Who is the Greatest?

Sermon Summary


This message is the final message in the “Success Redefined” series. It compares the world’s view of successful leadership and the Christian view of successful leadership. Jesus took the disciples aside and let them know He was going to be betrayed into the hands of men and would be killed. As they traveled to Capernaum the disciples discussed among themselves who was the greatest. Jesus questioned them about their discussion but they remained silent. Jesus knew what they had been discussing and had a little child stand before them and talked to them about true greatness. The disciples had missed some of the most basic principles of successful leadership. Seven of these are discussed in this message and have to do with becoming a servant leader.

Community Group Discussion Guide

1. Do you consider yourself a leader? Why or why not?

2. The world has a very different view of successful leadership from the teachings of Jesus. Successful leadership according the world revolves around self. Successful leadership according to Jesus revolves around others. While it may seem counterintuitive, and contradictory, when a leader puts God and others above their self, self benefits more in the long run! How is this possible and why? Jesus is the greatest example of this concept as found in Philippians 2:1-11
Phil 2:1  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
Phil 2:2  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Phil 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Phil 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Phil 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Phil 2:6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
Phil 2:7  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Phil 2:8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
Phil 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
Phil 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Phil 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

3. The following is a list of the seven leadership principles the disciples missed. Read them and let individuals share their thoughts on the one that most spoke to them.

“Servant leaders humble themselves and wait for God to exalt them.”
“Servant leaders follow Jesus rather than seek a position."
“Servant leaders follow the example of Jesus and live to serve!”
“Servant leaders can risk serving others because they trust that God is in control of their lives."
“Servant leaders give up personal rights to find greatness in service to others!"
“Servant leaders share their responsibility and authority with others to meet a greater need."
“Servant leaders replace their own priorities with God's priorities!"

Matthew 23:11-12
11 The greatest among you will be your servant.
12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Full Sermon Notes

How great is our God!! "The splendor of a King, clothed in majesty, let all the earth rejoice, let all the earth rejoice." Our God is indeed majestic, and mighty, powerful and splendid! However, one of the things that makes our God so great is that He was willing to leave His fabulous castle in the sky and wash the feet of His subjects! What King would do this? Our King, that's who! Why? Because He understands the definition of greatness! Greatness loves others, greatness serves others, greatness sacrifices for others, greatness is not selfish, but selfless! This morning we're going to turn the world's definition of success upside down! Let's pray!

Father God, clothed in the majesty of the King of Kings, and The Lord of Lords, wrapped in light, The God who stands age to age, beginning and the end!! Name above all names, worthy of all praise, and yet You humbled Yourself and took on human flesh and then took up an old rugged Cross and died for a sinner like me! How can I say thanks? How can I show my gratitude? How can I live my life in a way that would honor what You, my King, did for me? Teach us this morning what true greatness is!! I love you Jesus more than words can say. Hide me behind the cross and let folks see You and only You!! In Jesus name I pay and believe!! Amen!

The title of today's message is "Who is the Greatest?" The answer to that question depends on what you mean by the question. If you mean who is the greatest in the universe, we know the answer is our Great God! If you mean, who is the greatest amongst humans, well that's going to be a little more of a challenge to answer. Did you know the disciples tried to figure this out? Yep, it must have been quite a discussion. We don't have the manuscript of their discussion, we just know they had it. Let me show you. Take your Bibles and turn to Mark 9:30-37 and I'll show you.  

Mark 9:30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were,
31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”
34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them,
37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”  NIV

The disciples were suffering from a syndrome I call "The universe revolves around me" syndrome! Wonder how that argument went? Maybe something like this…

James says, "Well, I was one of the few who went up on the mountain when Jesus talked with Elijah and Moses, and the clouds enveloped us, and God spoke!"
John says, "So, I was there too and so was Peter!
Peter jumps in and says:"He called me the rock!"
Judas says: "Yeah, but He lets me keep the money bag!"
Nathaniel says: "He said I was a true Israelite and that there is nothing false about me!"

What was going on here? Jesus had just told them He was going to be betrayed and put to death, and they were oblivious to the implications of this and all they can think about is themselves. You know, I can't point to many fingers at them, because I'm afraid I do the same thing sometimes. I sometimes find it hard to keep self in check! Anyone else have that issue, or is it just me and the disciples? I think the problem the disciples had is they were so caught up in the world's understanding of success. I mean they had been brought up learning one thing about true success and Jesus is trying to teach them something totally different. He was trying to teach them the truth about success.

They thought success would be realized if they were seen as great leaders and had high positions of authority and if people had to obey them and serve them. Problem with this thinking is it belongs to the world and not to God's Kingdom. You see, true success does have to do with being a leader. But not that kind of leader. There were 7 leadership principles the disciples were missing. I want to share these principles with you this morning. I'm indebted to C. Gene Wilkes, and his book "Jesus On Leadership: Becoming a Servant Leader!" for helping me discover these truths! So let's see what principles the disciples missed...

Missed Principle #1
“Servant leaders humble themselves and wait for God to exalt them.”
 
C. Gene Wilkes, Jesus On Leadership: Becoming a Servant Leader (Nashville: Lifeway, 1996), 9-25.

God's Word has this to say about humility...

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Matthew 23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.
12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Listen to what J. Oswald Sanders said about this...

“True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them. And this is never done without cost...The true spiritual leader is concerned infinitely more with the service he can render God
and his fellow men than with the benefits and pleasures he can extract from life. He aims to put more into life than he takes out of it."

1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Missed Principle #2
“Servant leaders follow Jesus rather than seek a position."
 
C. Gene Wilkes, Jesus On Leadership: Becoming a Servant Leader (Nashville: Lifeway, 1996), 9-25.

Paul had these words to say...

1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1 (NIV)
33 ...For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

James adds this warning...

James 3:1 (NIV)
1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

In the world men seek positions, but in the church, positions should be held by those who are called. This is true for the most visible as well as the least recognized positions.
Sometimes when I see people seeking positions of leadership, I think to myself…"If they aren't called they are crazy!" With leadership comes great responsibility. If you think the recognition that comes with the position will outweigh the burden of responsibility, you're wrong. The only thing that outweighs the burden is the calling and the satisfaction of knowing if you lead well, you really help hurting people and you honor God!!

"A good rule of thumb is to seek the Giver not the gifts!"

This is true for spiritual gifts, leadership positions, material provision, etc.
Jesus put it this way...

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Missed Principle #3
“Servant leaders follow the example of Jesus and live to serve!
 
Mark 10:42-45 (NIV)
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus knew that a good leader would never ask others to go where he had not gone. So Jesus literally showed the disciples He wasn't joking about the greatest one is the one who serves. You've heard the story, listen...

John 13:3-5 (NIV)
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

The world has a different view! Wess Roberts wrote a book called "Leadership Secrets of Attila The Hun" (New York: Warner Books, 1987), 26

Listen to his advice...

“Lust for Leadership: ‘You’ve got to want to be in charge. Above all other traits, one who desires to lead must possess an intrinsic desire to achieve substantial personal recognition and be willing to earn it. You must have the courage, creativity and stamina to focus on accomplishing your responsibilities through the directed, delegated efforts of subordinates.”

Stacy T. Rinehart wrote a book titled "Upside Down" that describes the difference between the world's view and the Christian view...
“Jesus contradicted everything I had thought, learned and experienced concerning the subject of leadership. Leading from a position of authority and power might be the accepted way of the world, but Jesus said it must not be so among His people.”

Missed Principle #4
“Servant leaders can risk serving others because they trust that God is in control of their lives."
 
C. Gene Wilkes, Jesus On Leadership: Becoming a Servant Leader (Nashville: Lifeway, 1996), 18.

The Psalmist put it this way...

Psalm 37:3-6 (NIV)
3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Did you see what I saw when I read this? There's another whole sermon in this passage. Three points..

Trust in The Lord
Delight in The Lord
Commit your way to The Lord

And what did He say would happen.
You will dwell in the land & enjoy safe pasture
He will give you the desires of your heart
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Many people would never risk serving others because it can be costly, time consuming and there's even the risk of being taken advantage of or hurt. But here's the deal. When you are trusting The Lord, delighting in The Lord and committing your ways to The Lord, you know He's got your back. The Psalmist wasn't saying you would never have trouble, get every selfish desire granted, or that everything you touched would turn to gold. He was saying when God leads you to serve, the risk is mitigated by the One who called you to serve and by the One who empowers you to serve and if you're serving for the right reasons you will receive the desires of your heart as you serve and your righteousness will shine like the dawn, and the justice of your cause like the noonday sun! Why? Because God will have given your heart the right desires and it will be His righteousness shining through you, and your cause will be just because it will be the very cause of God!! That's what I would call real success!!

Missed Principle #5
“Servant leaders give up personal rights to find greatness in service to others!"
 
Jesus talked about giving up His own rights as the Good Shepherd for the sheep in John 10:10-11 (NIV)
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Calvin Miller, made the following statement in a book called The Empowered Leader, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 40.
"Once we have given up all rights to reputation, we may begin the walk of faith with nothing crucial to be lost!”

And Gene Wilkes put it this way...

"The disciples learned that servant leadership ultimately means giving up yourself...
so that others can have the life God desires for them.”

Bill Hybels stated it this way in his book, "Descending into Greatness" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 22.

“God asks us to lose so we can gain. He makes a hard request, then offers a promise.
Lose your selfish ambition; I will honor you for loving others.
Lose your addiction to things;    I will provide for you if you seek Me wholeheartedly
Lose your obsession to be in control; I will give you power as you follow Me
Lose your appetite for thrills; I will startle you with pleasures you could never have found on your own.
Lose your life; I will give you eternity.”

Missed Principle #6
“Servant leaders share their responsibility and authority with others to meet a greater need."

C. Gene Wilkes, Jesus On Leadership: Becoming a Servant Leader (Nashville: Lifeway, 1996), 9-25.

Hans Finzel a leadership expert said this...

“Nothing destroys morale more than a ‘control freak’—the old-fashioned kind of leader who still wants to make all the decisions, call all the shots, and be the sole captain of the ship."

The disciples had witnessed Jesus' leadership and they remembered how He had sent them out to share the good news. Jesus turned His whole mission of reaching the world over to them when He ascended back to heaven. Later they would follow His example. Some problems arose in the first church! What? Yep! Even they had issues!

Acts 6:1-7 (NIV)
1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.
3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them
4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Can you see the big picture. True success is not about one person doing something great and becoming the greatest! No one person can do it all! It takes all of us working in concert together! No one has all the skills! No one has all the answers! If we want to be truly successful and truly great, we must be willing to serve and let others serve!

Missed Principle #7
“Servant leaders replace their own priorities with God's priorities!"

God cares about those whom the world has forgotten! God cares about the hurting! God cares about the lonely! God cares about the hungry! God cares about the ones who are the most vulnerable in this world! True success is found when we chase God's priorities! When we care about what God cares about! What He cares about matters!

Mark 9:36-37 (NIV)
36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them,
37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

James made this powerful statement in his letter...

James 1:27 (NIV)
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Max Lucado put it this way...

“When our deepest desire is not the things of God, or a favor from God, but God Himself, we cross a threshold. Less self-focus, more God-focus. Less about me, more about Him.”

And in closing, I'm going to share with you something you should never forget. It totally redefines success…Jesus said it...

Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry
and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine,  you did for me.’

Let's pray!