What Is Greatness?
WHAT makes a person great? For many it is prominence, being able to tell others what to do and being waited on by them. But is having tremendous authority what makes a person truly great?
God’s view of greatness is very different from that of many people. Jesus Christ, who perfectly reflected his Father’s mind on matters, made this clear. Directing his comments to his disciples, he said: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister [servant], and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:25-27) Jesus Christ backed up these words by setting the example in serving. He added: “Just as the Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister.” Yes, Jesus did not come seeking to be waited on, but he himself did the serving, even giving “his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”—Matt. 20:28.
The Son of God was outstanding in not being ‘position-minded.’ In his prehuman existence he occupied the foremost place among millions of spirit sons of God. Yet he willingly gave up that position to serve in the interests of sinful mankind. Calling attention to this, the apostle Paul encouraged fellow believers: “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men.”—Phil. 2:5-7.
As a man, not only was Jesus “a little lower than angels” but he did not even enjoy any special prominence among his fellow countrymen. (Heb. 2:7) Though they were born into the royal line of David, neither his foster father Joseph nor his mother Mary possessed riches or influence. When presenting an offering for her purification, Mary could not afford to sacrifice a sheep and therefore she had to take advantage of the law that permitted offering up instead “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24; Lev. 12:8) Regarding his own circumstances, Jesus once remarked: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.”—Matt. 8:20.
In the heavens, the Son of God had lacked nothing. That is why the apostle Paul could write that “though he was rich he became poor.” (2 Cor. 8:9) As a relatively poor man on earth, Jesus humbly served others. He brought spiritual and physical healing to many, opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf and restoring the crippled to soundness of limb. In everything that he did Jesus was motivated by love.
The Bible reports that when his privacy was interrupted by a great crowd of people “he was moved with pity for them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:32-34) He manifested the same self-sacrificing attitude when healing people. He deeply wanted to bring relief to those who were suffering. There was the time when a leper entreated him: “If you just want to, you can make me clean.” “Moved with pity,” Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him,” saying: “I want to. Be made clean.” (Mark 1:40, 41) Such healings drew on Jesus’ vitality. The Scriptures tell us that, in connection with one miraculous cure, Jesus ‘perceived that power went out of him.’ (Luke 8:46) Nevertheless, he was willing and eager to serve sinful humans in this way.
The example of Jesus Christ in humbly serving gave real force to his teaching about what constitutes “greatness.” When pointing out to his disciples that they should not conduct themselves like worldly kings and others who are called “Benefactors,” Jesus directed attention to his own example: “For which one is greater, the one reclining at the table or the one ministering? Is it not the one reclining at the table? But I am in your midst as the one ministering.”—Luke 22:25-27.
However, a person’s willingly serving others does not in itself make him great. The individual must be rightly motivated, doing everything as unto the Creator. One who appreciated this was the apostle Paul. In a letter to the Corinthian Christians, he said: “If I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body, that I may boast, but do not have love, I am not profited at all.” (1 Cor. 13:3) So, then, true greatness comes from serving others because of deep love for them and the Creator, Jehovah God.
The so-called “greatness” of those who wield extensive authority and are waited on by others often leads to serious problems. The person having a position of prominence strives to maintain his control by keeping others down. His underlings, as a result, may build up resentment toward him. Among those aspiring for a comparable position of “greatness” a competitive spirit usually prevails. This gives rise to bitter disputes, envies and frustrations. On the other hand, the person who unselfishly gives of himself endears himself to others and experiences much happiness.
This is well illustrated in the case of the apostle Paul. He labored willingly and eagerly in behalf of others. To the elders of the congregation at Ephesus, he could say: “Bear in mind that for three years, night and day, I did not quit admonishing each one with tears. . . . I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands have attended to the needs of me and of those with me. I have exhibited to you in all things that by thus laboring you must assist those who are weak, and must bear in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’”—Acts 20:31-35.
Paul’s serving others in the way that he did brought him much happiness. It also endeared him to the hearts of his fellow workers. When, for example, the elders of the Ephesus congregation heard that they might never again see Paul on earth, “quite a bit of weeping broke out among them all, and they fell upon Paul’s neck and tenderly kissed him.”—Acts 20:37.
Yes, true greatness comes from humble service, motivated by love for God and fellowmen. Is this the kind of greatness for which you are striving? Have you rejected the world’s view of greatness, a view based on being able to command rather than on being willing to serve God and fellow humans? It is the greatness that comes from serving that pays rich dividends. Such greatness brings much happiness to its possessor and proves to be a source of fine encouragement and uplift to others.