True Greatness Defined

By Rev. Tim Yee

September 30, 2018

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them… “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

John 13:12, 15


Is success to be rich and powerful? To be respected and loved? Is success to leave a lasting legacy? What is a successful life? How would you define success?

Yesterday, we reflected on Jesus as a revolutionary communicator who challenges our assumptions about true greatness and whose life and teachings continue to make us ask good questions about what it means to be successful.

Someone walking through a puddle.Jesus’s definition of success can be seen most poignantly in his act of washing his disciples’ feet on the eve of his death (John 13). He shocked his followers by taking on the role of the lowest servant in that society. Knowing he was about to die, he refused the human inclination to display his power and wealth. Jesus could have called down an army of angels to reveal his true greatness. He could have given his disciples a glimpse of his true heavenly riches. The most powerful military regime, the most opulent estate, or the applause of a thousand admirers would not have even come close to the greatness of the Eternal Son—if Jesus only chose to reveal his heavenly reality. Instead, Jesus left them with a picture of success he wanted them to remember and emulate: the most powerful man to ever walk the planet removing his clothes, wrapping a towel around his waist, and washing the muck off of the disciples’ feet. True greatness looks like a lowly servant.

Luke 22:24 records something astounding that you may not have noticed before: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” What makes this shocking is that Luke records this argument within the context of the Last Supper. Jesus is dedicating his last moments on earth to these twelve friends, showing them the life of service to God and others that will be expected of them. But instead of soaking in this poignant moment with their Lord, they give into the false narratives of what it means to be successful in this world. They’re arguing in front of the Savior of the world, who has just washed their feet, about who is the greatest. These disciples have so much to learn!

True success is not found in jockeying for positions of power and influence. It is not found in acquiring possessions or praise. God looks for people who will humbly serve others like Jesus did. That’s true success and it gets God’s attention. When we follow Jesus’s model for a successful life, we will impact others for the good.

Something to Think About:

“Jesus smiled sadly. The lesson had been delivered many times already. Repeatedly, he had instructed his disciples to abandon self-promotion and prideful ambition. He would exhort them one last time: ‘This is how people out there approach success… For them, it’s all about position, status, power, and titles. That’s not how it’s supposed to be with you. Success is in the opposite direction—serving, waiting tables, meeting each other’s needs’” (The Revolutionary Communicator, 137).

Something to Do:

Mark Roberts offers a devotional guide on success. Sign up for a free downloadable pdf and read the first lesson. Use this guide for the rest of the week.


Father, may you find me as the kind of servant leader who serves others out of the overflow of your love pouring into me. Help me to be aware of the temptation to pursue things that will bring me applause instead of giving you the glory. Protect me from getting caught up in pursuing power, position, or praise. I want to follow your lead in putting on my servant garments and caring for those in need. Amen.

Rev. Tim Yee

Contributor Emeritus & Pastor

Rev. Tim Yee is Pastor of Union Church of Los Angeles, a 100-year-old church in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo District where he serves a diverse church of professionals, internment camp survivors, artists and homeless. He serves on the Board of Union Rescue Mission where he leads the P...

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