The Greatness of Selflessness

I’ve been reading a short little book by C.J. Mahaney entitled Humility: True Greatness.  In chapter 3, “Greatness Redefined,” Mahaney speaks at length about the well known request of James and John in Mark 10:35-45.  The first exegetical paper I wrote in seminary was on this passage, so it has a special place in my heart – if it is possible to say that about only a passage of scripture!

Jesus is merciful and gentle with our pride-drenched hearts, just as He was with His errant apostles.  We read in Mark 10:42, “And Jesus called them to him.”  Can you sense the Savior’s patience with them, as well as His loving commitment to teach them what they so desperately need to learn?

He reminds them of what they’ve all observed during the long years of Roman occupation: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Then the Savior sets down a contrast: “But it shall not be so among you.”

What I find especially fascinating and instructive in His next words is that Jesus does not categorically criticize of forbid the desire and ambition to be great.  Instead, He clearly redirects that ambition, redefines it, and purifies it: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (vv.43-44).

We always want to pay careful attention when that word must appears in Scripture.  “Must” points us to something that’s required, something that’s indispensable.  “You want to be great?” Jesus is saying.  “Well, here’s what has to happen.  What’s required is that you become a servant to others; it means nothing less than becoming the slave of everyone.”

Remember that the Person standing there and  making this statement is the ultimate example of true greatness Himself.  And this is exactly what Jesus goes on to make clear: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v.45).

In his excellent commentary on this passage, William Lane notes that Jesus is referring to “the reversal of all human ideas of greatness and rank.”  A profound and historic reversal is taking place here – one that has to occur in each of our lives if we’re to have any possibility of becoming truly great in God’s eyes.  It means turning upside down our entrenched, worldly ideas on the definition of greatness.

Humility, pgs. 42-44

This is a short book (only 175 small pages), but an edifying one.  10$ feels a bit steep to me, but Humility: True Greatness contains some real gems so I have no regrets in spending the money!

Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (Anaheim, CA)

5 thoughts on “The Greatness of Selflessness”

  1. Humility is very hard but definitely a “must”. It’s living every second in the Spirit and striving to appreciate I (me) am the chief among sinners.


  2. When I first saw your post with “CJ Mahaney” and “Humility” I thought it might be a joke. This is based on all that was brought to light last year. He won’t undergo the same amount of transparency that he required the staff and members of his former church’s congregation.


      1. It was mentioned in the Washington Post, Mark Driscoll and Kevin DeYoung have also commented on it. I will have to come back later with reference links. I have family and friends who currently attend or were past members of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.


        1. I’d heard something of this. I’m not really up on what happened.

          But frankly, if one is willing to place content over the source, they’ll realize that this is a fine book on humility.

          If Mahaney is guilty of the pride and domineering that it sounds like he is (and it sounds like he has admitted as much), then this book is a perfect thing for him, and the rest of us who struggle with this pervasive sin, to read.


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