This morning as I read demand #17 (Humble Yourself in Childlikeness) from John Piper’s latest release What Jesus Demands from the World, I was struck by this sentence: “The desire to be great – so deeply engrained is the craving.” These words immediately pricked my self-admiring, self-sufficient, self-glorifying heart, and my ruptured pride slowly trickled onto the floor of my conscience. And so I am faced with a choice today. I can ignore the Spirit-guided missle aimed for my heart, or I can repent and face up to the reality that I desire greatness. I want to be noticed, praised, adored, esteemed and respected. I want these things – and yet these desires, if fulfilled, will keep me from believing the Gospel – the truth that I am an unworthy, needy, sinful servant (Luke 17:10) – as I should.

This desire – the craving to be great – is prevalent in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and so I suppose that I am in good company – if one can be in such considering the outcome of a life of greatness as measured by earthly wisdom is an eternity separated from the grace and mercy of God. In Matthew 18:1 the disciples asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus’ response: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like childre, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In Matthew 23:11 Jesus told the Pharisees and his disciples: “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In Mark 9 the disciples are arguing in Capernaum about who was the greatest (9:33). Jesus told them (notice that they never tell Jesus what they were arguing about, and yet he knows), “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all (9:35).” And at Jesus’ final meal, hours before he would be mocked, ridiculed, openly despised, tortured and murdered, Luke tells us that Jesus’ closest friends were once again arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus said to them: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves (22:25-27).” Just so that Jesus’ point is clear, he reveals than his disciples must follow in his footsteps on the path to the gates of Jesus’ kingdom: “A disciple is not about his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (10:24-25).

What does this mean? Jesus offers the answer in his response. True greatness is not found in adoration and praise from men. It is not found in places of prestige and power. It cannot be achieved in showers of accolades, rewards and recognition. It is not obtained through self-righteous, self-deluded judgments and comparisons with other sinners. It is found in child-like humility and dependence upon God, complete trust that He will provide for our needs. It is found in the self-abasement of service to others – both friend and foe – for the sake of loving people made in the image of God to the praise of His glory.

But we must sound the warning, and the warning is the reality that even as we try to empty our hearts of all pride and cravings for greatness, we often face a similar pitfall when our “humility” and “service” become a means of self-justification, and thus, another way to pursue greatness in the eyes of men. When we want people to notice our humility, acts of service, and forgiving spirit, we are as guilty of seeking greatness as when we desire it through ambition.

And so we must always remind ourselves that we have received more from God than we deserve, and that ultimately we deserve nothing of what we receive. All that God requires from us we must do, not because God’s demands are a means for us to secure more comfort or blessing, but simply because we are His creatures, made in His image, for the purpose of glorifying His greatness for all eternity.

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