Back in the seventies the heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali used to provoke his opponents by proclaiming "I am the greatest." It seems that Ali knew that deep down inside many of us thought this about ourselves but few would have the gall or the skills to actually say it in public.
Being the greatest among men is not a new desire or problem:
- Cain killed Abel because he was jealous that his brother might be considered greater in the Lord's eyes because of his sacrifice.
- Saul tried to kill David because he was afraid that the people thought that David was the greater of the two leaders.
Even among the Apostles of Jesus, there were constant debates about who was the greatest of the Apostles. In Luke 22:24 we see that they were still arguing about this point during Jesus' last meal with them before His crucifixion. Each time they fussed about this issue, Jesus would remind them that greatness in the kingdom of God was a very different thing than greatness in the world.
He taught them that it was okay to desire greatness but they had to seek greatness in the kingdom, not the world. They had to follow the kingdom's guidelines for greatness, not the world's.
In the kingdom (or the Church), Jesus said that those who were great were those who:
1. Became like little children
24And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' 26But it is not this way with you but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest.
- Luke 22:24-26a
Children are trusting, straightforward, innocent and faithful. Examine the Bible and see the ones who ultimately pleased God and you will find that they cultivated these qualities in order to become great in His kingdom.
2. Became faithful servants
and the leader like the servant.
- Luke 22:26b
In the world one of the perks of greatness is that you get other people to serve you. In the kingdom the reverse is true; the greater you are, the more service you render to other people.
For example, elders receive honor from the congregation but the "bonus" they get for being elders is that they will be asked to sacrifice more of their time and energy into serving others.
The proof of this principle is Jesus; He is the greatest and proves it by giving up the most for other: His own life.
Greatness envy starts more wars in families, friendships and nations than anything else. Greatness envy stops when we recognize that Jesus is the greatest (that position has been filled once and for all) and when we are compared to Him, we are all like children and servants.
Next time you are tempted to be the greatest or envy the great, ask yourself if the greatness you seek will make you great in God's eyes, make you great in the kingdom.
- Describe the qualities and virtues in a person that you admire.
- What is it about competition that seems to bring out the worst in people at times?
- Explain in your own words what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5)
- How does one become like a child, as Jesus says in Luke 22:24-26, and survive in this violent and competitive world?
- If you were to become "great" in the Kingdom of God, what part of your character would have to change first?