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 Path to Greatness

A great tit feeding its young.

What is the whole work of a servant? It is to serve. Even though Jesus is God and King, He gave up all claims to honor and glory in order to be a servant to man. Since He was willing to yield Himself to the lowest position of a servant in order to serve the very ones He created, where do we get the idea that serving others is beneath us? “…the servant is not greater than his lord…” (John 13:16).

Jesus urged His disciples to desire earnestly to be a servant to not only some, but to all. “…whosoever will be chief among you…,” the one in the first or highest position—in order to have the first place in the kingdom of the Messiah—should first be a servant. The Apostle Paul confirmed this by becoming a servant to all men himself, despite the fact that he was a free man. He was willing to do this so that men might come to Christ. This attitude made him the “chief among the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) even though he considered himself the least of the apostles, and even the least of all the saints. But far more important than seeking to be chief over men is seeking the salvation of men’s souls.

Much of the time Jesus spent ministering here on Earth was in healing the sick and helping the suffering. During that era, the task of dealing with the sick and suffering was assigned to servants. Jesus gave up His personal freedom in order to bear the burdens of the sick, the suffering, the friendless, and the nobodies. His example demonstrated that true ministry really means serving, or assisting those in need. “Minister” and “servant are the true distinguishing marks of greatness. The message here is that anyone seeking greatness will do so by becoming the greatest servant.

Therefore, what should be the spirit of God’s ministers? A minister called of God should devote his time, his talents, his abilities, and his powers to the well-being of the flock Jesus has put in his care. He should not lord himself over Jesus’ flock. He should not take care of the affairs of the portion of the Church in his care by imposing his own will on others as if he ‘ruled’ the Church.

True greatness involves serving the body of Christ like the first apostles did. It also applies to a man who can humble himself and stoop to the lowest offices—if that is what it takes to move the true happiness and salvation of his fellow men forward.

He should be willing to spend himself in serving that flock. He should even be willing in his heart to give up his life unto death if necessary, if it will move the salvation of others forward. Paul said, “…I will very gladly spend and be spent for you…” (2 Corinthians 12:15).

Jesus promoted this idea, which He also lived Himself. His greatest apostle also lived it. Yet there are some, if not many, who still hold to the idea that greatness does not come from serving the lowly, but from being honored and served and elevated to a position of great dignity by others instead. The very attitude and exercise of serving, no matter how low it must go—when done willingly out of sincere sympathy and concern for the good of others—leads to being exalted. “…whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant…the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). This is where that we find the path to true greatness.

“Wash my feet?”

multiple sandy feet in a circle

“…He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded. Then …Peter saith unto Him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? …Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:5-8).

Peter could hardly believe what he was seeing when Jesus knelt before him with a towel in His hand and told him to extend his feet so He could wash them. Peter replied that he would not allow Jesus to bring Himself down to such a low level. He could not in any way envision Christ as a servant. But Jesus explained that rejecting this offer would be the same as rejecting Him, and then He said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

What is the essential qualification to have a part with Christ? It doesn’t matter what our sin may be—we can be made pure through the actions of Jesus. But the only way we can receive is to have our feet washed by Him first. Jesus is willing and able to wash us to purify us of all our sins. He did not say that we have to pay Him or give Him anything to do this. It is an honor we cannot buy or earn, because it only comes by the mercy of God, and it is from Him alone that we receive it.

bowing to royalty

Royalty demands that we bow at their feet if we hope to get a favor from them. They might even require us to wash their feet before we could be considered for a favor. But what did the King of kings and Lord of lords do? He took off His outer garment, picked up a towel, and bent His knee before us in order to wash our feet! We should be serving Him, yet He serves us!

After He washed the feet of the disciples, Jesus said that “…ye ought also to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14-15). So why didn’t they continue washing each other’s feet after Jesus left them? Because they understood that He was simply demonstrating the need for lowliness before each other to them. There was no set way this was to be done, only according to the time and place and need, sometimes one way, sometimes another. The lesson Jesus was trying to get across was to have humble love for one another.

Jesus also wanted His disciples to be as clean inwardly as they were outwardly once they were washed.

He wanted them to help each other to reach toward the goal of purity, which might include washing one another’s feet when necessary. They were to be willing to serve those of any class, not just their own, whenever they had the opportunity. Jesus desired for His disciples to not just be morally right toward their brothers in the Lord, but to go to the extent of humbly denying themselves in order to help their brothers to be morally clean and pure also.

red heart

“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently…” (1 Peter 1:22).

Jesus wanted them to demonstrate brotherly love for each other, coming from a pure heart of godly love. He wanted the disciples to see each other as brothers because they would all soon be cleansed, not by water this time, but by His blood shed on the cross of Calvary. This would be their true source of cleansing and purification. He also told them that “What I do thou knowest not now. But thou shall know hereafter.”

We who belong to Christ need to do what He wanted us to do—to humbly lower ourselves to the level of servant to one another. Then we will be able to help remove the dirt and stain of the world and sin from each other which we all come in contact with day after day. If we will lower ourselves to walk a simple life of humility, we will be able to help lift our brothers and sisters to a life that is pure and noble.

If we feel unworthy to have Jesus wash our feet, and let this keep us away from Him, do we think we will be saved by what we think is being humble? We won’t be saved unless we let Him wash us and cleanse us of all sin.

If we are not willing for Him to do so, then we will not have a part in Him. It is my prayer that each of us, as children of God, will have a part with Him, and that we will all be faithful and diligent to watch over each other’s souls in order to give account to our Lord.

“Grace to the Lowly”

kneeling in prayer

“Surely He scorneth the scorners; but he giveth grace unto the lowly” (Proverbs 3:34).

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6-7).

Scorners lift up themselves, refusing to yield to anyone else, always resisting them. They pay no attention to God, as if He did not exist, while boldly continuing in sin. But God will deal with them and their proud ambitions by holding them in everlasting contempt, while blessing those who humbly believe in Him. Humble people don’t mind lowering themselves and walking in the footsteps of Christ. But mockers and scorners are wise in their own thinking. They hate those who are humble and lowly. In our current era, love of self rules, with contempt for all that is good, noble, holy, and true. As we get ever closer to the end of this present age, scorning and mocking are increasing all the time.

“God resisteth the proud” ones who lift themselves up against Him, and whose self-esteem knows no limits. Their nature is having pride in what they own, or are part of, or of anything that applies to them. They have convinced themselves of their supreme excellence and importance. Yet they have nothing to justify their superior attitude. They truly hate others, and even despise the warnings and judgments from God. It is this very attitude that can provoke God to set Himself up to oppose them.

But God is also kind enough to allow those with a humble and contrite spirit into His presence. They don’t covet what others have, or envy them, nor are they consumed with worldly ambitions. But being humble does not come naturally to man. Left to his own ways, he would never have a single humble thought or holy desire on his own. Realizing this alone should be enough to bring us low before God and make us want to be humble.

True humility comes from receiving the grace of God—His unmerited favor—which makes a person humble in the first place. Only by the operation of God’s Holy Spirit in our life can we become humble.

And the humble and poor in spirit have the right to be part of the kingdom of Heaven, which they have been made fit to receive. They will enjoy being there in God’s presence, but the proud and scornful would not. No one who truly mourns for his sin will be turned away by God. And He will not refuse to exalt anyone who comes to Him in humility.

God cannot tolerate the exalting of ‘self’—which is the very nature of sin. Look at Christ as an example. He made Himself of no reputation while here on Earth, although He is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. How can we justify elevating ourselves, when He did not? Proud people resist God’s laws, truths, and His provision. Do we wonder why God resists the proud? There is great danger in pride, which is why God “resists the proud” in every way. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

The devil, who is naturally full of pride and completely the opposite of humility, makes it his job to get men swollen with pride in themselves. Then he can easily master and do what he pleases with them. But humble believers who have God living inside them receive more of His grace. Their lowliness doesn’t come from their own strength; it comes from His.

A humble believer knows very well that deep down he is vile and sinful. So he runs to God’s grace and Christ’s blood for his protection. And the devil, in all of his pride, doesn’t know what to think of people like this—how they puzzle and frustrate him!

He is not pleased by the power and strength that come from prayer and faith either. Humble believers like this he leaves alone—in fact, he flees from them!

Don’t go along with the devil’s proposals and temptations. Consider him an enemy and oppose him. How can the devil conquer someone who continually resists him? Even though he is stronger than man, God will never allow him to conquer His people who continually resist him. Stand therefore, by faith in God, and put all the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6 to use. Depend on the Lord to help you, and continue to resist the devil at all times. Remember that, to those who have faith, the devil is already defeated.

Fight against the devil by refusing to yield to him and the fleshly lusts he proposes. Submit to God instead, as Head and Ruler of us all. The devil will run if we continue to resist him. But he will also return again and again to try to tempt us to sin. We will not be conquered as long as we don’t give in. And our heavenly Father will not allow him to force the human will to give in to his temptations (if we continue to stand and resist his onslaughts). Continue to be ‘resistance-fighters’ and we will have the victory!

God favors the humble who feel the need for His help, welcome His teaching, and desire Him as a friend. He will give them the grace they need so they can be saved. But who can teach someone who is so full of himself that he thinks he knows it all? If he feels no need for grace, he will receive no grace. The heart has to be humble before it can be saved. God favors and honors those who are lowly in their own opinion. But He also gives them enough grace to overtake and destroy their worldly lusts and corruptions.

The heavenly Father invites all who are humble to come boldly before His throne, where they will find grace for help in time of need. But they must come with a lowly spirit, knowing that He resists the proud.

If we judge ourself first, He will freely give us His grace. He gives more grace to the humble because they recognize their need for it. We need to conduct ourselves in a way that will glorify God, the One we belong to and should always serve. He stands ready to give us the strength we need to resist and rise above the attraction of the world.

Why should we want to humble ourselves? Reflect for a moment on what our sin and failure cost God and His Son. He had to die on the cross to free us from both. He had to offer Himself up as a sacrifice to the judgment of God because of our iniquity. Is there really anything for any of us to boast about in comparison with what He had to go through to set us free? God calls us to humble ourself before Him; then He will exalt us. Do this once and for all, as a done-deed, not an ongoing process.

So continually watch and pray. Remain ready to submit to God, who will calm our spirit and give us His grace. If we humble ourselves before Him, we will never be left ashamed. We need to rid ourselves of the fighting attitude that is intent on putting other people down in order to lift itself up. The humble ones in the end will inherit true glory, long after worldly fame has tarnished. Let’s freely submit ourselves therefore to God, humbly obeying His commands, with a sense of how empty, weak, and in need of His grace we really are. Let’s bow ourselves before Him and yield totally to His will. Then we will find the path to peace and joy forevermore.