Author’s Note: All subsequent Scripture quotations and paraphrases are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise stated.
A goat is an animal with a beard and horns that will usually eat anything in their sites. Another definition of the goat is a lecherous man that shows excessive sexual desires. Our society uses goat as an acronym for “Greatest of All Time.” It includes athletes such as Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Barry Bonds, and Michael Jordan. Rock bands like The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. Mohammed Ali pronounced many times that he was the greatest.
The next question to ask is, “What defines greatness?” Is it how many touchdowns the Quarterback throws, home runs hit, points scored, championships won, awards, records sold, or significant accomplishments? Society defines greatness by a person’s success with finances and material possessions. People that achieve secular greatness are the most ungodly people we will ever see and meet.
Here is a tough question to answer, “Who is the greatest Christian?” What are the criteria to hold the title of, “The Greatest Christian?” Is it how many appearances you make in church, how much money you tithe, Sunday school classes taught, or souls you help bring to Christ?
When it comes to Jesus’ definition of greatness, He does not define it by fame, finances, or accomplishments, but by service (Strey 2018). In Mark 9:33-37, Jesus will turn service into greatness and a pathway through servitude and humility.
The Pathway to Greatness – Mark 9:33-34
Jesus and the disciples were walking through Galilee heading towards Capernaum. On the way, for the second time, He foretold His suffering and death at the hands of the Romans through the Pharisees, and His resurrection (Mk. 9:30-32).
While Jesus was talking, the disciples, led by Peter, were also having a discussion of their own. They were attempting to decide who is the greatest among them? Because of His omniscience, knowing what His disciples were discussing, Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way” (Mk. 9:33). It caught them by surprise, and they remained silent (Mk. 9:34), but more so they felt ashamed about their argument over who is the greatest among them (Grassmick 1985, 146).
Fast forwarding, two of the twelve, James and John, were ambitious in becoming the greatest disciples and ask Jesus to grant them to sit, one at your right hand, and the other at your left (Mk. 10:37). They could have asked Jesus for anything, but their desire was for glory (Qaoud 2016). Jesus sat the disciples down and said, “But who would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mk. 10:43-44). Throughout this entire conversation, Jesus knew as Gromacki (1974) sums it up, “The ambitious, proud disciples were also in need of humility and sacrificial service to others” (104).
The Pathway to Servitude – Mark 9:35
Jesus sat Himself and the disciples down and started to teach them about greatness and the kingdom of God. He told them that seeking greatness was not a problem, but they were going about it the wrong way (Higgins 2012). Jesus commences telling the disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9:35). He stated to them that one way to greatness is servitude.
In the secular world, people who want to be great will go above and beyond to put themselves ahead of others, which will show their arrogance and become self-focused. In the world, to be great is to have others serve you, but in the kingdom of God, we must serve others (Higgins 2012). How do we help others? Through evangelism, edification, and benevolence.
- Evangelism is an excellent start to serve. Someone out there in your life leads you to Christ. How about returning the favor and you lead someone to Christ (Jn. 1:35-42). Invite others to worship services at your church, open your home to small groups, and seek to improve your skills in sharing the Gospel with others by studying God’s Word daily.
- Next is edification or instruction. Someone assisted in your spiritual growth, and you can again return the favor and serve to help others by taking a particular interest and encourage them to continue walking with Christ (Eph. 4:16). Assist another teacher or offer to teach children, teenagers, or young adults. Every church needs teachers for Sunday school and teen or adult Bible studies. Be ready to volunteer your services when required, such as church bus driver, Vacation Bible School, senior citizen outings, or teen camps, to name a few.
- Last, serve others in benevolence. Others have shown you kindness, then be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32). Visit “shut-ins” that cannot make it to church services, aid the elderly in cleaning, transportation, or run errands. Volunteer for “Meals on Wheels” to bring meals to the elderly and sick. Minister to the poor, the hungry, and that are in need. Bring them the “Good News” of Jesus Christ.
The Pathway to Humility – Mark 9:36-37
When Jesus finished with servitude, He continued his discussion but shifted his focus into humility by using a child. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mk. 9:37). Children, along with women, were lowly of society in first-century Israel, treated as second-class citizens. Jesus’ example is to accept or to receive them and not cast them aside. In Matthew 18:3, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Theologian Warren Wiersbe (1996) conveys, “True humility means knowing yourself, accepting yourself, being yourself – your best self – and giving of yourself for others” (142). We can humble ourselves in the same way we can serve, with evangelism, edification, and benevolence.
Through evangelism, be open to opportunities for personal work, ask teachers if you can accompany them and give assistance, if necessary, and reach out to others who are different than you. In edification, accept servant roles in teaching, preaching, and worship, encourage and assist who teach our children God’s Word, and warmly welcome everyone and never show partiality (Jm. 2:1-4). For benevolence in humility, lend help to others who are less fortunate, perform menial tasks, such as take out the garbage and sweep and mop floors, and provide meals. What you will find is that helping others that cannot return your kindness, you are serving Jesus and indeed the Father (Lk. 14:13-14, Higgins 2012).
In conclusion, the pathway to greatness does not desire glory; it is through humility and sacrificial service to others. The disciples were going about greatness the wrong way, so Jesus set them straight. To see the kingdom of God, one must serve others, and not have others serve you. Then one must be humble to help others. Jesus wants us to be like children, lowly, to be humble, or we will never see the kingdom of God. A servant’s heart and hands are the way to achieve greatness along with humility.
He proved the greatness of service and humility by coming to earth as a servant (Phil. 2:5-7), humbling Himself to the brink of death (Phil. 2:8), and being exalted by God (Phil 2:9-11). If we have a burning desire for man to celebrate us in their eyes, we are setting up ourselves for a fall that has eternal consequences. If you want to achieve greatness in the kingdom of God, we must humbly serve each other, and we will be exalted (Lk. 14:11).
Grassmick, John D., 1985, “Mark.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, Vol. 2, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Gromacki, Robert, G., New Testament Survey, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Publishing, 1974.
Higgins, William. 2012. “Arguing About Who’s the Greatest: Mark 9:33-37.” William S Higgins, January 8, 2012. https://williamshiggins.net/2012/01/08/whos-the-greatest-and-whos-not-mark-933-37/.
Qaoud, David. 2016, “The Meaning of Greatness in the Bible,” Gospel Relevance, April 17, 2016, http://gospelrelevance.com/2016/04/17/worlds-definition-greatness-wrong.
Strey, Johnold. 2018, “Sermon on Mark 9:33-37.” Pastor Strey’s Weblog, September 24, 2018, https://pastorstrey.wordpress.com/2018/09/24/sermon-on-mark-9-2.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.
Wiersbe, Warren W., 1996, The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.