) worshipped Jesus and came to him and requested that Jesus grant that her two sons sit, the one on the right hand and the other on his left, in the kingdom. “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask.” He went on to ask, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and be baptized with the baptism l am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:21). After they replied and said they were able, Jesus then said to them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is for whom it is prepared of my Father, but not mine to give” (Matthew 20:23).

When the other ten disciples heard of this conversation, they were moved with indignation against the two brothers. Quite a natural response! Two brothers seeking a place of high honor and the other ten saying, “Who do they think they are? We are as great as they are!” Jesus could see that they all had failed to learn that only the very humble would be great in his kingdom. Jesus called them aside and said, “Ye know 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 amoung you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of Man came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28).

Jesus was telling them that, in the kingdoms of the Gentiles, those that are great exercise authority over others; but for those he called to build up his church, “it shall not be so among you.” In other words, let those who would be great among you, minister unto you, and let those who would be chief, be your servants. Jesus illustrated this principle to his disciples at the last supper. “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and he began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded…. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so l am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:4–5;12–17).

At the time of Jesus, the primary mode of transportation was walking. People wore sandals to keep their feet cooler, but their feet would become hot, dirty, and sore. When they arrived at their destination, the master of the household would call his least servant to bring a basin of water and wash his guests’ feet. Now we see that Jesus took on the role of the least of the servants, a true act of humility.

If only those of us who have been called to do the Lord’s work would be as humble as the Lord who sent them! We have a hymn (Hymn 508) written by Patriarch Elbert A. Smith which captures the spirit of this message:
When the ministers of Jesus, be they small or be they great,
From the prophets to the deacons bow the knee,
Bishops, teachers, and apostles have more love and less debate,
What a strong and happy people we shall be!

The fact that one among us may not, in all things, conform to our ideas or opinions will not justify us in forbidding him to labor for God, as long as they are following the laws of God. The disciples were cautioned to not forbid others who were casting out demons in Jesus’ name for they were not to indulge in a narrow, exclusive spirit but were to manifest the same sympathy which they had seen in their Master (Mark 9:36–37). How careful we should be lest we discourage any one of God’s light bearers, and thus intercept the rays that he would shine to the world! Every soul cost an infinite price, and how terrible is the sin of turning one soul away from Christ so that, for him, the Savior’s love and humiliation and agony will have been in vain. Our Lord is put to shame by any of us who claim to serve him, but who misrepresent his character.

If one has only a profession of godliness, without the love of Christ, they have no power for good. Jesus says that the building up of his kingdom depends upon the receiving of his Spirit; then there will be no rivalry, no self-seeking, no desire for the highest place. No soul who believes in Christ, though his faith may be weak and his steps wavering, is to be lightly esteemed. By all that may give us any advantage over another, be it education and refinement, nobility of character, Christian training, or religious experience, we are indebted to those less favored; and so far as is in our power, we are to minister unto them.

If any one of these souls shall be overcome and commit a wrong against us, then it is our duty to seek his restoration. We should not wait for him to make the first effort for reconciliation. Jesus said not to judge or to condemn, thus we should make no attempt at self-justification but let all our efforts be for his recovery. A pattern was given for seeking reconciliation. Let brother deal with brother and, if this effort is unsuccessful, then “take with thee one or two more” (Matthew 18:16) with the hopes of achieving unity. If that is also unsuccessful, then the matter is to be brought before the body of believers. We interpret this to be a court in the church. As members of the church, we should unite in prayer and loving concern that the offender may be restored. He who rejects this united overture has broken the tie that binds him to Christ, and thus has severed himself from the fellowship of the church; however, he is not to be despised or neglected by his former brethren but is to be treated with tenderness and compassion. In treating the wounds of the soul, there is need of the most delicate touch and sensibility. If anyone of us neglects this duty which Christ has suggested, (of trying to restore those who are in error and sin) we become a partaker in the sin.