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Overcoming the Disease of More

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 17:24–27; 18:1–14; Mark 9:33–50; Luke 9:46–50

To be humble is to follow the example of our Lord and Savior. That means putting aside self-interest and petty jealousies. It also means seeing faithful believers as coworkers, not competitors, and rejoicing in their service for the Lord.


Former professional basketball coach Pat Riley popularized the expression “the disease of more.” Over the years he noticed that most championship teams rarely won the championship the next year; it seemed that once players won the championship, they wanted more money, more endorsements, more attention, more playing time. The basketball players began focusing on themselves, and team chemistry was destroyed; and even the most talented teams ended up losing.[1] That is true in life as well, isn’t it? We are easily infected with the disease of more—always wanting more for ourselves.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are about to show us what it looks like when disciples begin to focus on themselves. Matthew was a former tax collector, and he is the one who pays close attention to what happens next, in chapter 17 of his Gospel. Peter is approached by the collectors of the temple tax in verse 24 and asked, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” Peter answers “Yes” in verse 25, apparently based on what he’s seen to be Jesus’ practice.

Well, Jesus apparently saw or heard this encounter, because a few minutes later, Jesus speaks to Peter:

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.” (verses 25-26)

In other words, rulers demand taxes from the people while their own families are free from taxation. Jesus’ point here is interesting: since this particular tax is for the temple, and since His Father is Lord of the temple, then He—the Son of God—is not obligated to pay the tax. That is pretty clever—but Jesus continues in verse 27:

“However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Jesus is not teaching us that we ought to go fishing to find our tax money—although that would be a great reason to spend more time out on the water. What He is teaching here is the principle that we ought to be willing to relinquish our rights so that others are not offended. The Lord also teaches Peter—and us—that God can take care of our needs.

Now with that, Luke 9:46 tells us what happens next: “An argument arose among them [the twelve disciples] as to which of them was the greatest.” And notice this: they are not arguing about who will become the greatest, but who is the greatest among them. Being a close disciple of Jesus has gone straight to their heads! They have had some trophy-winning experiences, and now look at them: they are argumentative, competitive, self-seeking, ambitious, self-righteous. It has become all about them!

I am really grateful that the Lord does not kick them off His team and assemble a new one. The gracious Lord is willing, as always, to work with flawed, sinful, proud followers and continue to teach them and mold them. And beloved, that gives you and me hope and encouragement.

He will rebuke them, but He will not abandon them. He is going to teach them a wonderful spiritual principle, and here it is: If you want to be somebody, you need to be a nobody. When you recognize you are a nobody, He will make you into a somebody—for His glory and not your own.

I have said it before, but I will quote Martin Luther, the reformer, once again; he said, “The Lord created the world out of nothing; and when we are nothing, the Lord will create something out of us as well.”

Now look at verses 47-48:

Jesus ... took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

Jesus is effectively redefining what a championship team player looks like. This is true greatness. The Greek word for “child” here is paidion—think kindergartner. Jesus is not saying that if you are nice to children you get into heaven.[2] He is saying to His disciples, “How you act toward this child will reveal whether you understand the meaning of true greatness.”

This goes against the traditional thinking of the day. The Talmud—the central text of rabbinic Judaism—said that keeping company with children added nothing to a person’s life; it was essentially a waste of time. And that is because greatness to the rabbis was defined by the company you kept; if you were significant, you would keep company with significant people.[3] You are not going to give attention or time to kids running in the streets or around your back yard.

You see, Peter, James, and John undoubtedly thought they were most significant because of their closer association with Jesus. These three disciples had even been with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah. What more could they possibly need to be considered great?

But Jesus basically says here, “No, if you receive a child—if you associate with someone who is small and weak and cannot make any contribution of significance to your resume, then you are on your way to true greatness.”

Luke then moves on to another event where the pride of the disciples is revealed again:

John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” (verses 49-50)

Here is someone successfully casting out demons, and the disciples want to stop him. Why? Well, because he is not one of them; he is not on their team, so to speak.

In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that this man is a believer in Jesus. So, he is doing the Lord’s work, he is doing it in the name of the Lord, he is succeeding in delivering the oppressed, and he is evidently doing it with the Lord’s delegated power.[4]

But he has not been sanctioned by the club; he has not gotten an official permit from the office of the twelve disciples.[5] He is outside their little team circle. But evidently, he is more successful than they are—remember, they had recently failed to cast out a demon! Simply put, the disciples are jealous. They want to shut this man down because he is showing them up.

I can just hear their arguments: “He’s not been around the Lord like we have; he’s not been vetted like we have been; he wasn’t chosen to be disciples like we were. Surely, he cannot be used by God!” But he is.

Both Matthew and Mark record strong words from Jesus, warning against becoming a stumbling block in the way of those who are seeking to follow Him. Jesus repeats words from His Sermon on the Mount, stressing that His followers must avoid causing spiritual harm to fellow believers.   

How do you treat people who are not like you in every respect? I am not talking about doctrinal truths; I am talking about personal opinions. How do you feel when God seems to bless someone else instead of you? How do you respond when others seem to outshine you in their service for the Lord? Those feelings and responses are evidences of the disease of more—I want more attention, more fame, more success.

The disease of more is cured as we focus on following the Savior who willingly sacrificed everything He deserved to give us something we don’t deserve. He gave up His rights so that we could claim an eternal right—the right to become children of God.

[1] Mark Manson, “Pro Basketball Coach Exposes the ‘Disease of More,’” cited in Sermon Illustration,

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume 1 (Crossway, 1998), 366.

[3] Ibid., 364-65.

[4] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Luke (Zondervan, 2012), 247.

[5] Ivor Powell, Luke’s Thrilling Gospel (Kregel, 1984), 239.

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