“…whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45, N.K.J.V.)
Joe and Ted went hiking. Somewhere deep in the woods they ran across a grizzly bear. Both men froze as they waited to see whether or not the bear would charge. As the bear became more agitated and began giving indications that it would charge, Joe bent down and started untying his hiking boots.
Ted, continuing to stand completely still, watched Joe take off the boots, pull a pair of sneakers from his backpack, and put on the sneakers. Finally Ted asked him, “What are you doing? No matter what kind of shoes we are wearing, neither one of us is going to be able to outrun that bear through this rough terrain.” Joe, after finishing up tying his last shoe, stood up, looked Ted squarely in the eyes, and said, “I don’t have to outrun that bear. I just have to outrun you.”
This story provides an uncomfortably accurate picture of how this world works. Far too many people are only concerned about themselves. In their way of thinking, everything is fine as long as they come out on top. Getting eaten by a bear is for losers.
This attitude goes all the way back to Cain’s murder of Abel. How shocking it was then when God Himself in human flesh showed up in the person of Jesus Christ and sung the praises of serving others. Even Christ’s chosen twelve disciples struggled mightily to grasp this concept. “How can there be greatness in serving others?” they wondered. “How can a slave be first?”
As proof of their struggle, our text passage is found within the context of a story that takes place very late in Christ’s ministry, actually just a few days before His crucifixion. James and John, two of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, ask Him to grant them the right to sit at His right hand and His left hand during His kingdom reign (Mark 10:35-37). You talk about being spiritually tone deaf! Here Jesus is, about to be crucified in a matter of days, and these men are worried about acquiring places of prominence in His kingdom. Matthew’s version of the story (Matthew 20:20-28) tells us that it was the mother of the two who literally voiced the request to Jesus on behalf of her sons. How typical it is for a parent to want his or her child to be considered great.
Truth be told, most of us have some James, some John, or some of their mother in us. We either want greatness for ourselves or we want it for our family members. Facebook exists for the purpose of us reporting any family news that makes us come off looking great. But how popular do you think Facebook would be if it only allowed the reporting of news wherein you or some member of your family humbly became a slave and served others? I’d hate to own Facebook stock if they ever instituted that rule.
Right now, wherever you are in life, it would be worth your while to take a minute and ask yourself this basic question: “Is my life marked more by achieving or by serving?” Phrasing the question another way, ask yourself: “If greatness is measured by humbling serving others, how great am I?”
You say you don’t like the answer you must give? Then do something about it, starting right now. Find some individual who is in genuine need and do what it takes to serve them well. Then find someone else. Then find someone else. Then find someone else. Keep doing it until serving others has become a way of life to you rather than an occasional event. And as you go, always keep in mind that Jesus has provided you with the ultimate example of such self-sacrificing servitude by dying on the cross for the sins of the world. That means that He’s not asking you to do anything that He Himself hasn’t already ideally done.