The Greatness Temptation
Greatness. The internal itch to amount to something in life. I would guess practically every human being has this deep desire to be known for some type of accomplishment or skill, or natural beauty. We admire those who have achieved greatness in some form in this world and will often find ourselves comparing our lives with these success stories.
The resulting analysis may leave us with a depressing sense of worthlessness that is self-defeating and misleading. Or it can go the opposite way and we end up thinking we’re better than everyone else. We were never meant to compare ourselves with others and we make a big mistake when we allow our thoughts to travel down those roads of judgment.
It’s funny how we don’t admire the image of ourselves as being a servant. We seem to look for every other way to become great, yet the Bible plainly tells us in Matthew 20:26 “…but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” Servanthood is the true and only path to greatness in the eternal Kingdom of God, and fortunately for every one of us who loves the Lord, being a servant makes greatness possible. That deep desire or internal itch can be satisfied when we embrace God’s path to greatness.
Being convinced of this truth in the face of the world’s paradigm of greatness is the challenge for many of us. Our lifespan can be used either to chase after the world’s definition of success which will come to nothing at our death, or we can seek the success that eternal life honors forever. We have to choose, and the temptation to choose the fame that the world bestows is ever present. Worldly recognition definitely appeals to our flesh more than the unenlightened thought of being a servant for the rest of our lives. This is why we must look for the “way of escape” that 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 tells us God has provided for us. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
In a move of great subtlety our enemy leads us into a form of idolatry when we seek the greatness that the world offers over the greatness that the Lord had defined. Our unhappiness with ourselves, or exceeding pride in ourselves, is an indication that we have inadvertently made earthly greatness our goal. When we catch ourselves heading down the wrong path, we can expect to find that way of escape in order to change our course. He is faithful!
In the light of all of this, one thing that is very helpful to keep in mind is that God has “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). Can we attain to anything greater than that, particularly by our own efforts? No, of course not! We can live our lives here on earth in the comprehension that through our relationship with Jesus, we have already been positioned as high as we can go. To strive to achieve anything greater than that is to exalt ourselves above God, and we know what trouble that will get us into.
So if we are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, that frees us to be able to be servants, which embodies humility. Humbling ourselves before God allows God to give us grace and to exalt us in due time (1Peter 5:5-6). The question we have to ask ourselves is do we want to exalt ourselves in our own efforts, or do we want to be exalted by God according to His specifications? Since one is temporal and one is eternal, the smart thing to do is to choose the eternal.
Could it be that the deep desire to be great is actually placed in us by God so that we will seek His ways to greatness and thus be willing vessels for His use in serving humanity? That the enemy tries to hijack that desire by enticing us with the allure of earthly prestige
is to be expected, discerned, and resisted. We are not unaware of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11) and can wisely circumnavigate the traps he sets for us.