The Dispute Over Greatness

One of the great old comic strips that is still going strong today is the cute family strip, The Family Circus. Most of the time the kids there say cute things and do cute things, but they are not perfect. Sometimes one of the parents confronts all the kids at once, wondering which one made a mistake: “All right, who is kicking the table?” “Who threw sunflower seeds all over this floor?” “I think I know the answer, but I’ll ask anyway. Which of you broke my plate?” The mom, who asked that last question, “knew the answer” because she knew that the kids liked to pass the blame to someone called, “Not Me.” “I didn’t do it, Dad. Not me!” Bil Keane, the artist/writer of that strip, loved in those moments to draw a ghoulish figure standing next to the kids, with “Not Me” written on ghost. “Not Me” had two friends – a gal ghoul named “Ida Know” (Get it? I don’t know) and a tough looking ghoul named “Nobody.”

Telling Mom or Dad that it was “Not Me” when you actually did it is not a good habit to have. But there IS a very positive way to say “Not Me” as a Christian. It’s when people want to give you credit, and you say, “It’s not me, but God. Because it’s not about me.” “It’s not about me,” some of you may recall, is the famous first sentence of the Christian bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life.” As Rick Warren, the author, also said: Life is “not about you! God put you on this earth, and God has a message He wants to declare to the world through you. But your life message,” Warren insists, “is not about you. It’s about Jesus Christ.”

We have just heard the bible passage in which a dispute arose among the disciples about which one of them was the greatest. One might ask why, after hearing Jesus preach time and time again about the importance of service to others, the disciples would talk about such things? Well, being sinful humans like us, what the disciples heard from Jesus was “in one ear and out the other.” Plus we sinful humans are prone to make comparisons between us – who’s up and who’s down and who’s in and who’s out. PLUS, and most importantly, they probably continued to believe in the popular view of the Messiah – the view that the Messiah was the most powerful and influential person around, doing this great thing and that great thing. They probably were scratching their heads when Jesus would keep telling the people He healed not to advertise what Jesus had done for them. The disciples stubbornly held onto the view that Jesus would kick out those terrible Romans and rule Israel as a mighty king – with the disciples basking in the sunshine of Christ’s power – and gaining power themselves. Around that time the brothers James and John asked to sit at the right and left of Jesus on His earthly throne. So we have the bragging between the disciples: “I did this for that person in Jericho!” “Well, I did an even greater deed for that person in Capernaum!” “Well I’m the best – I helped Jesus cure a whole raft of people in Bethsaida!”

Jesus, of course, overheard. This time He and the disciples were not walking anywhere; He was there right with them at the Last Supper. When He heard them bragging and comparing themselves to one another, He told them, “The kings of the Gentiles LORD it over [their subjects]; and those in authority over them are called “benefactors.” But [it shall be] not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at table? But I am among you as one who serves.” You see, Jesus was hosting that last supper. Perhaps Jesus even served the food and drink to all of them, as He had also washed their feet. Maybe Jesus ALWAYS served those at His table with food and drink.

You know, as I mentioned before, it was just before they got to Jerusalem that the disciples overheard James and John and their mother ask to be declared Christ’s top two disciples. Matthew writes that the other ten were “angry” with them. Note what Jesus said at that time: “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as” – now get this – “just as the Son of Man [that’s Jesus] came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Now one of the central things I have come to find in the New Testament that was glossed over when I was growing up was this: it isn’t just Christ who is called upon to act this way, as a servant in His time on earth. You see I was taught, “Hey, wasn’t Jesus so wonderful when He helped people and then He tricked the devil by dying on the cross and getting rid of our sins? Then Jesus was raised from the dead in triumph, and now Jesus no longer has to take it from anybody, nor do we – we Christians are the greatest people and we have the greatest religious leader, Jesus!” That’s what I was taught.

Some of that sentiment is about 180 degrees opposite of the way we should feel and the way we should understand our Christian lives going forward. We are called to be humble, to be service-oriented, to be looking out for others – that’s real greatness! You know some pretty amazing things are said about this new kind of cross-bearing life you and I are called to lead. Let me give you some examples. Paul once said about Christ, “And He died for all, so that they who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” We live for Jesus, who then points us to others, to go live for THEM. In his first letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul tells them, “Do not seek your own advantage, but rather the advantage of the other person,” and then nine verses later proclaims, “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many so that they may be saved.”

Rick Warren, the man who wrote that life is not about us but about our divine purpose and our mission in life for Christ, later said this: “I chose those four words – ‘It’s not about you’ – to start The Purpose Driven Life because that’s the most countercultural message you could give in today’s world. Nearly everything in society – songs, video games, TV shows, news stories, and advertisement – says you’ve got to think about yourself first.”

Then Rick adds this: “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t put that sentence in the book, because I had no idea that for the rest of my life I was going to be constantly tested on that phrase. I have to repeat it to myself 20 times a day!” Rick then says, “When someone praises me, criticizes me, misjudges me, or disagrees with me, I have to remind myself, ‘It’s not about me.’ Why? Because when I focus on me, I’m going to get discouraged.”

Now, why does Rick Warren say he gets “discouraged” at that point? Well, he says, “The more you lead a self-focused life, the more you’re prone to discouragement. Every time you forget that it’s not about you, you’re going to get prideful or fearful or bitter. Those feelings will always lead to discouragement because they keep you focused on yourself.” I would add that living like that we are unfortunately seeking our own glory, not God’s glory.

To get a grasp on this, let’s really understand the depth of our sin. As someone once said, “Selfishness is not [only] living as [we] wish to live; it is [also] asking others to live as [we] wish to live.” As I have said before, we sinners lead our lives as if we are the star of our own movie or TV show. Everything that happens in each daily episode of our movie happens either to us or in front of us. We are the hero; everyone should bow to our needs first. In this movie we’ve written out everyone’s lines and actions so that it should be clear to them what pleases us. But for some dumb reason no one seems to do their parts correctly – they flub their lines and go off and do things that hurt our feelings!

But in the God-centered life, we are there to serve, not be served. We are not the star. We are there for the glory of the “loving others”-centered life, not the “being loved”-centered life. God, out of God’s great glory, is inspiring others to take care of us; so let’s just focus on what God is inspiring US to do. Let’s de-clutter our brains by putting our self-centered thoughts away to die.

And when we put self-centered thoughts away to die, we begin to look at others differently. We’ve taken the log out of our own eye to see clearly the pain of the other; we no longer do very calculated good deeds – the ones that get noticed – because our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing. More than that, we see the wonders that God has done by making these other people – -even people that drive us crazy sometimes – people whom sometimes we don’t like very much. As Paul urges, “Do nothing from selfish ambition and vain conceit. Rather in all humility, VALUE OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.” Yes, that’s right. Let me repeat that because it goes exactly against the disciples arguing about who is greatest or has the most influence or whatever. We are to “value others as better than yourselves.” That’s God’s glory, because God has valued us more than Himself. How? By sending His Son to die for you and me.

Let’s give God the glory – all the glory. I’m reminded of a song that we sing at Easter, “Thine is the Glory.” “Thine is the glory, risen conquering Son! Endless is the victory, Thou over death hast won! Angels in bright raiment, rolled the stone away. Kept the folded graveclothes where Thy body lay! Thine is the glory, risen conquering Son! Endless is the victory, Thou over death hast won!”

It wasn’t just over physical death that Christ has triumphed. Through His Spirit, Christ is triumphing by bringing about the spiritual death of sin in us as well – putting to death in us the foul deeds of our selfishness. Now we no longer say “Not Me!” when God is calling us to give our lives for others. Our old self now dead, God’s glory is Christ raising us to newness of life – the new life in which we love others almost as much as Jesus Christ loves us. Amen.

Go to kogcarmel.org and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday. Archived worship services and boosts may be found at the bottom of King of Glory’s home page.

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