There is a notion in our culture that greatness is achieved at the expense of others. In order to get ahead you’ve got to tear someone else down. This is ironic because in kindergarten children are taught to share and help one another. But somewhere between kindergarten and graduation the message changes. Our children are told that in order to succeed they must be better than others. The one with the higher test score wins. Sports teams must crush the opposition. Among girls the pecking order is determined by who is considered the most beautiful. This sort of competition is carried over into adult life. Remember the bumper sticker which said “The one with the most toys wins”?
Destructive competition is also rampant in the business world. Many think that in order to climb the corporate ladder it is necessary to trample underfoot anyone who gets in the way. The same thinking often occurs at the company level as well. It is not enough to generate a good return on investment, companies seek to plow under those they see as competitors. For example, why is Microsoft so hated? It’s not so much because it’s big, but because people have the perception that it has achieved its size and market position by unfair and unethical business practices which destroyed its competitors.
But is this notion that greatness is achieved by destroying others really true? One of the most influential books on business management back in the 1980’s was titled “In Search of Excellence.” Some of the concepts discussed in that book have since been debunked, but there is one statement in it that I have never forgotten. The authors wrote, “...one of our most significant conclusions about the excellent companies is that, whether their basic business is metal bending, high technology, or hamburgers, they have all defined themselves as service businesses.” (In Search of Excellence, Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, p.168)
This is a radical departure from the way a lot of people think. But what is really sad, is that it took a couple of highly paid business consultants to point out that the way to greatness is through service. I say it is sad, because this is something which we should already have known. You see, Jesus taught this fundamental principle to his disciples two thousand years ago. “...You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)
According to Jesus, the path to greatness is not competition or doing the other guy in, but by serving. It is not through getting, it is through giving. Greatness is not achieved by lording over others, but by ransoming them. We become great, not by elevating ourselves but by raising others.
With Jesus, this was not just theory. These were not idle words. He lived them. In Philippians 2, verses 8 and 9 it says, “...he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name which is above every name...” (NIV)
Every week we gather together to remember what Jesus has done. His exaltation was preceded by humble service. We eat a piece of unleavened bread which reminds us that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. We drink a cup of grape-juice which reminds us that we are ransomed by His blood.
As Christians, we are called to follow Christ’s example. As we eat the bread and drink the cup, let’s ask ourselves what our service quotient is. Let us remember that greatness is achieved through humility. Let us put others first, just as Christ put our interests ahead of His own.