GOOD TO GREAT
Intro: Best-selling author, Jim Collins is causing quite a stir with his latest book, Good to Great. In his book he reports the results of over ten years of research of the financial results of every company on the Fortune 500 list from 1965 until 1995. The object was to sort through all of these companies and find those who stood out from the crowd, who at some point in their history their fortunes had skyrocketed, and stayed there, not just a flash in the pan. They started with a universe of companies, and after reviewing the data; there were still almost 1,500 companies. With some of the criteria for “greatness” being that a company had to have a fifteen-year record of performing at or below the general stock market, then have a transition then for the next fifteen years outperform the stock market average three times. With all their standards, they narrowed the search to eleven companies. With these eleven companies identified, they then read every article that had been written about these companies in the last thirty years, interviewed past and present employees and officers, in-depth analysis of thirty years of financial information, and many other methods to determine, “What caused them to change from ordinary, at best, to great companies?” In fact, some of the companies were on the verge of bankruptcy when their transition to greatness began. The results of their quest have resulted in a book documenting their findings that has sold almost a million copies. It has caused me to begin to think what makes a “great Christian?” I just learned this week that Thom Rainer, from Southern Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky is using the same format to write a book on good to great churches. But, for our purposes today, lets look at the story we know as, “The Rich Young Ruler,” and look at some the things that cause a person to move from good to great, or in this case, kept him from moving from good to great.
I. His aim v.16
There are many valuable insights in Collins’ book, let me quote one for you: “Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” While Collins proves this of companies, the Bible and life experience prove it of people. Notice the young man’s aim in verse six, “eternal life.” More importantly notice how he wanted to get there. “What good thing shall I do?” He wanted a great thing in eternal life, but he was only willing to do a good thing to get there. Now remember this was before Christ’s death on the cross, when salvation was provided as a gift of God’s grace, so the idea of “doing something” was a common teaching, as it still is today outside of Christianity, but this young man only wanted to be good. I want you to think for a moment, how often do you use the word “great.” When you describe a restaurant, is it good food or great food? When you talk about your job, is it good, or is it great. When you talk about your spouse, are they good, or are they great? Your children, good or great? Your church, good or great? Now let’s get serious; your prayer life, good or great? Your church attendance, good or great? Your witnessing, good or great? Your relationship with God, good or great? You say, “Well, its just a word, what difference does it make?” Can you imagine Tony the Tiger trying to sell Frosted Flakes while roaring, “There GOOOOOD!” a few moments ago we sang one of my favorite hymns, “How GOOD thou art.” Now, if He is a great God, doesn’t he deserve people who are striving to be great, not good? So, are so many content with good?
II. His approach v.18
Jesus tells him in verse seventeen to, “keep the commandments.” Notice the young man’s response in verse eighteen, “Which?” Jesus said “commandmentS,” plural, not singular. If your employer hands you the company handbook and says, “Keep the rules,” would you say, “Which ones?” of course not, you know that he means for you to obey all the rules. This young man wanted to know which of the commandments were really important, which ones were really necessary, and which ones he could ignore, or only keep occasionally. In other words, like Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great.” He just wanted to get by. Have you ever said, “God, you are a great God, so, I want to be a great Christian. I want to be a great witness, I want my prayers to be great, I want to be a great deacon, I want to be a great teacher?” most of us are content with “good.” Most of us are like the young man and only want to know “Which?”
III. His attitude v.20
Notice another problem this young man had. When confronted with the standards for greatness, he says, “I have already done that.” The Bible doesn’t say it, but bear with me just one moment as I ponder. I believe this young man’s statement that he had kept all of those commandments. Jesus certainly didn’t call him a liar or correct him for making such a bold statement. Here is where I believe the young man’s problem comes from. I believe while Jesus is making this list, the young man is standing there keeping score in his head, and thinking, well I am better than Fred at that one, and better than George at that one, and so on. The young man thinks he is great on his own. Go back to his original statement, “What must I do?” He doesn’t ask what Christ can do for him; he wants to know what he can do. One of the characteristics that the researchers found in the great companies was that there was a point where they said to themselves, “Something has to change. These are the things we are doing wrong or poorly and to be great, we must change.” The researchers called it, “Confronting the brutal facts.” Today, I challenge you to confront the brutal facts, are you great for Jesus?
IV. His assessment v.22
God showed me something in this passage that I had never noticed before. Look at verse sixteen, and then look at verse twenty-two. See it? He wanted to do something GOOD, but he had GREAT possessions. If God had blessed him with great possessions, why was he only willing to do something good to inherit great eternal life? The young man compared the costs of greatness with God and greatness with his bank account and seceded it just wasn’t worth it. In the book Good to Great, the great companies are compared to other companies in their same industry. One of the great companies had taken some major risks and made some huge changes in the way they did business before becoming great. The CEO of one of their competitors said we just couldn’t afford to make those kinds of changes. His company was mired in poor performance, making very little money, but he couldn’t afford to change? No, he wouldn’t change. The question this morning is will you?