In the world not everyone can be great.
Greatness is reserved for the few, for those who rise to the top in their profession, those who have extraordinary talent, those who accomplish outstanding deeds. And multitudes spend their lives pursuing worldly greatness. They want to be known and recognized, better at what they do than others, make more money, have more possessions. They want to be admired. Well-known. Applauded. If you spend your life pursuing this kind of greatness, you might achieve it, if God has given you some kind of incredible gift and you work hard and get some breaks. You might be a general in the army or a movie star or famous singer or business person. But worldly greatness won’t last. One second after you breathe your last breath your worldly greatness won’t mean a thing to you. All your worldly achievements in business or art or sports will mean nothing if you’re doing it for worldly recognition.
Yet the Bible encourages us to pursue greatness. To go after it every day. To be the greatest you can possibly be. What gives?
It’s the KIND of greatness that matters. Jesus tells us to pursue greatness. Just not the kind the world runs so hard after. We are to pursue spiritual greatness, heavenly greatness. In Mark 10 Jesus said:
…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45.
Jesus doesn’t discourage us from pursuing greatness. In fact he is the ultimate example of pursuing greatness. He tells us to go after it. But not the way the world goes after it. He says the way to greatness is not up, but down. It’s not to try to exalt oneself, but to humble oneself. The way to spiritual greatness is to become a lowly servant. The “slave of all.”
Servants are not usually noticed. They just do whatever others want. They seek to meet others’ needs. They lay down their lives and desires to bless others. They use their strengths and gifts to benefit and help others. They don’t do it for recognition. They don’t expect notice or praise.
In Luke 17, Jesus said:
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” LK 17:7-10
Jesus said that no servant would finish plowing or tending sheep then come in and expect the master to say, “Alright! Great job on the field, man! Have a special seat at the table. Ladies and gentlemen, can we give this guy a hand for the excellent job he did on the field?” Or, after tending the stinky sheep would the servant expect his master to say, “Hey sheep man, sit next to me! Help yourself to my delicacies!” No the master would say, “OK, now that you’re done with the field, clean up and put on your waiter clothes and bring me a glass of wine? And when dinner is all over and all the guests have left and you’re finished cleaning up the kitchen, then you can eat something.” The servants would have no expectation of praise or recognition or think they were doing anything special. So Jesus tells us, when you have ALL that you were commanded, you’re not to say, “Look how great we are,” but ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’
Yet Jesus tells us in Mark 10 it’s not wrong to want to be great – spiritually great. He says, “But whoever would be great among you…” He doesn’t say “whoever would be great is committing a sin, or should not want to be great,” but he says, “Here’s how to be great: be the biggest servant you can be. Be the servant of all. Be the slave of all. Like me. I didn’t come to pursue worldly greatness. I came to serve the world. I came to lay down my life and give up myself for others.” And of course we know that God has exalted Jesus to the highest place and given him the name above every name that at his name everyone in heaven and earth will bow and worship him.
So go after greatness. Spiritual greatness.
Serve others in whatever way you can. It probably won’t be glamorous. You may not be thanked for it. Don’t expect to be thanked or honored. Don’t expect others to notice. But someone will be watching. Someone will be keeping track of every tiny mite you put in the box, every insignificant seed of service you sow. And someday you will hear that someone say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master.