How To Be Great

graphic image of large man with right hand leaning on head of smaller man

For most of us on this Earth, being very popular, highly esteemed, and regarded as worthy to be above others is our fondest innate desire. Many highly educated and well-respected individuals have taught various ways to accomplish this (for a fee), along with a multitude of other vain conditions. Every year, billions of dollars are spent to try to make ourselves appear great and glorious.

Yet true greatness will never be accomplished by any human method or philosophy.

The greatest minds of philosophers, psychiatrists, scientists, etc., are not capable, even collectively, of producing a solution that will effectively elevate the status of respect for all of us in life. Some leaders of various countries have gone so far as to use brute force to make their citizens treat them as great leaders, and yet, in the final analysis, they don’t achieve true success.

But God desires for us to go contrary to man’s way of thinking. In Genesis 3:19, He shows us just how ‘great’ He actually considers us to be: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (emphasis added). God does have high regard for us as being created in His image, but in our current, sinful state, He can only treat us like what we really are—nothing more than dust.

There isn’t anything we can possibly do on our own that will make us great in the eyes of God.  

We might just shrug this off, thinking that we are not out solely to please God; we just desire to be ‘somebody’ in this world. But how can this be achieved in a world where the standard of superiority is always fluid? The very thing considered great and outstanding in one part of the world might be insulting in another. At one point in time, as a small example, a woman had to have a pale complexion to be considered beautiful, yet, later on, this attitude changed to thinking that a woman of great beauty should be as highly tanned as a bronze pillar! Some are regarded lofty and ideal individuals if they are accomplished orators, while others are held in high esteem for their silence and reserved nature. And consider this as well: how can we achieve superiority when everyone else is trying to be superior also?

That is why we need to look beyond this mortal, sinful world. God never intended for each of us to act like we are great or superior to another.

This is one reason why He sent His Son to Earth to provide a way and an example for us to follow. Throughout His time here on Earth, Jesus demonstrated how man’s expectations for greatness are inappropriate.

Jesus did not come to Earth the first time to be considered great or to be worshipped—He came here to serve. “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). He came to put into practice what had been declared in His Word. Who can live by what someone says if that person is unwilling to follow his own teaching? Not until after Jesus had humbled Himself as a servant did “God also…highly [exalt] Him, and [give] Him a name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

Consider this short list of occasions where God’s Son humbled Himself to the level of not just a lowly servant, but even a despised outcast as well.

  • He was born in the manner of a common person, not like a child of royalty.
  • His first bed was a feeding trough, not a plush cradle in a magnificent palace.
  • He was led into the capital on a donkey—a lowly means of transport for a king.
  • He was considered to be out of His mind, to the point that His own family wanted to have Him put away.
  • He was accused of crimes He had not committed, then crucified in place of a murderer.
  • He was hated and ultimately killed by secular and religious leaders.
  • He ended up in the most degraded position of any human being in history.

Jesus never displayed an attitude of self-pity. He didn’t hang His head low, always walking around looking glum. He never regretted or resented coming to this planet in the role of a servant.

He trusted in His Father, who knew what was best for Him in every situation and circumstance that He would encounter. He looked forward to whatever God had prepared for Him next. He knew God’s way would always be the best way.

Is it possible for us to be great, therefore, if not in this present frail and short life, but for eternity? It can only happen if we are first willing to humble ourselves to the position of a servant. Jesus said, “…but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For [which] is greater, he that sitteth at meat [reclines at a table], or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:26-27 emphasis added).

The Apostle Paul laid out the method God wants us to follow: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5 emphasis added).

On the path to true greatness, our only perfect example is Jesus.

 

[Image (modified) source:Geralt/Pixabay)

The Next Move Is Ours

 

In every board game, such as checkers or chess, the first player makes a move and then another move always has to be made, alternating back and forth until the game ends. Whether you go first or second, your opponent will always have to move one of his pieces to another space after you make your move.

While the work Jesus does is not a game, He does expect the same kind of action from us. In many areas during His time of ministry here on Earth He made the first move. Then He expected man to make the next move after Him.

Let’s look at a few examples. We find the narrative of the death of Lazarus in the book of John. Jesus was informed by Mary that her brother Lazarus was sick to the point of death. Jesus could have just said the word and healed him, like He had done on many other occasions. But this time, He chose to wait until after Lazarus died before He traveled to Bethany where he once lived.

When Jesus finally did arrive, Lazarus had already been dead and buried in a cave for four days. At this point nobody believed there was any hope for him. But that did not matter to Jesus, for “with men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). When He reached the opening of the cave that had been sealed with a large rock, Jesus told those present to “take ye away the stone” (John 11:39). He made the first effort in regard to raising Lazarus from the dead; now they were to make the next move.

Jesus could have moved the rock Himself, but He wanted to see how much they really wanted Him to work in this predicament.

If they were not willing to take the simple step of removing the barrier to the cave, then why should He continue? “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid” (John 11:41). After a brief prayer to His Heavenly Father, “He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.” (John 11:43-44a). Then “Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:44b). It would not have been difficult for Him to go one step further and free Lazarus from his burial cloth right then, but that was not the focus here. Jesus expected the next move to be made by them.

Another example is found in the eighth chapter of Luke. “…behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as He went the people thronged Him” (Luke 8:41-42). Common sense says that Jesus should have ordered the crowd to turn aside, rushed over to the ruler’s house, and healed his daughter while she was still just sick. But Jesus does not follow human common sense; He is only obedient to what His Father desires. Therefore, He allowed Himself to be delayed. When He finally arrived at the ruler’s residence, the man’s daughter was dead.

This time, Jesus did not tell anyone to physically do something. He expected them to: “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole” (Luke 8:50).

The next move was in their hands. Jairus needed to believe that Jesus could bring his daughter back to life. In verses fifty-four and fifty-five, at least one of those present followed through and trusted in Jesus’ faithfulness. “And He put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and He commanded to give her meat.”

Look at one more example found in the fifth chapter of John. In Jerusalem, there was a pool of water that was stirred up periodically by an angel. Whoever entered in during this time would be healed of his infirmity. One man present had been afflicted with a disease for at least thirty-eight years, yet he had not been able to enter into the water in time to be delivered from his condition.

“When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me” (John 5:6-7).

Obviously, the man wanted to be healed; he was just at a loss as to how to do it. But Jesus came along and made the first move: “Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8).

At this point, the man could have replied, “But sir, I have been trying to walk for some thirty-eight years now and nothing has happened. Could you just pick me up and place me in the pool when it is stirred again?” Yet, in the next verse, the afflicted man believed in the words of Jesus and he made the next move. “And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked…”

Time and time again, we find that God will move first, and then hand it over to us to trust in Him and make the subsequent step. He leaves us with the choice to either obey His request in order to have our victory and deliverance by faith, or to stand still in doubt and unbelief, missing out on the blessing He has in store for us.

The bones of Lazarus might still be sealed in a cave, a synagogue ruler’s young girl would never have seen her thirteenth birthday, and a man might have died next to a pool of healing water if those present had not obeyed the Lord’s command.

Jesus isn’t going to make all of the moves for us. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). He will often leave a portion for us to do, in order to try our faith in Him. Whenever the Lord moves first in our life, we need to remember—the next move is ours.

 

[Image credits:channah/Freeimages;Devanath/Pixabay]

Connecting to the Right Outlet

Rockwell is a pretty smart guy, except when it comes to non-technical things. Sure, he knows that a car can’t run without gas or oil, and that refrigerators, microwave ovens, and light bulbs all need electricity to operate. But ask him how they function, and he will struggle to give an explanation.

This is why, one cold morning in early March, Rockwell could not get his electric space heater to operate. He plugged it into an outlet in the living room and turned it on. After ten minutes, nothing had happened. He removed the plug and inserted it into the socket underneath, but still no power or heat.

He picked up the heater, shook it vigorously several times and placed it back on the floor. There it sat with no lights, no noise, and certainly no warmth. 

With friends coming for lunch, he knew he had to do something to get the place warm. He went to the basement and brought up another heater—smaller but still adequate. He inserted its plug into the same receptacle, turned the unit on, and waited. It, too, just sat there—cold, dark, and quiet.

Rockwell decided that this was too technical for him to bother with at the moment. So he returned to fixing breakfast. Meanwhile, his neighbor stopped by for a brief visit.  He noticed right off that the house had almost no warmth, but he figured that Rockwell was already aware of this, so he kept silent and sat at the breakfast table. After they chatted a while, the temperature grew colder, and his neighbor could not remain quiet any longer. “Rocky, my boy, are you running absent-minded this morning, or did your heater give out on you?”

“Well, I plugged it in and tried all kinds of things to make it work. I even hooked up another one I got downstairs. I figured if I wait long enough, one might eventually turn on one way or another.”

His neighbor went over, checked both heaters, then the outlet.  Then he took a desk lamp, connected it to the same outlet, and got the same results: nothing. Finally he took one heater and plugged it into another electrical socket across the room. Voila! It came alive immediately and began to warm the room.

“Well, there’s your problem,” his neighbor remarked. “They were plugged into a dead outlet. For some reason, there was no power available there. They have to be connected to the right outlet if they are going to heat the room. All of your efforts earlier were useless.”

Now, how many of us today are living a cold life? Not a physical cold, where we need socks, sweaters, and heaters to get and stay warm, but spiritually, in our hearts. No matter what good method we try, we can’t seem to find the solution. We accepted Jesus Christ in our heart, yet we are still in a constant struggle to be free of some bondage in our life. Whether it is smoking, alcohol, drugs, pornography, immorality, lying, stealing, or a whole host of other sinful habits, we just cannot rid ourselves of their control.

So we turn to the medical world, psychology, self-help programs, religion, government assistance, pastors, churches, neighbors, and family members. We pray, go to church, read the Bible and consult other Christians, yet we still struggle with these problems. They frequently make us ashamed, depressed, confused, and overwhelmed.

We vow at the beginning of each day or week that we will not give in, but we still end up succumbing to the same sinful actions. 

As a Christian, why does it have to be this way? Why can’t we be free and victorious? Why do we have to be in this bondage? The answers lie in our understanding of Jesus Christ and the cross. By putting our faith in something else, we will always be under the control of sin. God does not want us to be in this state any more than we do, which is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. He fulfilled all of the requirements of His Father that we could never accomplish, and paid a debt that we are unable to repay. 

The problem is that, when we accepted His Son into our hearts and made Him Lord of our life, we did not totally yield to Him. Instead, we continued to fight these battles with sin (a spiritual problem) in our own strength and effort (a non-spiritual answer).

Look at this another way. We are attempting to remove the coldness (sin) from our heart by connecting to a dead outlet (the world and its hopeless solutions). But when we plug into a live outlet (Jesus Christ and His victory on the cross), we allow power (His Spirit) to flow freely in our life. He is now able to remove the control all of these sinful habits mentioned earlier have on us, and our heart begins to warm up.

But, as long as we keep trying to clean up our sins by our self, we remain connected to a dead outlet and receive no connection to the power of the Holy Spirit to work within us. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). The “law of the Spirit of life” refers to when we connect into the live outlet. By plugging into a dead outlet, we are walking after the flesh, meaning the ways of this sinful world, which will always be followed by “the law of sin and death,” or bondage. 

Jesus said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

The only way to be free of the sin habit that perpetually plagues us is to accept the victory of the finished work of Jesus on the cross as our own victory. Stop plugging into a dead outlet of our own futile works, thereby cancelling out all Christ has done for us. Connect to the right outlet and we, as children of God, will find freedom from the control sin has had in our heart and life.

 

[Image credit:Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay]

Would You Die For Your Enemies?

“…God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

The Lord was pointing here to His reconciling death, which both His friends and enemies alike needed very much. The idea here is that sometimes a need is so compelling that a man might choose to die for the ungodly and his enemies even over the self-sacrifice involved in dying for the godly and his friends. This kind of love was the kind that Jesus had for man—demonstrated by His voluntary death on man’s behalf—which is the greatest love that there is.

“Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom 5:9).

Being now justified” means being pardoned, or accepted as His friends. When we were still His enemies, Jesus overcame everything that would keep us from being saved. So how much more reason we now have to expect Him to give us His protection, since we have become His friends. “By His blood” means by His death. Our value to God is in direct proportion to the value of the price of our redemption. We have been purchased and purified at the price of Jesus’ own shed blood, which makes us holy in God’s eyes. He will certainly keep His promise since we have been bought with such a very dear price.

“…if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

Jesus undertook this work while we were still His enemies. But it was by this very work that we were changed from His enemies into His friends. God laid its foundation while we were still opposed to and resisting Him. This revealed that God was determined on His part to perform it. And He has consequently made the solemn promise that it will be made perfect. “We were reconciled” means that we have been brought to an agreement in a state of friendship and union with God. We became His friend, laid aside our opposition, and welcomed Him as our friend. The great design of God’s salvation plan was to accomplish this very thing.

This means that obstacles existed before which had to be reconciled on both God’s side and our side. But His death removed them, on His part. And on our part, we were reconciled when we honored His Law which showed His hatred of sin and upheld His justice. A Christian is reconciled to God by overcoming man’s hatred of God and His Law, and by bringing man into submission to His rule. He is also reconciled when his former unwillingness to be reconciled is removed by bringing his heart under control—by changing and setting it apart unto God. Now man is able to become the friend of God. All of this was accomplished by the sacrifice of His Son as an offering in our place. The two opposing sides have now been reunited!

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

How perfect the love of Jesus is to us. He described the people He died for as “His friends.” And His object and purpose was displayed by “laying down My life for My friends.” But they were not His friends originally. They were enemies and hated God—all at the very same time that His Son laid down His life for them in order to reconcile them to God!

By ‘friends,’ Jesus did not mean those who love Him, but those whom He loves. These ‘friends’ Jesus died for are the same people Paul referred to by the opposite name—he said Jesus died for His ‘enemies.’ They weren’t the kind who had behaved themselves like friends, or shown any love and affection to Him at all—they were the opposite. They were only called friends because He chose them to be His friends. And by dying for His ‘friends,’ Jesus reconciled the ones who were His enemies by His Spirit and grace, and made them His friends.

Therefore, this love of Jesus, shown in giving His life for His people, is greater than any example of love among men. A man might lay down his life for others who deserve it, or he might even be forced to do it. Some may die hoping for worldly applause and glory. But when Jesus laid His life down for His enemies, He had no evil or selfish views—He freely volunteered to do it at the highest ultimate cost to Himself. Jesus would never have had His friends if He had not died for His enemies. He shows the way we are to deal with those who are alienated and hostile to God—by pouring out His unselfish, self-sacrificing affection on them, which will conquer all in the end. The death of Christ has therefore become both the pattern for our life and the hope for our heart.

When Jesus hung on the cross dying, His enemies rejoiced and triumphed over defeating Him. Yet the true, ultimate outcome of His humble and weak condition was to reconcile us to God.

And if He had the power to accomplish such a great work as reconciling us when He was humble and despised and dying, then how much more can we expect Him to be able to keep us safely in His care now that He’s the living, lifted up, triumphant Redeemer! If His powers which were weakened in dying were enough to reconcile us, how much more will His full, vigorous powers as an exalted Redeemer be enough to save and keep us! Judas “…betrayed Him…saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He…” (Mt 26:48). But Christ “kisses His enemies with the kisses of His mouth”, and makes them His friends—because He loves them! Now what He Himself said: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19) is made clear. He willingly died for His enemies; will we willingly live as His friends?

This is a companion article to one written about Jesus dying for His friends. Please click here to read more.

 

[Image credits:(angry man) Rene Asmussenfoto/Freeimages; (angry woman) Cristina Matei/Freeimages; (cross) abcdz2000/Freeimages]