Robert Griffith | 16 June 2024
Robert Griffith
16 June 2024


The Dictionary has several definitions for greatness:

“Unusual or considerable in degree, power, or intensity.”
“Wonderful; first-rate; very good.”
“Notable; remarkable; exceptionally good.”

It seems popular to define greatness as perceived success. If you have power, money, and status, then the world calls you great. Sometimes it’s chance; sometimes it’s not. William Shakespeare’s words are well known:

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Greatness, in the world’s eyes, is about material possessions and accomplishments. Nothing wrong with these things. But is this the correct definition?

Many of today’s celebrities advocate this notion of greatness. Take LeBron James, for example. With well over 70,000,000 social media followers, his influence on American culture is massive. And, curiously, most of his social media posts end with the hashtag: #Striveforgreatness. Like LeBron, I’d like to strive for greatness too, but I think his definition and mine are different.

The Meaning of Greatness in the Bible

Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, desired greatness. More than that, they craved fame and status. This is evident by a bold question proposed to Jesus:

Mark 10:35-37  “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

The arrogant desires of their hearts are obvious. They could’ve asked Jesus for anything. They don’t ask for more joy or more favour or faith or holiness or whatever. No, James and John want something else: they want glory.

It’s easy to beat up on the disciples. But picture yourself in the story. Do you struggle with selfish ambition? Are you sometimes motivated by selfish reasons? If you’re like me, this is a battle. You compare yourself with others, and sometimes desire good things for the wrong reasons.

Thankfully, Jesus is patient with the request of James and John. And he’s patient with us. What’s interesting is that Jesus never rebukes James and John’s desire for greatness. Instead, he gives them a new definition:

Mark 10:42-43   “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

So what’s true greatness? Here is C.J Mahaney’s definition of greatness from his excellent book Humility: True Greatness:

“As sinfully and culturally defined, pursuing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency to pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. Contrast that with the pursuit of true greatness as biblically defined: Serving others for the glory of God. This is the genuine expression of humility; this is true greatness as the Savior defined it.”

So, it’s not the desire that’s bad, per se, but the definition. And Jesus completely redefines what greatness is, which is serving others to the glory of God.

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