Some of you may know that the Discovery Channel is doing a series of television shows on “The Greatest American.” Through some process they have selected 100 different nominees for this title and through the month of June they will be airing a program that discusses these individuals. They will also be narrowing the focus down to twenty-five “finalists” and ultimately select “The Greatest American,” at least, according to their perspective.
Who would you select to be the “Greatest American?” Someone recently wrote and said they would select their mother and father because to them, those individuals are the greatest Americans that he has known. That’s pretty good thinking.
Often what we think of as the “greatest” isn’t based upon what truly has affected us as great, but what society as a whole pressures us to think of as “great.” The “great” must be someone who has achieved fame, is above average, esteemed highly, accomplished some great achievement, or attained special academic status. And while some may attain such levels in this life, the majority of the earth’s population simply won’t measure up, at least, according to the world’s standard.
How comforting then is it to know that God doesn’t have the same standard as the world. There was one occasion in the life of Jesus when his disciples took up this very question: “Who is the greatest?” (Matthew 18:1). The next few verses read: “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-4).
At another opportunity, some disciples were arguing over who would sit on the right hand and left of Jesus in the kingdom. We read Jesus response in Matthew 20:25-28 “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
It’s not the “great” who will be the “greatest” in God’s kingdom, but the one who humbles himself and becomes everyone else’s servant.
I’ve heard some ask, “Well, who might that ‘great’ one be? Who is the most humble? Who serves the most?” This is missing the point. It is just getting back to the same question the disciples had already asked, just in a different form. The point Jesus is making is that there is no one person who is “the greatest.” At the same time there may be many who are the “greatest.” How is that so?
What matters is our attitude. Even when we have served all that we can serve, we must still admit that we are unprofitable servants according to Luke 17:10. In that regard, we can never be the greatest. At the same time, we can be the greatest that we can be in the eyes of the Lord if we seek to love him with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). In this way, God sees us as His children, each being what they can be to be pleasing to their father. So each of us can be the “greatest” and at the same time none of us will be “the greatest.”
In this regard, Micah 6:8 comes to mind. The people in Micah’s day were kind of asking this same question. They wanted to know what they could do to be the greatest. Would thousands of burnt offerings do it? How about 10,000 rivers of oil? What about sacrificing my firstborn? None of those things would have made them great, so far as God was concerned. Instead the reply is: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Indeed, that’s what it takes to be the greatest.