The Essence of True Greatness


Jesus derived His identity from His relationship with His Father, not from the opinions of His family and peers. How can we do the same?

The Quest for Greatness in the Sight of Men

Near the end of our Lord's earthly ministry, His disciples were arguing about who would occupy the best positions in His kingdom. They refused to listen to His increasingly frequent words about His coming crucifixion, and focused instead on the part they wanted to hear. When James and John approached Jesus and said, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10:37), the other disciples became indignant because they had their eyes on the same places. Jesus told them that the one who wishes to be great among them will be their servant, and whoever wishes to be first among them will be slave of all. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

Weeks later when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the night before His own sacrifice, the same dispute surfaced again. Christ's rebuttal to their quest for recognition was that true greatness is found in those who are willing to serve. “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

The Essence of True Greatness

John 13 portrays a visual parable that communicated this precise issue to the disciples with poignancy and clarity. It is evident that there was no servant to wash the feet of the Lord and His men before they reclined at the table. This must have been an embarrassing situation: foot washing was a customary part of hospitality in the ancient Near East, but it was obvious that if the disciples were fighting for their place in the sun, none of them would volunteer to be the servant of all. Their embarrassment became acute when Jesus Himself rose from supper, laid aside His garments, tied a towel around Himself, and began to wash the disciples' feet and wipe them with the towel. His lesson was evident: if their Teacher and Lord became their servant, they should also serve one another (vv. 13-15).

The key to Christ's willingness to serve others in place of being served by them is found in the crucial truth that Jesus knew that “the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God” (v. 3). He knew His dignity and power (“the Father had given all things into His hands”), He knew His significance and identity (“and that He had come forth from God”), and He knew His security and destiny (“and was going back to God”).

It is important to note that Jesus derived His identity from His relationship with His Father and not from the opinions of His family and peers. He was criticized, rejected, slandered, misunderstood, plotted against, betrayed, denied, and abused by His family and friends, His disciples, the Jewish religious leaders, and the Romans. As His ministry progressed, our Lord faced increasing levels of hostility and opposition. In spite of all this, He knew who and whose He was, and His relationship with the Father gave Him the power and security to love and serve others. It would have been impossible for Jesus to have done this if He had allowed Himself to be defined and bound by the opinions of the people around Him.

Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth

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