How can WE become ‘GREAT’ in GOD’s KINGDOM? Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35)
The above verses contain a key passage in the Gospel of Mark because it emphasizes the importance of service. This is the second lesson on discipleship (the first lesson is found in 8:34–38) and the first of the lessons of Jesus on “true greatness” (the second is found in 10:35–45).
Usually among people, greatness is built upon fame, money, marketing, power, position, or possessions. On this earth not too long ago, the famous boxer Muhammad Ali had once boasted: “I am the greatest…it's hard to be humble, when you're as great as I am.” However, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome in 1984, and was later quoted as saying: “We have one life; it soon will be past; what we do for God is all that will last.” In the heavens, the archangel Lucifer had once wanted to ascend to heaven to set his throne above the stars of God and make himself great like the Most High God, but he was brought down to Sheol later (see Isa. 14:12-15).
Now we see that the disciples of Jesus had started arguing among themselves as to who would be the greatest (vv. 33-34). It is heartbreaking to realize that at the very time Jesus had been telling them about His impending death (v. 31); they were esteeming themselves better than others as each one had secretly wanted to take the place of his Master when He was dead and gone. The disciples were caught up in a value system based on obtaining significance through power that had caused them to compete with each other (v. 34). In fact, their dispute over greatness resurfaced later as well (see 10:35–45). As the prophet Jeremiah has said: “The heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked above all things.” (Jer. 17:9).
However, Jesus noticed the thinking of His disciples and challenged it without any hesitation (v. 35). He pointed out that true greatness is in serving others rather than outdoing them, which He later suggested to a rich ruler as well (10:21). Jesus had now presented them with a paradox—to be great in God’s kingdom, they must become like servants, which was an example modeled by Christ Himself (see John 13:1-17). Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (10:45). In the similar manner, Jesus’ disciples should take a lowly place by ministering to the needs of the lowly!
Thus, humility characterizes those who genuinely desire to serve Christ and His kingdom, and it is through humility that we can achieve true greatness as God’s Word instructs us: “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6). Servant hood is thus the highest priority of a committed disciple of Christ!