As humans we are naturally competitive. We attach meaning to being first, excelling above others, and beating out the competition. Never do we want to seem like we are equal to others – we want to be better than everybody else. We want to be more financially stable than others, have better homes and marriages than others, have better cars, better lives, better children – even if it comes at the expense of others.
But what we attach value to here matters very little in the kingdom of God. In fact, the reverse is true. Those who are last, the weakest, the poorest, the least fit and the least deserving, come first in the kingdom of God. Those who are willing to risk and lose it all are the ones who gain an abundance of God’s riches; not be confused with the riches of this world that corrode, but the riches of heaven that endure.
“The one who wants to be the greatest, will first find themselves being a servant.” While this is true, quest for greatness already gets a person off on the wrong foot. According to God’s law, greatness is not an achievement and those who desire it will seldom find themselves truly serving others with the love that God requires. But the irony here is that those who serve others, with no regard for themselves, will find one day that they are great – and they will care less.
This is why humility is so important. It takes an authentically humble person to live their entire lives, not wishing to be seen or praised but just wanting to serve others. It takes humility for such a person to be unconcerned about whether they are relevant, popular, rich or whatever else. This person instead is oriented toward God’s kingdom, truly seeking Him first. And they will find everything else is added, not even caring because that was never their motivation in the first place.
Let’s put this in context by looking at Jesus – our example par excellence. Though He had every right to claim power and prestige, He didn’t. This is what Philippians says about Him:
“who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The very Son of God, Savior of the world made Himself nothing. And when people tried to ascribe to Him position and power, He consistently rejected it. When the people wanted to anoint Him king, He ran. When those they He healed wanted to go and tell the world about Him, He told them to keep quiet. Even in His triumphal entry, what should have solidified His position more than anything else, He rode in on a donkey – the most unkingly thing that He could have ever done. He even confessed that He didn’t come to be served, but to be a servant to all.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” If our Lord and Savior, the very Son of God came to be a servant, what does that mean for us? If God, the creator of all that has ever existed was intent on giving up power for us, what does it say about us when we try to grasp for power, when we lust after greatness, when we strive to make a name for ourselves?
It’s not that power and greatness in and of itself are wrong – it’s what we do with these things and what we do to gain them that gets the world all twisted. In the words of John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton,
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Looking throughout the trajectory of human history, we have to know that this is true. People with power (and money) do strange things to others. Genocide. Slavery. Crusades. Domination. Colonization. Empire. This is why Jesus said that power, position, or greatness should not be our aim. If we want to aim for something, let’s aim to be servants. Let’s aim to serve the world around us with acts of kindness and love, not seeking anything in return but perhaps love itself. And watch the world change, oh you better believe the world would change.