In the recent NCAA basketball Final Four playoffs here at Dallas, I was interested in the statement made by one of the coaches prior to the game. He was asked, "Why has your team done so well? What is it about this team that has made it come as far as it has, because everybody wants to know about success?"
He said, "We have a motto on our team, and the motto is this: 'Good people do for themselves; great people do for others.' "
Obviously, in basketball with his kind of team, what he was saying was this: We don't have anyone who selfishly thinks he has to do everything; he doesn't try to make the basket every time he comes down the court, as some people do. We have a team that says, "Great people do for others." That is, "Let's get everybody involved; let's do something for somebody else."
When I heard that statement, it was familiar to me, because it's exactly what Jesus taught as the foundation, the bedrock, of what it means to be a Christian. For instance, listen to Mark, chapter 9, beginning with verse 33. The Bible says, "They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, 'What were you arguing about on the road?' But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest."
Friends, the prevailing attitude in America today is that great people do for themselves; good people do for others. Haven't you heard folks say, "Well, they're just good people, just good folks. They may be run down at the heels; you know, they're not very spectacular, just good folks"? But what does prevailing opinion in America classify as great? Somebody whose picture is always in public. Somebody who's always being noted. Somebody whose name is always being presented. That's a great person. You see, a great person in our society is someone who is always doing for himself.
We have studied, and we know what we can do with the media. The image is the important thing. Forget the reality. Make the image appear right, and people will be struck by the image and will follow the image and forget the substance. Media people can tell you that. Listen: Just any common person out of this congregation, any of us, could be hyped in such a way that our nation would think we were great. We could have advertising people come in and take our little old life and put some pictures and stories with it. Some of the most common things you do every day will become the greatest news the world has ever heard, because we know how to touch human emotion and how to manipulate. Let me tell you, that's just the opposite of spirituality, just the opposite.
You ask someone, "Who's the greatest in the kingdom of God today in America?" and they're going to name for you those people whose names and faces appear most in public, right? If you ask, "What's the greatest church in America today?" you're going to get named the church that is getting the most print and the most hype and the most advertising. People are going to say, "That is the greatest ."
Obviously, when Jesus said to his disciples, "What are you arguing about?" they were a little embarrassed. I mean, after all, we all want to be great, but we don't want folks to know we want to be great, right? Every one of us would love to have our picture where everybody else's picture is. We'd like for our name to be a household word, but we don't really want folks to know that's what we want, and so we become humble. We say, "Well, Jesus, whatever gave you the idea that I was trying to be great? Just because my picture is up everywhere, and everybody is talking about me, and my name is synonymous with what it means to be successful and greatwhatever gave you the idea that little, old ... I just stumbled into it."
Well, the disciples were embarrassed. They knew this had no place in the life and ministry of Jesus, so the Bible says they kept quiet. But listen: "Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve"these were the ones who would do ministry, and he wanted them to get it straight just like he wants us to get it straight today. "He called the Twelve and said, 'If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.' He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, '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.' "
Great people put others first
Let me say three things briefly about this. Jesus teaches here that good people do for themselves, but great people do for others. First he said this: "Great people put others first. If you want to be great, you must be last." If you want to be great, you must be lastthat means I'm going to put other people first.
Now how does that fit into our schedule? I'll tell you quite frankly it doesn't fit very well in mine, most of the time. If I'm approaching a red light, and there's a line with nobody in it, do you think I'm going to let the guy coming up on my left get that place? I'm going to change real quick. He can hit his breaks and stop, because obviously I need that light much more than he does. It just becomes kind of a habit that I focus all of my attention on myself.
Well, that's good folks but not great folks. That's America, but it's not the kingdom of God, because putting other people first is the very essence of the nature of Christ. Philippians, chapter 2, says that he didn't count himself equal with Godhe was equal with God, but he didn't count that as something to brag abouthe just lowered himself and became a servant, took upon himself the form of a man that he might serve. Salvation would never have been accomplished if Jesus hadn't put others first. You and I would not have forgiveness if he were not a great person.
Great people serve all
Now the next thing he says in this passage of Scripture is this: great people serve all. Great people serve all. He said, "and become the servant of all." That means that we do not discriminate. We do not discriminate our service toward other people. Now, obviously, we have learned a lesson, and we have learned it well: If I want to serve anyone, then let me serve someone who can do something for me. Let me be a servant of those who can advance my career. I find it very easy to be a servant to someone who can turn around and serve me in some capacity, but I don't find it very easy to serve everyone.
Great people serve with no thought of reward
And then the third thing he says is this: great people serve with no thought of reward. He brought this little child, he stood him there, and he said, "Anyone who does something for this little child does it for me, and not really for me, but he does it for God." He was saving to his disciples, "You are going to come to the time in your ministry when a little child like this is going to need your help, and there are going to be a lot of other pressing demands around you and more people, and you're going to probably neglect the need of this little one because he can't do anything for you." Let me tell you something: he said if Christian faith is really taking hold in your life, you're going to be able to serve that little one just as you would serve anyone else, and the thought of What's going to be repaid to me? will not override the faith you have in Jesus Christ.
Great people depend on God to give them what they need to serve him
It's not easy to be a great person, not in the kingdom of God. It's a lot easier to be great in national eyes and become a great public figure than it is to be great in the kingdom of God, because to be great in the kingdom of God means that I must draw upon the spiritual resources that only God can give.
You may be saying right now and thinking to yourself, Boy, Preacher, that's wonderful. That ten minutes was great; wonderful lessons there. But now let me ask you this, Preacher: How do you do it? It's nice to say that this is what great people ought to be and do, but where do the resources come from to accomplish what you're talking about? Where do you drum up that spirit of putting other people first? You know, it might cost me something to do that. What if I don't have what it costs? Where do you get the resources to serve everyone? After all, what about myself, my family, public opinion, the impression I make on other people? I need to take care of that.
How can you move forward with confidence and do what God's told you to do? When you come to that kind of decision, then it must be God's hand at work or it will not be accomplished. This is where you find out whether or not faith is real.
In Genesis, chapter 18, verses 10 through 12: "The Lord said, 'I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.' " (He's talking to Abraham.) "Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing " That simply means, folks, when God came to her and said, "This is what I want out of your life," she said, "I don't have it; I just don't have it; I can't give it."
"So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, 'After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?'" She just simply said, "If it's going to happen, it's going to be the hand of God." Have you been to that place in your life at all recently?
In I Kings, chapter 17, Elijah was prophesying in the days of Ahab, one of the most ungodly kings who ever ruled in Israel. God pronounced a curse upon the land, and there was a drought, and Elijah came along to prophesy that curse. The Bible says, in verse 7 of chapter 17 of I Kings, "Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: 'Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.' So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, 'Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?' As she was going to get it, he called and said, 'Bring me, please, a piece of bread.' 'As surely as the Lord your God lives,' she replied, 'I don't have any bread.' " Why would God ask me? I don't have any. Who is he, and what's he trying to say, and what's he trying to do? " 'Only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat itand die.' " You see, we get to those places in life where we say, "God, all I've got is just enough to subsist on. Don't ask me to use what I've got left."
"Elijah said to her, 'Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and for your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: "The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.'" The Bible says "For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry in keeping with the word the Lord had spoken through Elijah."
Where's it going to come from? I don't have it. Jesus was not content that the Old Testament examples would serve for his disciples, and so in his own ministryin Luke, chapter 9, verse 12the Bible says, "Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, 'Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.' He replied, 'You give them something to eat.' " Now, no doubt, they were disciples of his, and they said, "We don't have anything. Why would you ask us to give something we don't have?"
"They answered, 'We have only five loaves of bread and two fishunless we go and buy food for all this crowd.' (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, 'Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.' The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over."
Why, why does God ask us to do something we obviously cannot do?
It's so that he can reveal his hand to us clearly and all we can say is, "It's of God."
In recent years many studies have focused on what's taking place in Communist China among Christians. The reason people are studying is because when the Communists took over in China there were several hundred thousand Christians. The churches were closed, the Red Guard went on a rampage, and anywhere they found a cross, they tore it down. The cross was despised. Christians were put in prison and driven to the countryside. And in recent years with the new administration in Communist China, the relaxing of those rules and regulations, and the reopening of churches, they discovered that there are multiple millions of Christians. Up until the Communists took over, when people were free to do as they please, they had hundreds of thousands. Once the persecution took place, suddenly Christians began to multiply, and there are multiple millions.
Paul Kaufman, who has been there along with his family and observed what's taking place, has written a book called China: The Emerging Challenge. In that book he gives a clue as to why during days of persecution millions of people would come to know Christ. He talks about the Jesus Family of northern China. In 1942 there was a tremendous drought in northern China. Aid began to pour in from the outside to help those people who were starving. The Jesus Family refused to take the aid. They continued to feed their peoplenot only that, but to give away the harvest. They worked up from 10 percent to 20 percent, and finally they worked up to where they gave away 90 percent of what they harvested. They supplied the food for five hundred people from acres of land. And the Communists could do only one family per acre. Somebody said to the leader of those people, "Why would you refuse aid when others were starving?" Listen to what he had to say. He said, "Those foreign churches would have robbed us of our anchor. It is our financial needs that drive us to our knees and force us to cry to him."
There are not many ways in free America that people can be driven to their knees, to cry out to God to see his hand work. But this is one of them. This is one of the places where you and I can determine if we're great people or just good people. It's one of the times in the history of this church that people will look at for ages to come to say, "Was it just a good church or was it a great church?" It will only be determined as each person says to God, "You give me the vision, and then I'll express the faith."
Phil Lineberger is pastor of Williams Trace Baptist Church in Sugar Land, Texas.