I’m convinced that everyone possesses a God-given longing for greatness. As believers, we may think this longing is from some dark place in our souls, or from the Devil. Perhaps we have tried repeatedly to repent of it. But when two disciples asked Jesus for a position of greatness in His Father’s kingdom, He didn’t rebuke them for their desire. He did shock them with how to fulfill it. “Whoever wishes to be great…must be the servant” (Mt. 20:26-28). Our longing for greatness is not wicked, but our self-exalting attempts to satisfy it are!
How do we gain power on the inside to walk the path of greatness that Jesus sets before us? Where do we get the motivation to serve without resentment, without regard for recognition?
Here’s what we find in other scriptures: When we know our dearness to God and His promise to one day openly reward every choice for humility and servanthood in Him, we are empowered to go low and serve. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, fully aware of His own greatness (Jn. 13:3). Reclining at the table, He knew that He had power over all things; how one day all would bow before Him; how He would soon ascend to sit at the right hand of the Father. And it was with this knowledge that He rose from the table and went to the lowest place. Without resentment, He bowed down to wash the dirtiest part of the very ones who were about to abandon Him—even deny Him—in His darkest hour.
In Colossians 3:1-14, Paul reveals the same movement of the heart. I would amplify it like this:
You’ve been raised and seated with Christ on the most powerful throne in the entire universe. Fill your thoughts with this. You’re going to be glorified with Christ when He appears. The Father will openly reward every hidden act of love. In the twinkling of an eye, your body will be changed to display the measure of glory you cultivated during your earthly life. So put an end to the cravings of your old nature: sexual immorality, greed, and grasping after worldly things to satisfy your eternal longings. Completely turn your back upon anger, slander, and unclean speech. For, remember, you have taken off your old self, and have put on your new self, which is growing in glory as we grow in Christ. Therefore, as ones appointed for greatness, who are set apart for God and deeply loved by Him, clothe yourselves with tenderness and humility… and above all, put on love.
Paul told the Corinthians that they were acting like “mere men” by their envious factions (1 Cor. 3:1-3). His implication is that if they knew their greatness, they wouldn’t have to squabble anymore over who belonged to whom. A thief wouldn’t need to steal anymore if he knew he were already rich with inheritance.
So, why do we grasp for men’s approval when the King of the ages is lovingly watching us? Why do we care if our good deeds go unnoticed by people when we have a Father who sees in secret and is committed to rewarding us? Oh, when I know it deep in my heart, I will gladly serve (in prayer and in deed) those who might never know or thank me.
Now, God doesn’t tell us that we have to feel kind and humble. He says to put on kindness and humility. And as we make the choice to cultivate our natures to be like His, He’ll meet us; and He’ll change our emotions in time.
Lest we romanticize greatness so much that we fail to cultivate it, let us say it again: greatness is forged by choices for love and righteousness, whether we feel virtuous in the moment or not.
In Matthew 5:19, Jesus said that the one who follows His teachings —namely the teaching He was giving in the Sermon on the Mount—and teaches others to do the same will be great in the kingdom of heaven. When we are faithful to be a servant to the Word, regardless of the persecution or disapproval it brings from others, we are at once serving God and others. We have become the servant of all.
Father, I set my heart again today to put on Christ’s character. And if, in the moment, I don’t feel His character within me, that’s OK. I’m going to put it on anyway. Thank You that You will transform my emotions in the process, and You will one day openly reward each choice for love and holiness.