Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:10-12).
The concept of this paradox, in my mind, is quite fitting. Who is more qualified to serve, and can serve more fully than those who have become masters in that talent, ability, or position which they have been given?
Each of us have been given gifts and talents, or abilities. They come from God, for we are His offspring. Therefore, instead of mastering them and using them with the intent to glorify ourselves, or to compete with and subdue our neighbor in building our own kingdom, we should seek to employ them in selfless service; to glorify God in building the kingdom of God, and thus bettering the world, not perceivably just ourself.
You might ask or wonder what God’s kingdom is like, then. I believe it is accurately described in the words we find in the scriptures about ZION: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). Think of how better spent our talents are in satisfying the needs of many people instead of merely satisfying the vain desires and pleasures of one person (ourselves).
The underlying principle behind this paradox is that of motive or attitude. Just before Christ uttered these words to His disciples, He established this principle in their minds, using the Scribes and Pharisees as an example:
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren (Matthew 23:1-8).
These Scribes and Pharisees that Christ referred to had adopted the attitude of pride and entitlement, and thus became haughty hypocrites. Think of how this can still happen in our day if we are not careful. I feel fairly confident in saying that in times where we may obtain a higher position, or status, whether it be in societal class, fame, a promotion at work, or even a position of authority at church. Satan plays on our natural man or carnal desires to abuse that position to our own advantage, to “exalt” ourselves above others. Those who fall into this temptation are at some point “abased,” just as Jesus said, whether it be by being caught in dishonesty, fame runs out, or the inevitable dead end of unhappiness.
We must, therefore, learn to humble ourselves in the instances where we obtain the title of “master,” be that what it may. For again, as Christ taught: “he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
My mind reflects on a most fitting scriptural example of this found in the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin, a righteous Nephite King, spake the following to his people towards the end of his life:
My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.
I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man.
But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.
I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you;
Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you—
And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.
Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.
Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.
And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God (Mosiah 2:9-17).
Take note of the truth found in that concluding statement, and how it set the foundation of King Benjamin’s lifelong attitude towards his position, and ultimately to his people. And that’s not the rest of the story. Because of King Benjamin’s example of service, his people adopted that same spirit or attitude towards each other and to all people, which enabled them to prosper for generations after his death.
On the contrary, and not coincidentally, the prophet and historian, Mormon, was inspired to append the record, just chapters ahead, of a wicked King, Noah, whose story ends with a divided kingdom that eventually crumbles and falls into captivity, and his own death by fire. And all of this, why?
For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.
And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.
And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots (Mosiah 11:2-6, 14).
Can you see the stark difference between King Benjamin and King Noah?
King Benjamin became a steward. King Noah, a tyrant.
Furthermore, can you see why they were so different?
Their attitude and their perception of their position of master defined and determined who and what they became, as well as their eventual fate. Notice how this, although it be a temporal example, follows the pattern that Jesus taught, and how it can be likened to each of our own temporal and spiritual fates alike.
This pattern can also be likened to those who supposedly serve in capacities or positions in the Lord’s church. The Lord plainly explained this in a revelation given to Joseph Smith:
Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
In conclusion I refer to Christ, who is The Master, and perfect example of one who literally spent His life in our service. That is precisely how and what He taught us. He did nothing for Himself, but rather was always about His Father’s business, which was to serve us; to show and teach us a better way. We have the opportunity to read and to study His life and example in the scriptures. May we take that opportunity, and maximize it in our efforts to become like Him. As we do, our perception of our world, ourselves, and of each other will dramatically change for the better. And that is the first step to improving our world, and in developing our attitude of ZION.