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Minister's message: To understand true greatness, one must look to Jesus
Tom Smiley
The Rev. Tom Smiley

Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he was approached by a mother of two disciples with an audacious request.

The mother of James and John, because she loved her sons and had great dreams for them, asked Jesus to place her sons in positions of honor and greatness.

She had big dreams and large ambitions for her boys. She wanted them to be great!

But Jesus uses the occasion to compare and contrast the world’s view of greatness with greatness in God’s kingdom. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his disciples about true greatness, and simultaneously cautions us not to buy into the world’s view of greatness.

Jesus begins by giving a new perspective on what greatness is and how one achieves it. He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Matthew 20:26

Clearly Jesus is teaching us that authority is given not for self-promotion and individual ambition. Authority and greatness are given so that a person might offer service to God and his creation.

The timeless truth is if you want to be truly great, you have to become a humble, selfless servant. Today, many of us could learn from Jesus about what it means to become truly great.

Jesus did not come to exercise His power over man to make man serve him. He came to serve man and pay the ransom price to redeem man.

The Bible says, “the Son of man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

The simple point raised here is “If this was how Jesus lived, what should be the mark of my life?”

The truly great follow Jesus’ example and seek to serve, not be served — to sacrifice of themselves, not seek others to sacrifice for them.

The tragic truth is that selfish motivation is never far away from our thoughts and acts. Many times there is that hint of a hope of our gaining something from our efforts to help others like gaining a return favor or holding the respect of others or even the personal sense of doing good.

In an honest evaluation, it becomes
clear that the highest example of a person acting for the sake of others (selflessly) is Jesus Christ.

If we want to be considered truly great in God’s eyes, we need more than just the example of Jesus and our best efforts. We need the foundational spirit of Jesus at work in us.

Jesus has not left us alone to sort this out. He promised to send us his spirit to help us live a truly great life by serving, not seeking to be served.

It would be a life-changing prayer if you would ask God to allow humility and servanthood to characterize your life.

Your first step would be to accept Jesus, by faith, as your personal savior. I welcome the opportunity to help you walk that path.


The Rev. Tom Smiley is the senior pastor at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville. He can be reached at

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