Monday, May 6, 2019

So, You Want to Be Great?

For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest. – Luke 9:48b

Just about every sports expert agrees that Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time. His joint records of beating 21 boxers for the world heavyweight title and winning 14 unified title bouts stood for 35 years. Sports Illustrated ranked him as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. And ESPN ranked him as the third greatest athlete of the 20th century.

But as famous as he was in boxing, Muhammad Ali was best known for his trash talking. Before rap and hip-hop became mainstream, he would rattle off taunts and verbal jabs that were sheer poetry. Before fighting George Foreman, he said: “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.” And here are a few of his other classic lines: “I’m so mean, I make medicine sick!” “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize!” And one of his most famous quotes of all was, “I am the greatest! I said that even before I knew I was!”

Let’s just say that Muhammad Ali was not what you’d call a humble guy, and that made him really entertaining. But when that kind of arrogance is carried out by followers of Christ, who are supposed to be humbly serving others, it’s downright tragic.

And in Luke 9, it would appear that humility wasn’t on the minds of Jesus’ disciples. Luke tells us in verse 46 that the 12 disciples got into an argument “as to which of them would be the greatest.” Now, because James and John had just seen Jesus gloriously transformed a few days earlier on the Mount of Transfiguration, and because we read in Matthew 20 that a few weeks later James and John came with their mommy to ask Jesus to give them the best seats in heaven, I think it’s safe to say that James and John were instigators of this argument. In short, some of the apostles were dealing with what I like to call “Muhammad Ali Syndrome.” They had over-inflated views of their own self-worth.

But Jesus put a stop to their chatter with a classic response. He brought a little child to stand beside him and told them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest” (v. 48). Writing about this incident, Chuck Swindoll said, “The response by Jesus is priceless…. He rebuked [his disciples] by embracing a child, someone too small, too weak, too helpless to be great. With the little boy standing with Him, Jesus rearranged the worldly pecking order. He upset the normal conventions of hierarchy in leadership. His speech was simple, consisting of three statements.”

And what were those three statements? 1) Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me. 2) Whoever welcomes me welcomes God the Father. 3) He who is least among you all is the greatest. And Mark offers us this powerful addendum to Jesus’ teaching in Mark 9:35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

We call this style of leadership “servant leadership.” And surprise, surprise, in the past 40 years, secular management gurus around the world have come to the conclusion that servant leadership is the most effective way for any CEO to lead. We lead others most effectively by serving others. Our greatness is not defined by how much we get others to serve us, but by how much we serve others.

Jesus’ definition of greatness is so different from the world’s definition of greatness. But sadly, far too many Christians choose to pursue greatness in the eyes of the world instead of greatness in the eyes of God. Far too many Christians pursue prestige, power and fame. But Jesus calls us back to a humbler, simpler Christianity—a Christianity marked by putting others’ needs above our own, by getting our hands dirty loving those whose lives are messy and undesirable, and by being the first to volunteer to be last.

On the heels of seeing Jesus in glorified form on the Mount of Transfiguration, what should have humbled James and John actually had caused their heads to swell. Jesus’ teaching about humbly serving others completely escaped them. It didn’t sink in. They so wanted to be great, but they just didn’t get it. They were still clueless about what true greatness looks like in Jesus’ kingdom. At this point in time, they were clueless, but in the days following Easter Sunday, their eyes would be opened. They would finally understand the truth, and they would be changed forever.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church of Victorville and the author of "Holy Huldah! Lessons You'll Never Forget From Bible Characters You Never Heard Of." Visit, and join us for our Worship Celebration Sundays at 10 a.m.

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