Frequently when Mohammed Ali (aka Cassius Clay) was interviewed prior to a boxing match, he would proudly say, “I’m the greatest.”  Well, I’ve known people who said or acted in keeping with what this man used to say about himself.  However, it’s not often that I’ve heard someone say, “I am absolutely the worst.”

Recently, I was struck by the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ actually encourages us to seek to be the greatest.  Oh, He doesn’t want us to seek to be the greatest boxer or musician or preacher or business person or athlete, but there is an area in which he does challenge us to want to be the greatest.

How do you think Jesus would answer the question, who is the greatest? Well, I don’t just think he would answer in a particular way. I know how he would answer because of a statement he made in Matthew 18:4.  In that text Jesus encourages us to pursue greatness in an area in which many of us fail miserably.  It’s an area whose opposite George Swinnock  called the “shirt of the soul, put on first and put off last.” Becoming the greatest according to the definition of Jesus involves developing a quality that Cotton Mather called the “the contrary grace”. It's a "contrary grace" because it is contrary to what most people think makes a person great and because it is contrary to what we are by natural inclination.

Who then, according to Jesus, is the greatest? Answer: “whoever humbles himself …, he is the greatest….”  In another place He said something quite similar,”whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant”.

In practical terms this certainly would mean that the greatest among us is the person:

  1. Who freely and sincerely confesses his own insignificance before God ((I Timothy 1:15,16; Psalm 8:4);
  2. Who does not put his trust in his own heart or abilities but completely depends on God for all things (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalm 20:7; Isaiah 2:22);
  3. Who gives God the glory for all the good things he has or does (Psalm 115:1; I Corinthians 15:10; James 1:17);
  4. Who respectfully and obediently responds to God’s Word (Isaiah 66:2; 2 Kings 22:8 – 13; Psalm 119:128);
  5. Who submits to God’s will without complaining even if it is difficult (Genesis 12:1 – 4; Philippians 2:6 – 9)
  6. Who submits himself to the unpleasant providences of God without complaint (Philippians 4:11 – 13);
  7. Who delights in the worship and praise of God (Psalm 122:1; Psalm 95; 100);
  8. Who is continuously seeking in God in prayer even when God does not immediately answer his prayers to his satisfaction (2 Corinthians 1:11; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Luke 18:1 – 8; I Thessalonians 5:17);
  9. Who consider it a privilege to serve Christ in any capacity (2 Corinthians 2:16; Jeremiah 1:17 – 19;
  10. Who is willing to let God know some things he doesn't know (Job 23:1 – 5 compared with Job 40: 4 – 6; Deuteronomy 29:29)

We began this blog by asking, who is the greatest? The answer according to Jesus is “whoever humbles himself … is the greatest…”  And what does a humble person look like? In part, it looks like the person whose life is characterized by the ten previous  statements describing how humilty will display itself before God.  (We may expand on this in a future blog concerning how humility will display itself before men as well as before God.) The question for each of us is, are these things true of us never, seldom, sometimes, usually, always? Reflect on these ten statements and use them to evaluate your humility or pride quotient before God.

And one more thing to think about, if what we have just stated is the answer to the question, who is the greatest, what do you think would be the answer to the question, who is the worst?  In the foreword to our book Humility: A Forgotten Virtue, Joel Beeke provides the answer to that question. He writes: “as a sin pride is unique.” In other words,  by using the word “unique”, Dr. Beeke is indicating that when it comes to sin, pride is in a class all by itself; that there is no sin that compares with the sin of pride. Beeke then goes on to tell us that this is true because “Most sins turn us away from God, but pride is a direct attack upon God. It lifts our hearts above Him and against Him. Pride seeks to dethrone God and enthrone self.”  And, if that’s true, would it not be true for us to write that “whoever exalts Himself or whoever is proud and arrogant is the worst”?

 (This post was adapted and abbreviated from chapter 2 of Humility: A Forgotten Virtue by Wayne and Joshua Mack, P and R publishers, 2005.)