Cultivating a Christlike View of Greatness

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister.”​—MATTHEW 20:26.

1. What is the world’s view of greatness?

NEAR the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes (modern-day Karnak), about 300 miles [500 km] south of Cairo, stands a 60-foot [18 m]-tall statue of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. One cannot look at that immense image without feeling tiny in comparison. This monument, doubtless meant to inspire awe of the ruler, is a symbol of the world’s view of greatness​—that of making oneself appear as big and important as possible and making others feel insignificant.

2. What example did Jesus set for his followers, and what questions do we need to ask ourselves?

2 Contrast this view of greatness with that taught by Jesus Christ. Although he was the “Lord and Teacher” of his followers, Jesus taught them that greatness comes from serving others. On the last day of his life on earth, Jesus demonstrated the meaning of what he taught by washing his disciples’ feet. What a humble act of service! (John 13:4, 5, 14) To serve or to be served​—which appeals to you more? Does Christ’s example kindle  within you a desire to be humble just as he was? Then let us examine Christ’s view of greatness in contrast with the view common in the world.

Shun the World’s View of Greatness

3. What Bible examples show the sad outcome of those who crave glory from men?

3 There are numerous Bible examples showing that the world’s view of greatness leads to ruin. Think of powerful Haman, who was prominent in the Persian royal court during the days of Esther and Mordecai. Haman’s craving for glory led to his humiliation and death. (Esther 3:5; 6:10-12; 7:9, 10) What about haughty Nebuchadnezzar, who was stricken with madness at the height of his power? His warped idea of greatness was expressed in these words: “Is not this Babylon the Great, that I myself have built for the royal house with the strength of my might and for the dignity of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30) Then there is proud Herod Agrippa I, who accepted unwarranted glory for himself instead of giving glory to God. He was “eaten up with worms and expired.” (Acts 12:21-23) Failure to appreciate Jehovah’s view of greatness led all these men to their humiliating downfall.

4. Who is behind the world’s prideful spirit?

4 It is proper for us to want to use our life in a way that brings us honor and respect. Yet, the Devil exploits this desire by fostering a prideful spirit, which is a reflection of his own ambitions. (Matthew 4:8, 9) Never forget that he is “the god of this system of things,” and he is determined to promote his thinking here on the earth. (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 12:9) Knowing the source of such thinking, Christians shun the world’s view of greatness.

5. Do achievement, recognition, and wealth guarantee lasting satisfaction? Explain.

5 One idea that the Devil promotes is that a big name in the world, accolades from men, and pockets full of money automatically result in a happy life. Is that true? Do achievement, recognition, and wealth guarantee a life filled with satisfaction? The Bible cautions us not to be deluded by such thinking. Wise King Solomon wrote: “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4) Many individuals who have devoted their life to getting ahead in the world can attest to the truthfulness of that inspired Bible counsel. One example is a man who helped design, build, and test the spacecraft that took man to the moon. He reflected: “I had worked hard and had become very proficient in what I did. Yet it had been futile, or worthless, in securing for me lasting happiness and peace of mind.” * The worldly concept of greatness, whether it is in the field of business, sports,  or entertainment, does not ensure lasting satisfaction.

Greatness From Service Motivated by Love

6. What shows that James and John had a wrong view of greatness?

6 An event in the life of Jesus reveals what real greatness involves. Jesus and his disciples were traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover of 33 C.E. On the way, two of Jesus’ cousins, James and John, manifested a wrong view of greatness. Through their mother, they made this request to Jesus: ‘Give the word that we may sit at your right hand and at your left, in your kingdom.’ (Matthew 20:21) Among the Jews, to sit at the right hand or left was considered a great honor. (1 Kings 2:19) James and John ambitiously made a bid to grab the most distinguished places. They wanted to stake their claims to these positions of authority. Jesus was aware of what was going on in their mind and took the opportunity to correct their mistaken view of greatness.

7. How did Jesus describe the way to true Christian greatness?

7 Jesus knew that in this proud world, the man who is considered great is one who controls and commands others and who at the snap of his fingers can have his every whim catered to. But among Jesus’ followers, it is humble service that is the measure of greatness. Jesus said: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”​—Matthew 20:26, 27.

8. What does it mean to be a minister, and what questions might we ask ourselves?

8 The Greek word translated “minister” in the Bible refers to one who diligently and persistently reaches out to render service in behalf of others. Jesus was teaching his disciples an important lesson: Ordering people to do things does not make one great; serving others when motivated by love does. Ask yourself: ‘How would I have reacted if I were James or John? Would I have seen the point that true greatness comes from serving with love as the motive?’​—1 Corinthians 13:3.

9. What example did Jesus set in his dealings with others?

9 Jesus showed his disciples that the  standard of worldly greatness is not the standard of Christlike greatness. Never did he assume a superior attitude toward those whom he served or cause them to feel inferior. People of all sorts​—men, women, and children, the rich, the poor, and the powerful, as well as noted sinners—​felt at ease with him. (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 7:37-50) People are often impatient with those having limitations. Jesus was different. Even though his disciples were at times thoughtless and quarrelsome, he patiently instructed them, showing them that he was truly humble and mild-tempered.​—Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 11:29; Luke 22:24-27.

10. How did Jesus’ entire life course reflect unselfish service in behalf of others?

10 The selfless example set by this foremost Son of God demonstrated what greatness really means. Jesus did not come to the earth to be waited on but to serve others, curing “various sicknesses” and freeing people from demon control. Though he was subject to fatigue and needed time to rest, he always put the needs of others ahead of his own, going out of his way to comfort them. (Mark 1:32-34; 6:30-34; John 11:11, 17, 33) His love moved him to help people spiritually, traveling hundreds of miles over dusty roads to preach the good news of the Kingdom. (Mark 1:38, 39) Without a doubt, Jesus took serving others seriously.

Imitate the Humility of Christ

11. What qualities are looked for in brothers appointed to serve as overseers in the congregation?

11 In the late 1800’s, the proper spirit that Christian overseers should cultivate was highlighted when men were being selected to be traveling representatives to serve the needs of God’s people. What was looked for, according to Zion’s Watch Tower of September 1, 1894, were men “of meekness​—that they might not be puffed up . . . , of humble mind who seek not to preach themselves, but Christ​—not to air their own knowledge, but his Word in its simplicity and power.” Clearly, true Christians should never seek responsibility in order to satisfy personal ambition or to gain prominence, power, and control over others. A humble overseer keeps in mind that his responsibilities constitute “a fine work,” not an exalted position to bring glory to himself. (1 Timothy 3:1, 2) All elders and ministerial servants should do their utmost to serve humbly in behalf of others and to take the lead in sacred service, setting a worthy example for others to imitate.​—1 Corinthians 9:19; Galatians 5:13; 2 Timothy 4:5.

12. What questions might those who are reaching out for privileges in the congregation ask themselves?

12 Any brother reaching out for privileges  may need to ask himself: ‘Do I look for opportunities to serve others, or do I have the tendency to want to be served? Am I willing to perform helpful tasks that are not readily noticed by others?’ For example, a young man might be willing to give talks in the Christian congregation but might hesitate to render help to the elderly. He might enjoy the association of responsible men in the congregation yet be reluctant to share in the preaching work. Such a young man would do well to ask himself: ‘Do I focus primarily on aspects of God’s service that bring recognition and praise? Am I striving to shine before others?’ Seeking personal glory is surely not Christlike.​—John 5:41.

13. (a) How can an overseer’s example of humility affect others? (b) Why can it be said that humility, or being lowly of mind, is not optional for a Christian?

13 When we work hard to imitate the humility of Christ, we are moved to serve others. Consider the example of a zone overseer who was inspecting the operations of one of the branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In spite of a very busy schedule and a heavy load of responsibility, this overseer stopped to help a young brother who was struggling to adjust the settings on a stitching machine. “I could not believe it!” the brother recounted. “He told me that he operated the same type of machine when he was a young man serving at Bethel, and he recalled how difficult it was to get just the right settings. He worked on that machine with me for some time even though he had so many other important things to do. That really impressed me.” That brother, now an overseer at one of the branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, still remembers that act of humility. May we never feel that we are too lofty to do humble things or too important to do menial tasks. Rather, we ought to gird ourselves with “lowliness of mind.” That is not optional. It is part of “the new personality” that a Christian must put on.​—Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:10, 12; Romans 12:16.

How to Acquire the Christlike View of Greatness

14. How can meditating on our relationship with God and with our fellowman help us to cultivate the proper view of greatness?

14 How can we acquire the proper view of greatness? One way is by meditating on our relationship with Jehovah God. His majesty, power, and wisdom elevate him far above the sphere of puny humans. (Isaiah 40:22) Meditating on our relationship with our fellowman also helps us to cultivate lowliness of mind. For example, we might surpass others in certain fields, but they may excel in aspects of life that are much more important, or our Christian brothers may have certain qualities that we are lacking. As a matter of fact, many who are precious in God’s eyes tend not to stand out because of their meek and humble manner.​—Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6.

15. How does the integrity of God’s people show that no one has a basis for feeling superior to others?

15 Experiences of Jehovah’s Witnesses under trial on account of their faith well illustrate this point. Time and again, it is those whom the world would consider ordinary who have maintained their integrity to God  under fiery tests. Meditating on such examples can help keep us humble and teach us ‘not to think more of ourselves than it is necessary to think.’​—Romans 12:3. *

16. How can all in the congregation cultivate greatness in imitation of the pattern set by Jesus?

16 All Christians, young and old, should seek to cultivate the Christlike view of greatness. In the congregation, a variety of tasks must be performed. Never resent being asked to do things that may appear to be lowly. (1 Samuel 25:41; 2 Kings 3:11) Parents, do you encourage your children and teenagers to work cheerfully at any assignment that they are given to do, whether at the Kingdom Hall, at an assembly, or at a convention site? Do they see you perform lowly tasks? One brother, who now serves at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, vividly recalls his parents’ example. He said: “The way they treated the job of cleaning the Kingdom Hall or a convention center told me that they considered it to be important. They often volunteered to perform tasks that were for the good of the congregation or the brotherhood, no matter how menial those tasks might appear to be. This attitude has helped me to accept willingly any work assignment here at Bethel.”

17. In what ways can humble women be a blessing to the congregation?

17 As for putting the interests of others ahead of one’s own, we have an excellent example in Esther, who became queen of the Persian Empire in the fifth century B.C.E. Although living in a palace, she was willing to put her own life at risk in behalf of God’s people, acting in harmony with his will. (Esther 1:5, 6; 4:14-16) Regardless of their economic circumstances, Christian women today can show a spirit like that of Esther by encouraging the depressed, visiting the sick, sharing in the preaching work, and cooperating with the elders. What a blessing such humble sisters are to the congregation!

The Blessings of Christlike Greatness

18. What benefits come from manifesting Christlike greatness?

18 Many benefits come to you when you maintain a Christlike view of greatness. Unselfishly serving others brings joy both to them and to you. (Acts 20:35) As you willingly and eagerly labor in behalf of your brothers, you endear yourself to them. (Acts 20:37) More important, Jehovah views what you do to promote the welfare of fellow Christians as a pleasing sacrifice of praise to him.​—Philippians 2:17.

19. What should be our determination concerning the Christlike view of greatness?

19 Each of us needs to probe his own heart and ask: ‘Will I pay only lip service to cultivating Christ’s view of greatness, or will I work diligently to put it into practice?’ Jehovah’s feelings toward the haughty are clear. (Proverbs 16:5; 1 Peter 5:5) May our actions show that we delight in manifesting the Christlike view of greatness, whether it is in the Christian congregation, in our family life, or in our day-to-day dealings with fellow humans​—doing all things to God’s glory and praise.​—1 Corinthians 10:31.


^ par. 5 See The Watchtower, May 1, 1982, pages 3-6, “In Search of Success.”

^ par. 15 For examples, see the 1992 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 181-2, and The Watchtower of September 1, 1993, pages 27-31.

Can You Explain?

• Why should we shun the worldly view of greatness?

• How did Jesus measure greatness?

• How can overseers imitate the humility of Christ?

• What can help us to cultivate Christlike greatness?

[Study Questions]

[Box on page 17]

Who Has Christlike Greatness?

One who wants to be served or one who is willing to serve?

One who prefers the spotlight or one who accepts humble tasks?

One who elevates himself or one who elevates others?

[Picture on page 14]

A colossal image of Pharaoh Amenhotep III

[Picture on page 15]

Do you know what led to Haman’s downfall?

[Pictures on page 16]

Do you look for opportunities to serve others?