Sports are a pretty big deal in my house these days. It seems with 4 boys all under the age of twelve, their waking hours are spent talking about, watching, and participating in sports. They collect all sorts of trading cards and play every sports-themed video game out there. They wear the clothing: shirts, jerseys, and hats from their favorite teams and players. It’s all about sports these days and for my wife and I, we know there are worse things they could be interested in!
One sport in particular that captivated my boys early on was football and specifically professional (NFL) football. Each boy has laid claim to his particular team; one likes the New York Giants, one the Green Bay Packers, and one the Minnesota Vikings (he’s my favorite). The youngest isn’t quite interested just yet as he is only 2. But if it were up to me, I’d groom him into another Vikings fan (no hate mail, please!).
If you follow the NFL like my family, you know the name Tom Brady and you know the New England Patriots. Tom and company made big headlines this past February, making the most epic comeback in Super Bowl history by defeating the Atlanta Falcons. It was a big moment for the team and specifically for Brady who got his 5th Super Bowl title ring. Not long after the confetti settled and the Lombardi trophy was raised, the press and avid fans of the game started asking, “Is Tom Brady the Greatest Of All Time? Is there anyone better than him in the game, either past or present?”
It seems as a society we are obsessed with the idea of greatness and I suspect it’s because there is a part in each one of us that longs to be great. To take the field and score the game-winner. Or get on the stage, rock the crowd, and hear their affirmation. Or maybe it’s to lead a cause, perhaps political, and sway the majority of voters. Whatever it is, we long to be great and we identify with stories about greatness.
This idea of greatness however, really gets flipped on its head when we study the life of Jesus. There’s no denying that Jesus was the greatest person who ever lived. Being fully human yet fully divine, Jesus lived a sinless and perfect life. Jesus lived by a different standard than the one we measure greatness by today. Jesus defined “being the greatest of all time” in complete contrast: he defined it by becoming a servant.
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28
To offer some context for this statement, Jesus is admonishing his disciples. The mother of two disciples (James and John), had just asked Jesus, “Can my sons sit at your right and left hand in heaven?” Her request, bold and brazen, was nothing more than an opportunity to achieve greatness for her sons, and by default for herself. Jesus uses the opportunity to have a teaching moment and immediately disconnects the idea that greatness, true Kingdom greatness, is linked to power or fame. No. It’s about being a servant and becoming a slave to all men.
Paul understood this concept as the way he must operate. He saw it as the means to lead more to Christ:
Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits. 1 Corinthians 9:19,22-23
In our idealistic American mindset, we don’t see greatness this way. We see it as accomplishing something big and then getting accolades and awards for it. To do things sacrificially without any recognition and certainly no immediate benefit to ourselves seems foreign and downright illogical. This thinking prevails in society and creeps into the church where we assume bigger and better means our name in lights right next to Jesus’ name. We have the concept of greatness all wrong.
What I leave you with this week is a challenge and some homework. I wonder if by delving into this topic further, we can put legs to the idea of what Jesus is talking about:
What does it look like to serve and live our lives 180 degrees in opposition to what the world says?
It’s countercultural for sure, but as we pursue servant-mindedness, it’s guaranteed: people will start to notice. Taking the form of a servant and becoming a slave to everyone will cause us to stand out and people will begin to wonder why we act the way we do. When they ask, we have the opportunity to share Christ and explain that it is His example we follow.
He is the “Greatest Of All Time.” It’s worth letting the whole world know.
I’m challenging you to step out this week seeking greatness as it is measured by Kingdom standards. As you do, I’d love to hear your experiences and the conversations it sparks. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.