As a Sophomore in college I remember having an opportunity to eat dinner with a wise man. This man was a teacher who taught only one class at the college, biblical hermeneutics. Although he only taught one class at the college, he was a full time teacher at a local high school as well. He had devoted his life to teaching young guns like myself how to understand the Bible and how to live the Christian life.
Seeing him eating by himself one day at the school cafeteria, my friend and I went over to join him. I tried really hard to think of some good questions to ask him, but could only come up with one that I guess I had been thinking about.
“Prof, do you think it is okay to want to be great?”
The question came out of my own understanding of success. To me greatness was a public display of success. I wanted to be great because I thought that the greater you are in the public’s eye, the more glory you could give to God. But, the answer that he gave me was significantly different than my understanding and I have always remembered it.
“Sure it’s okay… as long as it’s actually true greatness you’re talking about.”
He then went on to describe the essence of what true greatness is in God’s plan. True greatness is not necessarily standing before throngs of people and being held up as a pattern of goal accomplishment and success. Rather, true greatness comes from the least expected places.
True greatness is seen in the elderly widow who faithfully prays every day for her grandchildren to come to know Christ. True greatness is found in the childless couple who take time out of their lives to visit those who have no parents. True greatness is present in that young man or woman, who despite suffering in incredible ways, is always found serving in anonymous ways. Those people define what it means to be truly great, because it is not people who can evaluate true greatness—it is only God (cf. 1 Cor 4:5). It is faithfulness to Him which marks someone as truly great.
Of course one of the go-to texts on the issue of greatness in the Christian life is Luke 22:24-27. Ironically, we know from John 13 that this argument about who is greater among the disciples is done in the context of Jesus washing the disciples feet!
And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 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 22:24-27
In other words, in the Christian life, the greatest among you is the servant.
I have pondered this definition of greatness many times. Such wisdom in this simple truth—true greatness is not found in public display before man, but in private display before Christ.