Cultural greatness is determined by what is valued by the community on any given day. This may be measured by entertainment awards, sports achievements, financial accomplishments, or any other number of temporal standards.
True greatness is determined by eternal merit. A truly great person is one who is humble, generous, forgiving, kind, merciful, gracious, courageous. Great people positively impact others by leaving a personal legacy, not just a famous impression.
The road to greatness is not an elevated staircase rising above and easily seen by others. It is a servant’s path that runs under the feet of those who need to be lifted up. This is counter-cultural. Since it is not celebrated as the norm, I think we need to focus on it a little more. Jesus was/is the greatest. So it may be useful to know what He said about the topic. O one occasion He said to His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28) He used His own personal experience to enlighten them on the true path to greatness. Greatness, according to Christ does not have to look down in order to see people, but up.
Jesus not only used Himself to explain what greatness looked like, He also spoke of other great people. Here is what He said about His earthly cousin, John the Baptizer, “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John.” John was not highly valued among the leaders and other ‘great people’ of his time. But he was great in the kingdom of God. Jesus recognized this, but he went on to say in the same thought, “but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John].” (Luke 7:28) So, no one is greater than John the Baptizer, but the least in the kingdom is greater than him? That makes me want to know what his ‘secret to greatness’ was.
John had one of the most important tasks ever. He was to go ahead of Jesus and make people aware of the coming judgment and the coming Messiah. It isn’t the kind of role they give medals for... at least not on a televised awards show. So what exactly made him great? We don’t know a lot about John’s life, but we do have some of his quotes. One of these quotes is very telling, and gives us a glimpse into his philosophy of life and ministry. He said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) So it is apparently through the act of decreasing, while Christ increases in our lives that we become the kind of person Christ recognizes as great.
The pyramids of Egypt are quite an accomplishment. We often talk about the great Pharaohs building the great pyramids. But the Pharaohs didn't build the pyramids. Slaves built the pyramids. These servants built things that to this day are a marvel. We don't know how they did it. These are among the greatest accomplishments of human history... and they were performed by servants.
Your boss likely won’t tell you the truth about how to be great today. Your co-worker may not encourage you to greatness that way this week. But it is solid. Becoming a servant to help others achieve what God intends for them is exactly how you achieve the greatness God has for you. If you’ll look down for just a moment, you will probably see some great people upon whose shoulders you have stood. You didn’t think you became great by yourself did you? If you want to be great, go out today and serve someone.
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.