On the Life of the Mind: Greatness

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 9:35-36
Full Text: Jeremiah 23; Mark 9

Olympics | There resides in all of us a desire for greatness. For athletes, that desire will be showcased for the next 16 days at the Olympics, where more than 10,000 participants from 204 countries will compete in 26 different sports for 2,100 medals [1]. This is the world’s foremost sports competition and everyone will celebrate those who compete [2]. As Jesse Owens once said, “For a time, at least, I was the most famous person in the entire world” [3].

Distortion | Jesus never criticized anyone’s quest for greatness. In fact, God made us in His image and He wants our lives to be meaningful and significant – whether we are runners, bankers or pastors [4]. Yet something happened that distorted our pursuit of greatness. John Piper says that it has been corrupted into a longing not merely to be great, but “to be known as great” and “to be greater than someone else” [5].

Children | On the way to Capernaum, the disciples were arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Jesus “said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ And he took a child and put him in the midst of them” [6]. Jesus wanted them to see that “the measure of true greatness is to what degree the impulse of self-exaltation has been crucified” [7]. This is why he brought a child among them: “[Children] pretty much take for granted that you will take care of them. They don’t make a big deal out of the fact that you pour your life out for them. And so, children prove, more clearly than any other kind of people, whether you are truly great or not – whether you live to serve or live to be praised” [8].

Prayer | Lord, Thank you for giving us a desire for true greatness. We confess, however, that we do not pursue it by being the last of all and the servant of all. Instead, we long to be known as great and greater than others. Forgive us and, by your Spirit, crucify our impulse of self-exaltation. For we know that the rewards of earthly greatness are fleeting. Even Owens, who returned as a gold-decorated athlete, ended up filing for bankruptcy and being prosecuted for tax evasion [9]. In Christ, however, our pursuit of humility and service that seeks your praise alone has rewards that will last forever. Amen.


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[1] See Wikipedia:2012 Summer Olympics; ESPN: “London to feature largest medals.” 27 July 2011.  |  [2] As Mary Lou Retton, winner of the all-around in gymnastics at the 1984 games, once said, “For athletes, the Olympics are the ultimate test of their worth.”  |  [3] Owens won four gold medals in track and field at the 1936 games.  |  [4] I am not attempting to say that pursuing greatness in athletics by excellency in sport and pursuing greatness in the kingdom of heaven by service to others are mutually exclusive. We can do both; we can glorify God and serve others in our pursuit of excellency in sport (or any other type of work). For more on this topic, see The Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. And, of course, who can forget Eric Liddell’s famous quote in Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  |  [5] John Piper. “Receiving Children in Jesus’ Name.” 23 February 1992. (emphasis mine)  |  [6] Mark 9:35-36 ESV  |  [7] Id. at 5.  |  [8] Id. See also Luke 14:13-14 for how the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind also prove this.  |  [9] Wikipedia: Jesse Owens: Post Olympics.

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One Comment to “On the Life of the Mind: Greatness”

  1. Bethany, you made a great point about ” greatness” as the Olympic athletes have disciplined themselves for a goal where they would be recognized for being great! Hopefully, some will recognize Who should get the greatest credit!

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