Updated: Sep 20, 2022
We want to do great things for God. We have an innate desire to please our Father, a desire to make our Creator proud. In this quest for greatness, however, we must be careful not to confuse the world’s definition of greatness with God’s definition of greatness. The world would tell us that greatness comes with success, with fame, with fortune, and with prestige. But what does God say on the matter?
Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, wanted to do great things for God. They told him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” After Jesus asked them what they wanted, they replied, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” At first glance, the request seems arrogant and selfish. The other disciples thought it was, and the request was far from altruistic. But perhaps at the root of the request was a desire to do great things for God. Perhaps they wanted to sit by Jesus’ side because they saw the great things he was doing and wanted to join Him. They wanted to be a part of the great work of God. The other disciples were angry at the request and quickly went to Jesus to protest (no doubt they coveted the seats of honor for themselves). Instead of scolding them, however, Jesus sees this as a learning opportunity, and he takes the time to tell his disciples what true greatness is really all about. He reminds them that true greatness is not about lording authority over your subjects or being seen in public. Instead, he says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
Servant? Slave? These words don’t quite radiate the greatness we are longing for. In fact, most names of servants and slaves have been forgotten. Many of their names were never even known. Slaves and servants did menial tasks that no one will remember them for. However, Jesus is reminding his disciples that greatness in the Kingdom of God is not the same as greatness in the world. Jesus is reminding them that in order to be great in God’s eyes, they must put their desire for renown and prominence aside, and they must humbly serve the world around them. Then he reminds them that even he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is a difficult pill to swallow for many Christians today. We want our name in lights. We want people to see what we have done for God. We want to be celebrity pastors or missionaries or book writers. But remember, true greatness is not about us. It is about serving our Father faithfully with whatever tasks he has given us. It is about placing others before ourselves in the real moments of our everyday lives. It’s about swallowing our pride and realizing it is not our show, but God’s. In the end, the world may not see us as great or ever remember our names, but our Father will. Our Creator will call us by name and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” and after that, nothing else will matter.