What does it mean to be “great?” We often use words like “great” and “good” very casually in our society. We talk about “great meals,” “good news,” and “great people.” Not surprisingly, our casual usage of these terms often belies a lack of a solid or agreed upon definition.
You have likely had conversations with your children, friends, or coworkers about someone or something great. This is a generalization, but in our society at large a great person is often defined in this way as a result of their significant influence, fame, social status, achievements, or perceived success in their vocational arena. If there’s a general consensus among many that someone is “great,” we tend to credit that as the proof needed to establish that claim.
But who really defines greatness? For that matter, who has the right to define anything? In our postmodern society, the typical answer would be that since everyone is entitled to their “own truth,” then what logically flows from that is that anyone can define terms however they want. If you think about that for at least 10 seconds, you can probably see that in the end, this leads to a completely illogical and irrational line of thinking- that words and definitions have no fixed meaning, thus losing their power (and even that very statement itself becomes absurd!).
This is another reason why a Christian and Classical education is so vital. True Classical educators are adamant that there is fixed Truth, there is absolute Reality, there is Beauty and Goodness, and that “the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms,” as Socrates is famously known for saying. Nevertheless, classical educators, apart from Christ, can only see dimly through general revelation. Followers of Christ have the blessing of direct and specific clarity and definitions, because we know the Source. We see this truth expressed in Colossians 1:16-17:
“For by him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Jesus created all and precedes all. He is the Logos, the Word (John 1:1), the defining source of all that is real and known. Jesus elsewhere states clearly that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Thus, Jesus alone has the ultimate prerogative to define terms, and all manmade definitions must be cast into the light of what He has spoken and revealed.
With this in mind, let’s circle back to consider Jesus’ answer to our original question: What does it mean to be great? What is true greatness?
The answer can be found clearly in one of His encounters with His disciples. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this event. Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, approach Jesus with a bold request: They want the seats of highest honor and prestige when He becomes king. They want greatness. Hearing this, the other 10 disciples are “indignant” at James and John (Mark 10:41). Whether their indignance is because of their audacity to ask, or sheer jealousy, we do not know for sure. What we do know is Jesus’ response. Jesus recognizes that this is a teachable moment. Pay careful attention to what He says to all of His disciples here:
Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
Did you catch Jesus’ answer to our question? Here we find a great reversal of expectations and definitions. Jesus, the One who created all things, is before all things, and holds all things together defines greatness as this: being a servant. Put another away, Jesus defines the pursuit of greatness as the pursuit and cultivation of a life of service to others. Additionally, do not miss the reason for this definition: Jesus’ example. Jesus’ mission!
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Vs. 45)
What are the implications for us? Here at Oak Grove our vision is to cultivate true greatness in our students. Greatness in its truest sense: a heart and life inclined to serve the King of Kings, stewarding one’s knowledge, resources and wisdom to serve His people. Jesus said, “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,’ (Matthew 25:40).
As we have just completed our first Service Week at Oak Grove, my hope and prayer is that we have taken deliberate steps with our children towards a pursuit of true greatness. May we continue on this journey with them, following in the footsteps of Christ Himself and empowered by His love!