THE SEARCH FOR SIGNIFICANCE
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 20:20-28
Wherever groups of people are gathered you can observe behaviors revealing a universal "search for significance." The group may be political, commercial, social or even religious, but the signs will be there. The drive for significance seems to be a part of our genetic strain. The struggle of Jacob and Esau at birth tends to confirm this. Even Cain and Able, in their competition for acceptance, lend credence to this possibility.
Many believers view the quest as being totally carnal. It can be, and often is, a "fleshly-motivated" behavior, but it need not be. It is not always a carnal manifestation. Jesus did not rebuke nor condemn the disciples for having ambition nor for expressing their desire to be significant. The reason why we want to be great and the way we go about achieving it are the issues to be concerned about.
Try to imagine where Christianity would be today if the surrender of ambition were a prerequisite to being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus motivated His followers by assuring them they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He told them to let their light shine before men. The purpose, however, was "that men may see your good works and glorify the Father who Is In heaven."
Jesus gives us clear direction. He taught appropriate ways to achieve significance. When we learn the basic biblical spiritual principles and apply them, we may be assured of His blessing and smile of approval. I am certain that God wants His people to be achievers. It Is the "why" and the "how" that we must pay close attention to. We will Identify and examine three of these spiritual principles.
YOU MUST HAVE AN ALL-CONSUMING AIM
No one will be happy, productive, or fulfilled until he has an all-consuming purpose. This aim must become an obsession. The lives of successful people reveal this. Most significant people have an Identifiable objective that borders on being an obsession. Often these people are thought of as having a "one-track" mind. While much good may be said about being a balanced and multi-talented person, it Is possible to be such a generalist that we become good at almost nothing In particular.
Students In college make poor grades, become discipline problems In some cases, and later dropouts because they lack an aim. Without a purpose, they cannot see how studies relate to anything, because they do not know where they are headed. People are In and out of different jobs, churches, social groups and communities because they feel no ties to anyone or anything.
Jesus Is the best model of an all-consuming aim. When He was 12 years of age, He was found in the Temple talking man-to-man with the rabbis and scholars. Confronted by His parents after three days of frantic searching, He responded, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?" At such an early age Jesus knew who He was, that He was here on a mission, and He understood what that mission was (Luke 2:49).
In John, Jesus explained to His disciples the necessity of passing through Samaria (John 4:4). The classic one-on-one encounter with the woman at the well and the revival that followed reveal how this fit with His aim and purpose. Luke records the conversion of a publican. named Zacchaeus In the city of Jericho. The conclusion of this story finds Jesus saying, "The Son of man Is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).
Speaking years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah, the prophet, said of Him that His face was set like a flint (Isaiah 50:7). Jesus looked neither to the right nor to the left, but straight ahead to His call and mission. Never has any one person accomplished so much In such a short time as Jesus. With Him there was no lost energy or motion. He wasted no time trying to unravel the mystery of His mission to this world. All of His efforts were focused upon the supreme objective of the Cross and His subsequent resurrection.
Jesus vividly displayed an unrelenting commitment to His all-consuming aim In the garden of Gethsemane. He struggled with the ordeal of the Cross and the weight of the sins of the world upon Him. If there was a way the aim could be fulfilled short of the bitter cup, Jesus would welcome It. If not, He was subject to the will of the Father. The test of commitment to an all-consuming aim will repeat Itself over and over again. In the case of Jesus, and sometimes with others, It comes down to a choice between compromise or commitment. An all-consuming aim Is our best assurance against compromise.
Paul Is another prime example of the principle of an all-consuming aim. In his testimony to King Agrippa he said, "Whereupon, 0 King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19). Paul graphically pinpoints this concept In his letter to the Corinthians. "I run . . . not with uncertainty . . . I fight, not as one who beats the air. I discipline my body and bring It Into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, New King James Version). To the Philippian believers Paul reveals his obsession regarding his single purpose In life. He used the phrase, "This one thing I do" (Philippians 3:13). He emphasized his point by using the definite article when referring to the goal and the prize. He did not speak of a goal or prize, It was always the goal or prize.
One of the most-quoted statements from the pen of Paul comes from the remarkable upbeat letter to the Philippians. He wrote, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21). He had completely neutralized himself on the issue of life or death. He had a preference, but whatever would best serve his Lord and contribute to his all-consuming aim would be the deciding factor. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is my mission? These and other introspective questions need to be asked and answered. The puzzle of life will never be solved for us until we come to grips with the issue of "an all-consuming aim."
YOU MUST BE WILLING TO BE A SERVANT
The second principle for a Christian In the search for significance Is a willingness to be a servant. This principle runs counter to the philosophy and practices of the world. In this world the status of a person is measured by the number of people who serve him, rather than the number he serves. A really great person by this world’s standards will never need to do anything for himself, not to mention doing something for someone else.
For a model of this principle, look again at Jesus. "Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:27-28, NKJV). Jesus did not Insist on a principle for His followers that He himself would not observe. The servant principle is epitomized In the incarnation of Christ. "Being in the form of God, [Jesus] did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him" (Philippians 2:6-9, NKJV). Jesus, who was God, became man, the servant. No height of greatness nor depth of servant hood will ever match, or even come close, to the model of the Master.
The Master becoming a servant was illustrated in the last Passover Feast Jesus shared with His disciples. Jesus drank from the common cup with them and washed their feet. "[Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water Into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. . . . If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet" (John 13:4, 5, 14; NKJV). The true leader, the genuinely significant person, must become willing to serve. The world cannot comprehend the validity of this principle. A Master washing the feet of a slave is unthinkable; yet this is exactly what Jesus teaches us to do.
In Luke 22:27 Jesus announced, "I am among you as he that serveth." If you want to be significant, you must do the hard, dirty work of serving your fellowman. Why is there a shortage of truly significant people in the world today? The answer is simple: It costs too much! As long as we cling to the standards of the world, we will be no better than mediocre.
In West Germany I visited a king’s castle near Ludwigsburg. This castle had 474 rooms. It was easy to see the line that was drawn between royalty and servants. Even a distinction between the king and the queen was made. The king had three steps to his throne while the queen had only two. According to law, the queen could never sit higher than the king. What a contrast with King Jesus, who was God, yet, for our sake became a servant! In the search for significance we must conform to the principle of voluntary servant hood.
YOU MUST BE FAITHFUL IN SMALL THINGS
The third principle In the search for significance Is faithfulness in small things. Perhaps you have been wondering why your life is at a standstill? Why Is It that so many people your age, some who are not as bright or skillful as you appear to be, are passing you by? Obviously, there can be many answers to these painful questions. A great danger is that In our search for a face-saving rationale we ignore the real answer. In many situations faithfulness Is a higher virtue than skill or talent. In fact, a highly skilled person who has not learned to be faithful can be a detriment to any cause. An outstanding military general who deserts his post Is worse than no general at all. A skillful employee who shows up for work only when he or she feels like It Is a liability instead of an asset. No matter how good a person Is, If he cannot be depended on, he becomes the enemy-a foe, not a friend!
Jesus teaches the principle of faithfulness in small things in the parable of the talents. "Because you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things" (Matthew 25:21, 23, NKJV).
No one wants to think that he is not trustworthy. But honesty leads us to the reality of what Jesus teaches. He makes it clear that we will be rewarded if we are faithful in small things. "Blessed is that [faithful] servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing" (Matthew 24:46, NKJV). When the Master comes He will make the faithful servant ruler over all His goods.
It is required of a steward that he be faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). If we are faithful unto death we shall receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). Jesus became a faithful and merciful high priest (Hebrews 2:17). Paul admonished Timothy to commit the Gospel unto faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2). The one talent servant blamed his negligence on fear of his master, but the real reason for his failure was wickedness and laziness (Matthew 25:24-26). "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away" (Matthew 25:29, NKJV).
The principle of faithfulness was taught with word and example by Jesus, and embraced by the Apostle Paul. "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:9, 10, NKJV). In 2 Thessalonians 3:13 Paul repeats this principle. Some of the Thessalonians were walking disorderly. Some were doing no work at all. Some were busybodies. All of these negative influences can take the very heart out of the constructive work for the Kingdom. Paul puts it all in perspective by saying, "But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good."
Jesus knew that men and women everywhere want to be significant. He understands human nature better than anyone. "[He] had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man" (John 2:25, NKJV). He is the world’s
greatest psychologist. Tennyson called Him "the greatest of the great." He knew that deep within us is the ambition to be outstanding, to be distinguished. We all want to amount to something. Nobody wants to be remembered as a "nobody." Jesus encourages us to excellence. The difference is in the how and the why!
The world says, "Whoever wants to be great among you, let him assert himself; man can do anything he wants to do if he wants it strong enough." Some Christians would say, "Whoever wants to be great is carnal; the desire is sinful and must be put out of the heart immediately." But Jesus disagrees with both views.
Whoever wants to be significant, Jesus says, let him find an all-consuming aim, let him become a willing servant of others, and let him learn to be faithful in the small things. He will be made ruler over all things.