Shakespeare once wrote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
There is something about this quote that stirs within me a passion to make my life worthy of greatness. Epic quotes like the one above cause this emotion, along with those movies about men who storm beachheads, fight against insurmountable odds, and sacrifice everything for a virtuous cause. Such a characterization might not be what every man envisions when he thinks about greatness, and I have no idea how Shakespeare would define it, but I do believe every man has an innate longing to be great.
The difficulty is figuring out exactly what it means to be great. The greater difficulty is then having the courage to live that way.
We will explore both those concepts throughout this series, but first let’s take a look at how greatness is commonly understood in our culture.
Greatness in Our Culture
Probably the most common use of “great” is in reference to a particular skill set. Greatness, then, refers to the excellence with which a man performs a certain activity.
I am a great teacher.
He is great basketball player.
They are great businessmen.
While it is important for a man to strive for excellence in everything he does, it becomes problematic if he views greatness solely in relation to a profession, a skill set, or a hobby.
The first problem with this understanding of greatness is that it may lead a man to let an activity become his identity. A man can be a great construction worker, a great writer, a great guitar player, etc., but that does not mean he is a great man. If we attribute greatness to a man for what he can do instead of who he is, then we fail to understand that God wants the whole man and not just one aspect of him.
The second problem with a misunderstanding of greatness is that it can lead to unbalanced lives. If the greatness of man is limited to a particular skill set, then other areas of his life will suffer. We know of too many athletes who are terrific golfers but terrible husbands, or phenomenal basketball players but pitiful fathers. And our society has not helped the situation: we promote presidents who are marked by immoral personal lives, glorify celebrities who maintain shameful lifestyles, and even praise preachers who grow their ministries at the expense of their families’ well-being.
God wants the whole man. God wants man to be great in who he is, in what he does, and in every area of responsibility given to him. What we need to become great, therefore, is a fixed standard of greatness by which we can measure our lives. Our culture usually determines a person’s greatness by comparing him to other people in a specific arena. There are endless debates about who is the greatest president, basketball player, band, quarterback, singer, or Olympian. But the greatest athlete is only considered great in comparison with other athletes. A man might be the greatest musician in his high school class, but as soon as he plays in the college band, he could be the worst. The standard is subjective and usually cannot truly quantify greatness. Comparison usually breeds competition, and ultimately our fellow man is not the point of reference for the greatness to which we are called.
We can’t limit our greatness to how we measure up to other men; doing so sets our standard far too low. In order to become great, we must find our ideal for greatness by looking at the Greatest Man who has ever lived.
That Great Man is Jesus Christ.
In the articles that follow, we will look at greatness in a man’s character, his service, and his legacy. By looking at the life and teachings of Christ and setting Him as our standard, our hope is that we will end up with a better understanding of what it means to be truly great.