IF YOU WANT TO BE GREAT
I have a friend who has done well in Contemporary Christian Music.
He's sold a ton of records, he's won a Dove award, he's toured the
globe, he's made a good living. He's long since passed the "we'll play
for your youth group for a love offering" phase — people pay for
tickets to attend his concerts, and he usually plays before thousands.
He's successful in this field, and there's nothing wrong with that, but
he did admit that one aspect of his success bothers him. He said, "They
call what I do 'ministry.' That's not right. I'm not a minister, I'm a
celebrity. My concerts are entertainment. We're not feeding the poor or discipling new Christians or changing the world. We're just singing
songs that people like to hear."
Maybe my friend is getting a little jaded in his old age, but his
comments do reveal a misconception that many in the church today have
about ministry. Too often we equate it with celebrity and glamour. We
think of ministry as the high profile stuff: writing books that people
read, writing songs that people sing, speaking
or performing in front of an audience — this is what many people aspire
to. These things have their place in the body of Christ, but we need to
understand that leadership is so much more than visibility.
In Mark 10 Jesus presented his disciples with a new model for
ministry. It's the model he followed, and it's the model he expects us
to follow. Today we'll look at how to do that.
This story begins with Jesus telling his disciples about his
impending death. He says that he will be mocked, beaten, spat upon and
killed. And then Jesus tells them that he will be raised on the third
day. At this moment, James and John take the opportunity to ask a favor
(v. 35-41) 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."
"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink
the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"
"We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the
cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to
sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to
those for whom they have been prepared."
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James
Now...let's not be too quick to judge James and John for being
insensitive and selfishly ambitious. In fact, I'll tell you something.
As a pastor and ministry leader, and as a businessman, there have been
times when I've wished I had a few James and Johns on my team. Most
pastors I know feel the same way. These guys had some good things going
for them. Think about it.
They were men of vision. Jesus had just told them that
he was going to Jerusalem to die. He also told them that he would be
raised again on the third day. The part about Jesus dying didn't phase
James and John, but the part about him being raised from the dead
captured their imagination. They knew who he was; they understood that
he was God's chosen Messiah. They believed that he would one day rule
all of creation. They had tremendous faith in Jesus. And they realized
they were in on the ground floor, so to speak. They wanted to be key
players in his administration.
What if you could go back in time to the mid-1970s, and you were able
to locate this nerdy looking kid who had just flunked out of Harvard,
and you could say to him: "Bill Gates, I believe you're going places. I
want to be on your team." Or what if you could go back a few more years
and find a nerdy looking guy who's fascinated with science fiction
stories, and you could say to him: "George Lucas, I think you have
talent for making movies. I want to work with you." Imagine how easy it
would be ride their coattails to success.
In the same way, just about every pastor I know would be thrilled to
have a couple of guys come along and say, "We think you're the next Rick
Warren, we think this church could be the next Saddleback, we want to be
part of your success." This is similar to what James and John saw in
Jesus, except, obviously, on a much grander scale. They understood who
Jesus was and they wanted to be a part of it. They were men of vision.
They were also willing to pay the price. Jesus asked
them plainly, "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the
baptism I am baptized with?" He was using colloquial phrases that
meant: Are you willing and able to suffer with me? They quickly
answered, "Yes we are." They weren't just blowing smoke; they did, in
fact, suffer for the kingdom of God. John was boiled in oil and exiled
to the island of Patmos; James was murdered by Herod. These men paid a
price for their allegiance to Jesus, so when they told Jesus that they
were willing to suffer, they meant it.
Once again, just about every pastor I know would love for a couple of
energetic workers to come along and say, "We know that building a great
ministry for the glory of God takes hard work and sacrifice — and we're
willing to do it. We'll put in the extra hours; we'll give till it
hurts; we'll be there when you need us. We'll pay the price." That's
what James and John said to Jesus, and they meant it.
Another good thing about James and John is that they weren't
afraid of being unpopular. Mark says that when the other
disciples heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Why were they indignant? Some scholars say it was because they were
irritated that James and John beat them to the punch.
In the previous
chapter of Mark, Jesus asked the disciples what they had been arguing
about on the road. Mark wrote, "But they kept quiet because on the
way they had argued about who was the greatest." (Mark 9:34
Apparently this was an ongoing debate among the twelve: who was the
best, who was the greatest, who was the most committed, who was the
favorite. They discussed these things among themselves, but James and
John were the first to be bold enough and come right out and ask for a
position of prominence.
It's like they were saying to Jesus, "We'll let
those 'also-rans' bicker among themselves while the three of us get down
to serious business."
Again, almost every pastor I know, and certainly every businessman,
appreciates having a few players on the team who have enough confidence
and commitment to separate themselves from the crowd and try to make a
name for themselves.
James and John were what most people would consider ideal leaders.
You could build a successful business with guys like them, but Jesus
wanted to make it clear that their type of leadership doesn't work in
the kingdom of God. That's because, in spite of all the good things they
had going for them, there were some serious flaws in their approach.
This is an important distinction. Jesus didn't scold them for wanting
to be great. He just corrected them for going about it the wrong way.
Desiring to achieve greatness in the kingdom of God is good, but there's
only one way to get there. You must become a servant. That's what Jesus
(v. 43) Whoever wants to become great among you must be your
servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Jesus says that greatness isn't measured by position or power or
prestige or influence or income or anything else. Most pastors and
businessmen would love to have workers like James and John — people
with vision, ready to pay the price, willing to stand up and be counted
— but we would love even more to have men and women on our team who are
determined to achieve greatness —and nothing less — according to the
standard set by Jesus.
The name of this series is Walk His Way. We want to learn to
live, love and lead like Jesus did. Jesus said, "For even the Son of
Man did not come to be served, but to serve." (v. 44) For the next
few minutes we'll take a look at what it means to be servant. I can sum
it up for you in just a few words. If you want to be great in the
kingdom of God, you must spend your life focusing on what you give, not
what you get. Here are three ways this applies to our lives.
First of all, being a servant means...
1. You must be willing to work without a guarantee
James and John tried to negotiate a good deal for themselves. They
said, "We'll share your vision, we'll pay the price, we'll do the work,
and in return, we want the recognition we deserve." Jesus said, in
effect, "It doesn't work that way." He told them, "You will pay a price,
but I can't promise you a position of power or prestige; that's not up
Every person who wants to achieve greatness in the kingdom of God
must let go of the desire for recognition, because most of the time,
most people who serve God never get the recognition they deserve — not
in this life. As we speak there is a multitude of committed believers
quietly giving 100% of themselves to the work of God, faithfully
performing their ministries with a spirit of excellence, and we'll never
know who they are. There are congregations being served by dedicated
pastors who live in poverty and danger, and no one really knows about
them. There are missionaries who have dedicated their lives to easing
the suffering of the poorest of the poor in the slums of some of the
poorest cities in the third world, and their work often gets overlooked.
Even here in America, there are leaders in the church who put in long
hours, who sacrifice their time and resources so that others can have a
chance to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who give all they have
to give and then give some more — and their contributions go virtually
unnoticed. For every pastor who becomes a best-selling author and every
worship leader that gets a national recording contract, there are tens
of thousands more whose work is never noticed beyond the boundaries of
their local community.
It may not seem fair, but that's the way it is. And that's the way it
needs to be. If you need the recognition of men and women to keep you
motivated in doing kingdom work, you're not yet cut out for greatness.
As long as you're focusing on "What's in it for me" you can't be an
effective servant of Jesus Christ, because a servant focuses on what
he's able to give, not what he's able to get. If you want to be
great in God's kingdom, you've got to be willing to serve faithfully —
even when there's no applause forthcoming. Secondly, being a servant
2. You must be willing to pay the price
Jesus told James and John that they would suffer. He said, "You
will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am
baptized with." (v. 40) They understood his meaning: this is not an
easy road that lays before you. People who want to achieve greatness in
the kingdom need to understand that there is a price to be paid. 1 Peter
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also
with the same attitude...(1 Peter 4:1)
Many times we look at successful people and we see only the rewards
they receive. Professional athletes are a good example; these guys make
a ton of money. The media love to talk about their inflated salaries,
but rarely do they show us the price these men pay for their wealth: the
rigorous training they put themselves through, the fierce competition,
the brutality of the game, the fact they will certainly get banged up
and that they are expected to keep playing in spite of their physical
pain — and on top of that, when they don't perform to the satisfaction
of the fans, they get booed and called all kinds of names. Most people
aren't cut out for that kind of punishment; they wouldn't last a week in
professional sports. I know I wouldn't.
It's often the same way in the ministry. I've been close enough to a
couple of well-known pastors to know their jobs aren't for the faint of
heart. On the surface it looks so appealing: they speak to large crowds,
they sell a lot of books, everyone seems to love them — but they also
pay a price. They spend less time with their families than they would
like. They spend more time alone on the road than they would like. They
endure more criticism than they deserve, and every aspect of their lives
are put under a microscope. Most pastors I know couldn't take the
pressure. Think about it: There are websites that exist to warn the
public of the dangers of Rick Warren's teaching. There are websites —
sponsored by ostensibly Christian ministries — that mock his appearance
and sneer at his wife's struggle with cancer. That's bound to sting no
matter how many books you sell.
Everyone that I know who has made a serious commitment to a life of
service in the kingdom of God has had to suffer in the process. It's
part of the package. Some suffer persecution, some suffer poverty, some
suffer criticism and disloyalty — but we all have a price to pay. Jesus
said, "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his
master." (Matthew 10:24.) He also said, "Men will hate you
because of me." (Luke 21:17)
It's not fair, but it's the way it is. If you want to be great,
suffering is part of the package. There's a price to pay. But we don't
think about the price, because a servant doesn't focus on what he
gets, a servant focuses on what he's able to give. Thirdly, being a
3. You must be committed to meeting the needs of others.
In verse 42, Jesus said to his disciples, "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, and
whoever wants to be first must be slave of all."
Some people want to lead because they want to be boss. Some people
want to lead because they want to help others. Bill Hybels tells a story
about being on the playground at recess when he was a young boy, and he
and his friends were trying to decide which game to play. One boy said,
"Let's play this game." Bill thought about it for a minute and said,
"No, that game will leave some people out. Let's play this other game so
that everyone can be involved." I can just hear Bill Hybels saying that
at the age of seven, can't you? He talks now about how much satisfaction
he got from coming up with an idea that was best for everyone. That's
what a leader does: he consider the needs of everyone when taking
Jesus talked about how the "Gentile" rulers used their position of
authority to push people around — to get them to do what they wanted
them to do. Their idea of leadership was to have many people serving
them in whatever way they desired. They associated leadership with power
and control. Jesus said it's not that way; in the kingdom of God you
lead people by working on their behalf.
If you want an easy life, don't strive to be a leader, and don't
aspire to greatness. Easy living and greatness are mutually exclusive.
In order to become great, you must become a servant. That means that
your focus is directed to what you are able to give to others, not what
you are able to get from others.
I want you to realize that Jesus doesn't criticize the ambition of
James and John in this passage, he just redirects it. We shouldn't turn
our back on the idea of having ambition, we just need to have the right
kind of ambition. Greatness is something every believer should aspire to
achieve — but we must go about it God's way. God's way is that you
become great by serving others, not by having others serve you.
We need leaders in this church, leaders who are eager to do great
things for the glory of God. That means that we need leaders who
are focused on what they give, not what they get — leaders who
are willing to serve without recognition when necessary, who are willing
to sacrifice and pay the price when necessary, and who are willing to
put the needs of others first. May God fill you with a desire to be that
kind of leader.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references in this message are
from The New International Version
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