I love how Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. correctly stated in “The Drum Major Instinct”, a 2/4/1968 sermon, “Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.” Said differently, King explained, “Greatness is determined by service.”
These words of Dr. King and others always resonated with me, particularly because they lined up so well with the words and message of Jesus Christ. I always thought it was awesome that they were repeating the words, message, and idea that Jesus taught to disciples and commanded for all of us. And I loved that Jesus gave us this new norm that transformed what was truly great and important. The thing that is so awesomely beautiful and just mind-blowing is that JESUS WAS GREAT in the way He defined greatness for us. He talked the talk AND He walked the walk. He, GOD manifest in flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), exemplified the true greatness through love-fueled service that He called for in our lives! In Matthew 20:25-28 (also in Mark 10:42-45) Jesus responded to the desire of James and John to sit on His right hand and left hand in glory. He broke down beautifully what greatness really was about: He 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 [to be served], but to minister [to serve], and to give His life a ransom for many.
He explained to them that greatness wasn’t about dominion, power, or authority but about ministry or SERVICE. I just love how He moves from telling us what greatness was about in His kingdom, something that we might conclude makes sense for us, His forever-indebted servants, to showing how He was the truest example of that. He, the son of God, “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), came to earth to serve, not to be served, to give His life. He could have said, “You all are mere humans and should live lives of service. I, on the other hand, am fully human but also fully God, so it wouldn’t be fitting for me to serve anybody, particularly people.” But that’s the farthest thing from his rhetoric and life. We see His mindset, which we’re called to, in Philippians 2:5-8:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus told us and showed us how to live our lives. He put on flesh and lived His life and died His death as a servant, for love, in His purpose. 1 John 3:16 says, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” It was about His consistent choices. We can see real love and follow true greatness when we look at Him. He taught us with His words and His life. When we think about and worship Him for being great, we can celebrate Him in all of His extraordinary power and glory, majesty and might but we can also adore Him for His perfect service, self-humbling, and sacrifice for us, for His perfect plan, and ultimately for His glory. He chose to live out greatness in service. Now it’s our turn.