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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. 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.”

Luke 9:33-35

In my experience, a lot of people use these verses to say that we shouldn’t try to be great. That things like ambition, aspiring to be a leader, or wanting God to increase your platform are straight up unbiblical. Not good at all.

But when you read these verses, you can’t really find that idea at all. Jesus didn’t say, stop trying to be great. He just said, get there a different way. Flip the funnel and put yourself at the bottom, and that’s how you’ll become great.

You find this same idea when you study the life of John the Baptist. It’s interesting that Jesus had no problem calling John the greatest man ever. If it is bad to be great, you would think Jesus would avoid that terminology. But once we understand why Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest man ever, it makes perfect sense. It wasn’t because he was greater than Jesus. It was because he had this attitude about Jesus:

He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be great. In terms of your performance. Or your influence.

But what you have to ask is:

Why do I want to be great? And how am I going to get there?

If you want to be great, be great for God’s sake.
If you want to be great, be great in a way that makes Jesus even greater.
If you want to be great, be a servant of all.
If you want to be great, flip the funnel. Put yourself at the bottom.

Pastor Steven Furtick is the lead pastor of Elevation Church. He and his wife, Holly, founded Elevation in 2006 with seven other families. The church has been listed by Outreach Magazine as one of the fastest growing and largest churches in America. 

Pastor Steven holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the New York Times Best Selling author of Crash the ChatterboxGreater, and Sun Stand Still.

Pastor Steven and Holly live in the Charlotte area with their two sons, Elijah and Graham, and daughter, Abbey.

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Sterling Franklin

commented on Dec 2, 2011

I totally agree that extreme aspiration is not contrary to following Jesus. I believe it goes hand-in-hand, and that God exalts the humble.

Trevor Payton

commented on Dec 2, 2011

Very well said. Thank you!

Keith B

commented on Dec 2, 2011

It's not about being great--it's about feeding the sheep. You shouldn't have "being great" as your goal--it's about shepherding the sheep. He misses the entire point...and says if we humble ourselves....God will make us great!!!!! He's still using greatness as his motivating factor.

Anonymous Contributor

commented on Dec 2, 2011

kb, what about the sheep? not everyone is a shepherd. whatever we do, we are to do it with excellence. the "world" should not be the best at anything good; we should be. we should be great. God made us, believes in us, wants the best for us... He wants me to be the best "me" I can be. and the best version of "me" is serving His Kingdom, all for His glory.

John E Miller

commented on Dec 13, 2011

Can somebody show me a scripture where we are told to want to be great? Can someone show me a true servant of God who is on record in God's word expressing that ambition? Matthew 11:11 does not say that John the Baptist was the "greatest man ever". Read the whole verse. Careless, inaccurate misquotation of scripture is not to be expected of one who takes the place of a preacher, teacher or pastor.

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