The Paradox of Greatness

Mohammad Ali is considered one of the greatest boxers of all-time. If you asked him, he would let you know what he thinks about himself. He is known for his charismatic personality and self-absorbed sayings: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” “I’m pretty. I’m a bad man!” “I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, but I pick the round.” “I’m the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”

Imagine these words coming from the mouth of a preacher, elder, or deacon. Imagine these words coming from the mouth of any Christian for that matter. What would be your reaction?

Enter the paradox of greatness. Have you ever really stopped to consider what our divine purpose is? To what are we called? Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). God’s chosen people are those who believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. God’s royal priesthood are those who administer his divine mission and purpose. God’s holy nation are those who live in harmony with his will. We declare the praises of him because he called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light. Peter gives us a representation of greatness. We all have something in common. We want to be somebody significant. We want our lives to count. We want to become great.

In Luke’s Gospel, we read of an issue that arises among the disciples of Jesus. An argument… “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great’” (Luke 9:46-48). What? The disciples are in an argument? Does that really happen? Ever? Of course, it does… They are arguing over who is the greatest. They are essentially asking if they can become someone great in the Kingdom.

Well what about us? Can we become someone great in the Kingdom? We can have value, importance, and great influence in the Kingdom. But we can only have it if we’re willing to do it God’s way. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great. So what’s the paradox? As God’s people, we are chosen, royal, and holy. This is greatness. God says we are great. But we know we struggle to live this out. We fall short in many ways. All too often we choose our own path, not God’s.

Back to Luke 9. They argue so much that they are actually confused by what their mission is all about. Look at John’s comment in Luke 9:49, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” We often think there should be no one higher than ourselves. Do you remember the request of James and John in Mark 10:35-37? “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus responded, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Grant us to sit, one on your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” they requested.

We often think that what we have is ours because we deserve it. We are called great by God through Peter, but if we are honest, we fail to measure up. Carole Mayhall, in Filled to Overflowing, tells the story of a heavyset woman who went to an exercise and diet clinic. The first thing the supervisor did was draw a silhouette on a mirror in the shape she wished to become. As she stood before the mirror, she bulged out over the silhouette. The instructor told her, “Our goal is for you to fit this shape.” For many weeks the woman dieted and exercised. Each week she would stand in front of the mirror, but her volume, while decreasing, still overflowed. So she exercised harder and dieted more rigidly. Finally, one day, to everyone’s delight, as she stood in front of the mirror she was conformed to the image of the silhouette.

It takes time and work to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. The discipline of sorrow and suffering, the exercise of pain and trials conform us to his image. Our challenge today… Desire to be great. Live like we’re chosen. Live like royalty. Live holy lives that bring honor and glory to God. Rather than living down to our reality, let’s live up to our calling.

Mohammad Ali had another famous saying: “My only fault is that I don’t realize how great I really am.” We have been created in the image of Almighty God. By virtue of that fact, we are people of greatness. Let’s live up to our calling.

Keith Harris serves as the Preaching Minister at WindSong Church of Christ in Little Rock, AR. He enjoys life in Little Rock with his wonderful wife and two great kids. Keith holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees from Harding University, as well as a Master of Science degree in Ministry from Lubbock Christian University. He enjoys playing golf, traveling, and the Arkansas Razorbacks.