Do You Want to Be Great?

Everyone longs for greatness. We want to be the best. We want to out perform the competition. We want to make a difference and leave an impact. This universal desire that we all have for greatness seems to be hard wired within us. I think this ambition for greatness is a good thing given to us by God. Yet our sin corrupts and twists this God given desire and turns it into a zealous lust for power. As a result many seek power, position, and prestige in order to dominate other people. In some ways we play this twisted game of survival of the fittest in order to devalue one another. The rat race for power is filled with the cut-your-throat-to-get-ahead mentality. We acquire riches and accolades in order to exalt ourselves above all others. We do this all in the name of deciding that age old question, "Who is the greatest?"

Who is the Greatest?

The disciples of Jesus tended to fight over that exact same question. In fact it seems to be a recurring issue Jesus had to address in his ministry. So many of them in their journey of following Jesus were seeking prestige and power in the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Luke, this dispute arises again during the last supper. In the disciples last meal with Jesus before his death, they continued to bicker over who is the greatest. We read in Luke 22:24-27:

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24–27, ESV)

As this dispute came up in one of Jesus' most intimate and important lessons, the Lord's Supper, he tries to help his disciples understand what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God. Greatness in the kingdom is fundamentally different from the greatness in the world. Greatness in the world is determined by authority, age, power, money, or accomplishments. Jesus flips the worlds understanding of greatness up side down. Greatness is not determined by power but service.

The answer to the question of "Who is the greatest" is he who serves. Service is the mark of true greatness.

Servant Leaders

If you seek to be great in God's Kingdom then begin to serve. If you have ambition to make an impact for King Jesus then you must sacrifice for the sake of others. Greatness is not determined by position but through serving the least of these. Jesus is instructing his leadership team, the disciples, that as they will lead the church they must not lead as dominate, elite rulers. Rather, the disciples are to identify with the low as they serve all people. Jesus is training them to be servant leaders.

Lead Like Jesus

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to follow his example. Jesus is by default the greatest in the Kingdom of God. He is God. Yet although Jesus is the greatest he leads his people through service. Jesus' words to follow his example could not ring more powerfully when we understand them in the context. Jesus speaks these words to his disciples at the last supper. He had just finished describing how his body would break and his blood would pour out. Jesus is going to establish and lead his church by giving up his life on the cross, so that by his death we might receive forgiveness from our sins and be cleansed from all unrighteousness. The greatest man became the greatest servant. If God himself would stoop to such low levels to serve you and me, we too should live lives of service for one another.

Do You Want to Be Great?

Do you want to be great? Do you want to make an impact in our world? Than follow Jesus' example and serve. Your greatness in the kingdom of God is not determined by the prestige of your profession, the size of your church, or a position you may hold, but it is determined by your dedication and service to one another.

Do You Want to be Great? Be a servant.

The Antidote to the Me-Centered Church

This Blog Post is an excerpt from my sermon on Philippians 2:1-11, "The Gospel, Humility, and Unity". You can listen to the sermon audio here. Humility is a bizarre concept for modern people. It is a difficult idea to wrap our minds around. Modern people have been indoctrinated with enlightenment idea of progress striving to be better than one another, but most significantly is the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest. Many people see rising to power and promoting self as the chief purpose of life. To be great is to be powerful, respected, feared, and wealthy. So for many of us greatness and humility are two traits that do not go together. Indeed humility is against our very nature. We are prideful beings constantly seeking our own fame. We often beg for compliments and perk up when someone gives us a word of praise. We like to be in the spotlight and we like to be the center of attention. We like for people to serve us, so we created a whole service industry of waiters, customer service representatives, and hospitality to pamper us and to meet our every want. Our sinful instincts are not naturally drawn to humble service but prideful entitlement!

Yet for the Christian, one born of God is to be characterized by radical humility. Christians are to be made servants, not consumers. The Christian lays down his own wants and desires for the sake of others. Since he has been given everything in Christ it is his joy to give himself to others. The Christian is to do nothing from selfish ambition. He is to do nothing to advance his own reputation. He is not to seek his own glory or fame. The Christian is to abstain from conceit. He should not think of himself more highly than he ought. He is to realize that he is not the center of the universe. Rather than thinking much about himself he is to think much about others. What about you? Do you think of yourself more highly than you ought? Do you desire your own fame and glory? This is not the way of the Christian.

Rather than self-exaltation Paul encourages the church toward other-exaltation. We must see the significance of our brothers and sisters and must value them above ourselves. We are to look out for them, care for them, and serve them. We are to look not only to our own interests but also the interest of others. The humble servant is to look for ways to serve and to meet the needs of those around him. Rather than being absorbed in narcissistic individualism we are to be marked by generous radicalism.

The Struggle of Humility

But lets be honest. Isn't it so difficult to be a humble servant? I struggle with laying down my wants for the sake of my brothers and sisters. So often I want to look out for myself and my own needs! I want to look after my own interests, and if I have time maybe I'll look after yours. My heart fights to find others as more significant than myself. The spirit rages in my heart convicting me of my pride. Humility is difficult and as pastor and writer CJ Mahaney said in his little book on humility, "I am a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God". I want to be humble, but I need God's grace to help me in my sin and to help me realize who I am before Him. He is the creator I am the creature. I am the sinner and He is the savior. I am the rebel, He is the peace maker. He is the judge and I am the felon. Humility is not some sort of melodramatic self-loathing. Humility means understanding who you are in relation to God and others.

The Disdain of the Me-Centered Church

If a church is to be unified, on mission to advance the cause of Christ, there must be humble service among its members. This humility must define the culture of the church. The body of Christ is not to be made of entitled egoist, but self-denying servants.

Yet how far many churches are from this picture! We've turned our churches into consumer businesses where you come to church to be served rather than to serve. We've traded in the great commission for attractive products the church can offer you. The Great Commission has become the Great Suggestion. So churches come up with the latest and greatest way of catering to your needs with multi-million dollar buildings, a large menu of programs for your choosing, and worship services with watered down lyrics, flashing lights, a funny speaker, but very little Jesus. Perhaps the reason the mission of God is not being accomplished today is because our churches have been training a generation of believers that the church is here to serve them, not them to serve the church!

So a me-centered Christianity has cropped up where we demand from the church to do it my way or I'll hit the highway. I want my style of music, I want this sort of ministry, I want this length of a worship service, I want this sort of pastor, I want this sort of children's ministry. So in a never ending aim to appeal consumers churches run the rat race of conforming the church to what me-centered Christians want it to be, rather than letting God define what the church should, how we conduct our worship services, or what sort of ministry philosophy we will have. We take God's word and throw it into the metaphorical drawer and do church the way we want to do it.

So what is the solution to the plight the church of america has gotten itself in? How do we guard against our own hearts form this me-centered Christianity? How do we get our churches to look more like Philippians 2? Well it starts with a profound knowledge and deep conviction of the truthfulness of the Gospel. Humble service is a result of Gospel transformation. The antidote to the me-centered church is the self-sacrificing Christ! How do we learn to serve? How do we learn humility? How do we stay unified on the mission God has given us? Well it comes by looking to Christ!

The Example of Jesus

Paul turns our attention to Jesus, highlighting him as the example, the epitome of humility. Jesus though God did not cling to his divine prestige. If anyone had the right to be served by others it was Jesus! He is God! All of creation was created by his word! He sustains the universe by the word of his power. Yet, he was willing to take on the form of a servant. He was willing to step down from the glory of heaven, to become a human being and be born to a teenage girl in a stable. Rather than coming as a King, Jesus came as a servant. He came as one who would give up his life. Jesus was obedient even to the point of death. He humbled himself to the point of death, but not just any death, a death on a cross! The most horrific, violent, bloody, and painful inventions of torture humanity has ever come up with. He goes to the cross of his own volition and dies in the place of sinful man. As Jesus says, "The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many". Jesus served us in our greatest need and in our greatest weakness. We are sinners who stand condemn before God. There is no one righteous, no not one! We stand before God and we are unrighteous, unworthy. We deserve hell and punishment. Yet the servant Jesus sees our need, humbles himself by taking on humanity and the Father sends Jesus on a rescue mission. God crucifies himself at the hand of his created image bearers so our sins could be paid for. God endured the wrath you deserved by taking it on himself. At the cross Jesus in humility laid down his life for us. The great God of the universe humbled himself and became a servant of man.

Here is the power of the Gospel in our lives! When we understand the astonishment of God's grace to us, when we stand amazed at God's service to us, our response is genuine humility. As we look to Calvary we see a gift we do not deserve. When we see the wonder of God's grace to us we become aware of our smallness. The reality of our tiny existence is made real, and we are amazed that God would take me and save me and restore me. When that truth sinks in and you feel the weight of God's love towards you in Christ, you are left standing with eyes gazing, falling on your knees in humility!

Do you desire humility? Do you desire to be a servant to others? Look to Christ our example! He is the suffering servant who demonstrates humility for us. Soak in this truth and as you do humility will be your response. For those who have genuinely put their faith in Jesus and have trusted in this good news humility is the only response. As we are humbled by the Gospel we will in turn be a servant to others. Why? Because Christ was first a servant to us. So look to your savior you who are proud at heart! Look to his nail pierced hands and feet you who seek to be served! For if the God of all the earth has stooped down to serve you, shouldn't you the dust of the earth serve your neighbor?

Some Marriage Advice: Out Serve One Another

As a man who has only been married for a little less than two years, I'm still a little hesitant to teach and instruct on marriage. Many older married couples still think my wife Kaitlyn and I are in some magical honey moon stage and that a day will come when that will no longer be the case (It is my goal to make sure that never happens).  As a result, I have felt slightly inadequate teaching on a subject I'm still learning about.  I'm still learning how to be a Godly husband and a best friend to my beautiful wife, and I know I will spend the rest of my life learning to love her and cherish her more. However, I must be honest. I absolutely adore my relationship with Kaitlyn Deeter.  I love our marriage.  I look forward to going home every night to see her and spend time with her. She is my best friend, companion, and helper.  The success of our first few years of marriage is all attributed to God's grace and mercy.  However, I wanted to share with you some wisdom that was given to us by Kaitlyn's Aunt and Uncle before we were married.  In fact, it is some of the best marriage advice I've ever received.  Here is what it is:

In your marriage try to out serve one another.

It is that simple, and it has made all the difference.  That simple sentence of wisdom is more than just a command in action, but a change in attitude of how must people think about marriage.  Most of our culture thinks of marriage as nothing more than a contract in which the other is to meet person is expected to meet their needs.  For example, I'll clean up the dishes and take out the trash, and you better have sex with me tonight.  Most people think of marriage as a balance between give and take.  In our minds we constantly keep score on who is giving and whose taking more.  We keep a score card and have our expectations on what our spouse needs to do for us, and when they begin to not measure up, we become bitter, vengeful, angry, and hostile.

This attitude of "what can you do for me" is a virus that will destroy a marriage, because your spouse will never perfectly meet your expectations.  However, when we take the "what can you do for me" and flip it to "How can I best serve them" the score keeping stops.  You are no longer thinking about your own needs or wants but the needs of your spouse.  So a husband cleans up the dishes and takes out the trash, not to necessarily get anything back from his wife in return.  Rather, he does it simply because he loves his wife and wants to serve her.  When both the husband and wife begins to think this way, we become less like the world and more like Jesus.  Listen to His words from Matthew 20:28

even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

When Jesus came to the earth, he had no concern for what other people could do for him.  He didn't come to earth to get anything in return, but came to serve us and lay down his life for us.  A Godly marriage seeking to honor and glorify Christ must have this kind of attitude.  We must cast aside a self-centered view of marriage and try to out serve our spouse.  This means keep taking out the dishes even though you don't get anything in return.  Keep serving your spouse as Jesus has even though you receive no immediate benefit.  Serve your spouse because you love them, not to receive anything in return.  In my own marriage, this has been an incredible help as we both strive to be more like Christ and out serve one another.

In your own marriage, how can you imitate Jesus like this?  Does your marriage reflect the mind and heart Jesus had?   Do you treat your spouse as a slave to satisfy your own desires, or do you love them through unconditional service?  What can you do today to serve your spouse?