It’s Wednesday, August 10, 1994. You are a passenger aboard flight 2033 from Seoul, South Korea to the resort island of Cheju. You and 151 fellow-vacationers are looking forward to a much- needed rest.
The jetliner is only moments from touchdown. You glance out the thick, two-ply window. The plane is scarcely 30 feet off the ground, but it’s obviously moving far too fast. The runway is soaked from a local tropical storm and wind shear is making the landing all-the-more precarious. When the aircraft does reach the earth, it is more than 1,700 meters beyond the landing threshold. A harrowing, split second later the plane crashes through a guard post and then slams into the airport safety barricade. You are terror-stricken.
The two cockpit occupants escape out the nearest window. With the assistance of the six-member cabin crew, you and your seat-mates escape only moments before the plane is engulfed in flames.
A Transportation Ministry investigation reveals the incredible news. The flight was on final approach when a conflict arose between the Captain and co-pilot. That’s right, a conflict! The real reason for the crash wasn’t because of the inclement weather, but because of a clash of wills.
Co-pilot, Chung Chan-kyu, asked Captain Barry Woods numerous times whether he wanted to “go around.” (Chan-kyu was convinced that there was not sufficient distance for the Airbus to land safely without crossing the end of Runway 6). When Woods said, “No,” Chan-kyu grabbed the throttles to take control. The two argued and scuffled as the plane hurtled toward the ground. Transcripts from the flight report that the Captain shouted, “No!” “No!” and “What are you doing?! Don’t… Wait, man… You’re gonna kill us!”
As I read the story, I found myself wondering aloud, “Who was in charge of the plane…?!” Only one of the pilots had the right to land the craft, but neither would relinquish his power.
“Who’s going to be first?” “Who’s going to land the plane?” That sounds a lot like the apostles to me. They fussed over the same fundamental issue. When Jesus announced that He would “be betrayed into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44), the twelve began a verbal “tussle” over who would take charge when he was gone. The text says, “Then an argument arose among them as to who should be greatest” (Luke 9:46, Phillips). (The King James version translates the word argument as “reasoning;” the term in the Greek is dialogismos and refers to a heated debate). As improbable as it may sound, the very men whom Jesus taught and trained often wrangled (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 9:34; Luke 22:24) for position and status over what they believed would be (Acts 1:6) the future kingdom.
I’ve come to the conclusion that “Who’s going to be first?” is THE underlying issue; it is THE core problem — in most arguments. Folks want power; they want to be first. In a manner of speaking, they want to “grab the throttles” and control the plane themselves. People are strange, aren’t they? They want the front of the bus, the back of the church, and the center of attention. Chan-kyu and Woods did. The apostles did. We do. Think about it, and you will probably agree. Nobody wants to be second in command; nobody wants to play second fiddle. And that is why disagreements arise.
When church members have a “falling-out,” it is usually over power issues and who’s going to be in control. When married partners quarrel, it is often over who is going to be in charge of the checkbook and how money is to be spent. When siblings argue, it is typically over who’s going to be first. “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine?!” “Why does he get to stay out past midnight, but I have to be in before 11:00?” When nations war and fight, it is typically over which country is going to dominate and rule. When presidential candidates vie for political office, it is always over “who’s going to fly the plane.” Both Democrats and Republicans want to “grab the throttles” and take the lead in our country.
When arguments do occur, I find it helpful to take a step backwards and ask, “What’s happening here?” “Why are people fussing?” You see, once we can determine the actual cause (i.e., pride) of the discord, we then can begin to work on a solution, just as Jesus did. He used a little child to illustrate the real way to “first place” and greatness. The Bible says, “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great'” (Luke 9:46-48 NKJV).
What was Jesus’ point? Simply that if you want to be “high,” you must first — like a child — be “low” (i.e., humble, 1 Peter 5:6). You must manifest a serving nature (John 13:1ff) and lack the personal, selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3,4; Galatians 5:26; Romans 12:10) that is so prevalent among adults. You must imbibe the spirit of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11) and “receive” (i.e., assist) others.
Have you been in argument lately? Are you ready to “grab the throttles?” (Don’t feel too bad, the apostles could relate). Look at a small child…and remember. –Mike Benson