(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Truly Great…
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
God promised Abraham, “the father of all who believe” (cf. Romans 4:11), “I will bless you.” A common human reaction to a promise like that would be, “I’m special—more for me!” But God had something else in mind. God blessed Abraham so that he and his offspring could pass the blessing on, as verse 3 said: “All families of earth will be blessed because of you.”
In Jesus’ day (as in ours), many leaders (even religious ones) sought exalted, lofty titles. Scholar William Barclay wrote, “The Pharisees liked to be addressed as Rabbi and to be treated with the greatest respect. They even claimed…greater respect than that given to parents, for, they said, a man’s parents give him ordinary, physical life, but a man’s teacher gives him eternal life.” Jesus said his Kingdom was not about high-status titles, but about greatness in serving others.
Jesus’ disciples James and John wanted the highest rank in his Kingdom. (In Matthew their mother made the actual request; in Mark 10:35-45, they made it directly. The effect was the same.) Jesus said neither they, nor the other disciples who resented them, understood what drove his way of life. He wasn’t out for “perks” or prestige. He came to serve, to give his life to liberate many people.
The book of Isaiah included four poems in whose imagery God called an unnamed figure “my servant” (Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12). When Matthew quoted Isaiah 42:1-4 to describe Jesus’ ministry, he echoed Jesus’ belief that he fulfilled the deepest meaning of the poems in Isaiah. As people saw Jesus serving them, they did not think less of him, but rather asked if he might not be the “Son of David,” God’s anointed redeemer.
On the night before he was crucified, Jesus gathered with his disciples, and washed their feet. It was a shocking act—washing feet was slaves’ work. Then Jesus told the disciples they were right to call him “Teacher” or “Lord.” His lesson for them (and us) was that when he acted as a servant, he wasn’t abdicating leadership, but redefining it.
Macmillandictionary.com defines “freedom” as “the right to do what you want, make your own decisions, and express your own opinions.” The apostle Paul, shaped by Jesus’ definition and model of greatness, called us to move beyond selfish impulses that actually enslave us. “God has called you to a free life,” he wrote. “But use your freedom to serve one another in love. That’s how freedom grows” (The Message).
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord, help us to live lives that are great by your standards, rather than by the standards of this world. Soften our hearts and help us to become humble, caring, loving servants. Help us to rid ourselves of arrogance and self-indulgence. Purify us, oh God, so that we might become truly great in your eyes. Amen.
Would America be a better place to live if more Americans measured the success of their family lives, their working lives and their social lives based upon their service to others? How could, for example, an engineer, an accountant or a chemist do this? How could they do this at home within their family? How could they do this with friends and acquaintances?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Genesis 12:1-4. Why did God bless Abraham? What if Abraham had said, “Great! God says I am special!” Were all families on earth blessed because of Abraham? How? What might Abraham’s age when he responded to God’s call say to each of us? Was Abraham made great by his own doing? If we follow God, will our lives be more valuable? How important is humility in shaping our lives? How important is if for us to be willing to serve others?
Read Matthew 23:8-11. In our society, do we tend to seek ever higher titles? Why do we do this? Is this completely wrong? What are the spiritual risks in doing this? Is Jesus saying that it is wrong to honor and respect our earthly fathers? What then was Jesus saying in verse 9? When we vote, are we careful to consider which of the candidates are more likely to serve the greater good rather than themselves? Are we more likely to serve the greater good rather than ourselves? What can help us to focus our own lives on the greater good?
Read Matthew 20:20-28. We must interpret these verses with care. If we are blessed with leadership qualities, should we avoid leadership positions? Is the real issue here why we are accepting a position of leadership? What would be an appropriate reason for accepting leadership within the framework Jesus outlined? Is it possible that, say, a President of the United States who becomes great in the eyes of the people can also be great in the eyes of God? But “power corrupts,” or at least it certainly can. How can we make sure that, in any area where we find ourselves with power, we employ that power for good, rather than self-gratification? What role do our motives play in our day-to-day lives?
Read Matthew 12:15-23. The NIV Bible titles verses 15-21 “God’s Chosen Servant.” Discuss the question of who else has been chosen as God’s servant(s). Why did Jesus tell the witnesses not to tell others about many of his healings? How did Jesus fulfill the verses from Isaiah? If we are to be extensions of Christ, how might we fulfill those same verses?
Read John 13:3-17. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet just as a slave would do, was he denying his role as their leader? What was Jesus saying when he told them to do likewise? If we fail to humbly serve others while calling ourselves Christians, are we holding ourselves out to be greater than Christ? Can you think of any symbolic meaning to the fact that Christ removed his clothes, wrapped a towel around himself and, after washing their feet, put his clothes back on? Does Jesus’ humble act encourage you to do anything differently in your life?
Read Galatians 5:13-16. What do you make of the fact that, although we are not slaves, but free men and women, Jesus tells us that, to be truly free, we must make a free choice to serve others? How might we become enslaved by selfish impulses? What did Paul mean when he told us to “walk by the Spirit”? From a Christian perspective, how would you define “greatness”?
From last week: Did you ask yourself whether God sees you as generous or tight with your time, talents and treasures? Did you write down your thoughts and decide if any or all of these categories needed your attention? If so, did you make at least one commitment for improvement? Share with the group how this process went.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, November 4, 2012:
Ambition is the word we give to our drive for achievement or success. Is ambition necessarily a bad thing? No. It is possible for ambition to be the drive that compels us to doing things that please God. The question is, “What is the object of your ambition?”
Paul warns the believers at Philippi: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
Paul warns against selfish ambition. James does the same in his epistle: “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”
The Greek word is ERITHEIA and, interestingly in the light of the events this week, the word was actually used in ancient times of those running for office, willing to do or promise anything in order to further their aspirations.
Yet Paul uses another word for ambition in his letters. In Romans 15:20 where he says, “Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news,” the word is different. It is PHILOTIMEOMAI which means something like, “to love what brings honor or what is honorable.” Two other times Paul uses this word for ambition in the New Testament. In II Corinthians 5:9 Paul writes, “We make it our ambition to please God.” And in I Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your ambition to lead quiet lives, minding your own business, and working hard so that your daily life will win the respect of outsiders.”
The question for us is whether our ambition is eritheia or philotimeomai? Is it selfish ambition, or an ambition to excel at doing God’s work and blessing others?
R.T. France in his commentary on Matthew, as he unpacks our story of James and John’s mother’s request, says, “The natural human concern with status and importance is clearly one of the most fundamental instincts which must be unlearned by those who belong to God’s kingdom.”…
I learned a lot about my own selfish ambition and lessons in how to deal with it from my pastor and mentor, Bob Robertson, while I was in seminary. Bob is now gone, but his lessons shaped my life. I think I’ve shared this with some of you years ago, but I remember how I was spending several hours a week preparing a youth newsletter that we sent out to our kids. I would search for graphics, write thoughtful columns and announce our programs. One week I received in the mail the youth newsletter from another church. It had the graphics I had spent hours searching for, my article just reworked under the other youth pastor’s name, and nearly all of our program ideas. I showed it to Bob expecting him to sympathize with me. Instead he said, “Adam, you will be so much happier in life if you focus on building God’s kingdom without worrying about who gets the credit.”
Ouch! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized Bob was right. He was inviting me to have ambition for the kingdom, just not worry so much about myself….
When you finally figure out that it is not about you but about the Kingdom, and that you are not irreplaceable, you become happier.
What Others Have Said About “Greatness”
– “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
– “I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don’t mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.” – John Ruskin
– “A great man is always willing to be little.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
– “The price of greatness is responsibility.” – Winston Churchill
– “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” – Mahatma Gandhi
– “To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
– “It takes a great man to be a good listener.” – Calvin Coolidge
– “Be careful not to mistake insecurity and inadequacy for humility! Humility has nothing to do with the insecure and inadequate! Just like arrogance has nothing to do with greatness!” – C. JoyBell C.
– “Until you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.” – Cher
– “Those who have the ability to be grateful are the ones who have the ability to achieve greatness.” – Steve Maraboli
– “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” – Elbert Hubbard
– “Your greatness is revealed not by the lights that shine upon you, but by the light that shines within you.” – Ray Davis
– “The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.” – Mahatma Gandhi
– “If you can’t do great things, Mother Teresa used to say, do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love, do them with a little love. If you can’t do them with a little love, just do them. Love grows when people serve.” – John Ortberg
– “Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
– “Greatness is always built on this foundation: the ability to appear, speak and act, as the most common man.” –
Shams-ud-din Muhammed Hafiz
– “Our Christian destiny is, in fact, a great one: but we cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great. For our own idea of greatness is illusory and if we pay too much attention to it we will be lured out of the peace and stability of the being God gave us, and seek to live in a myth we have created for ourselves. And when we are truly ourselves we lose most of the futile self-consciousness that keeps us constantly comparing ourselves with others in order to see how big we are.” – Thomas Merton
This week, consider giving something up that you do for yourself and replace it with something you can do for others. Next week, tell the group whether this turned out to be a sacrifice or something that seemed to be more of a blessing.