In the film, “Thor – The Dark World”, we get this great quote from the lead character,
I’d rather be a good man than a great king
Something in what he has seen of “greatness” has made him reconsider his destiny (He is expected to be King of Asgard) . . . I love the whole Marvel Universe stuff having grown up on the comics and I find so many of the stories resonate – but, this statement in particular just stands out.
Good is enough. Good is better than Great.
In life and ministry there is a challenge to pursue the best, to seek after greatness (not, obviously personal glory, oh no, but . . . all for the sake of the “Kingdom”!) the problem is what gets sacrificed along the way . . . Thor looks at what is involved in being a “great” King and considers the cost too high.
I recently posted about reasons to write a ministry blog, and one of my reasons was that there is no hierarchy in the Kingdom. There actually isn’t a great, average, mediocre, rubbish kind of scoring system. Jesus talks about it, but he doesn’t give a three bullets presentation to the disciples on “Becoming Great in God’s Kingdom” . . . he says something about it for two reasons :
1. To shut them up. Seriously! This is one of the reasons I believe he says what he says about being “Great” – it comes about because a Mother desires status and position for her sons and approaches Jesus with the request that her two (the sons of Zebedee, James and John) sit at his right and his left when he comes into His Kingdom . . this account is found in Matthew’s gospel, in Mark’s account (Mark chapter 9) they have literally “shut up” because they were embarrassed about having discussed who was the “greatest” as they walked along the road – when Jesus asked, “What were you talking about?” (He knew!) . . . they had nothing to say. A bunch of sheepish sheep, having been caught doing something they knew their Shepherd wouldn’t be impressed with.
2. An opportunity to teach Kingdom values. There are times when I think Jesus must have been exasperated with his disciples (“don’t they get this stuff!!) He was basically a youth leader, with a youth group in their mid to late teens and – sometimes – they tested his patience and perfection to the limit! The bonkers conversation is turned on its head as Jesus challenges the way the disciples are discussing “being the greatest” or “getting to the top”. Scripture is great, but when we read a bit of dialogue, I would love sometimes to also hear Jesus’ tone . . . I am imagining here that He says, “So, you want to be great in the Kingdom do you?” He tackles it with some truth and lays it out for them. When we are confronted with nonsense – do we do the same with our youth group? Take it as a chance to guide and instruct? Kingdom values weren’t miraculously discovered by the disciples as they “hung out” with Jesus. Jesus taught them (He absolutely lived them, which gave his words integrity, power and authority – He “knew”, and as He talked his disciples knew that he knew what he was talking about!) Do we do the same? Do we live the same? Anyway, here is what He says,
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and their great men exercise authority over them. “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Not this way with you . . .
There are some fascinating things in this passage – as well as the upside down nature of the Kingdom. As I read that first bit, with Jesus mentioning the Gentiles, I can’t help thinking of the general struggle God’s people have had throughout history of wanting to be like “other nations” . . . culturally, how different is the Church in the way it is led and governed today? Even leaders in the Church are considered “great” depending on the number of twitter followers, books written, platforms spoken on . . . it just doesn’t resonate with the truth of these words from Jesus.
If you wish to be great – be a servant.
If you wish to be first – be a slave.
We can look at this as a warning to be careful what you wish for (!) Before we even get to this bit, Jesus says these words – which can get missed because we focus on the topsy turvy values of the Kingdom, after he talks about the way people “Lord” it over others, and exercise authority over others . . . Jesus says this,
But, it is not this way among you
This echoes, at least for me, God’s conversation with the people of Israel in the Old Testament . . . which basically goes a bit like this, “You don’t need a King like these other nations, (the Gentiles), I am your King – you are called to be different”, the people reply, “But, we want a King, we want to be like other nations!”, God says, “It won’t go well”, The people say, “Give us a King!”. God relents and says OK.
Here we have the disciples looking at Jesus, seeing the Lord and then, with that . . . also seeing the potential for themselves that comes with being part of what Jesus is doing . . . their focus shifts from Him to “What do we get out of this?” “How can I take advantage of who Jesus is for myself?” “How can I make this a little bit about . . . well, me.”
Oh. My. Life.
How far are they from what Jesus is teaching, to even be thinking like this and arguing about it, “I’ll be the greatest”, “No mate, I will be the greatest”, “No, I’m his best friend”, “No – don’t be daft, didn’t you see how Jesus looked at me the other day, it’s me I tell you – me!”
What is amazing is the word Jesus uses after he says, “It’s not that way among you” – He then says,
But, if you wish to be great . . . . How does Jesus say this? With resignation in his voice, exasperation, acceptance of where they are at . . . IF their desire is greatness, He needs to help them re-calibrate their whole understanding. He did the same when He stood a child in their midst. DO. NOT. THINK. ACT. BE. LIKE THIS WORLD.
In the way we grasp ministry, leadership and power (and how it is exercised) in the Church we seem to have so far to go . . . servanthood and slavery . . .
I know it is only a film, but it is powerful (watch “Thor : The Dark World”) – Does he take on the throne of Asgard, dominate the 9 realms and rule as King . . . or, does he relinquish the throne and choose to serve the puny humans on puny Earth?
All he can see as King is war, war and more war, and from what he can see of what will be demanded – being a “Great” King will demand things of him that will change who he is, that fear of absolute power being corrupting and turning him into a despot in order to remain King and “Lord” it over people, to rule through fear and dominance . . . (there could have been another way of being King, perhaps?) Anyway, he sees what he could become . . . and rejects it.
He chooses good over great. Chasing greatness is a doomed venture and it should not be that way with us.
Good is where it is at!
Being Good (Forget Great).
Good is enough, good is better than great.
Right from the beginning of everything – when God made stuff, He called it good. Not great, amazing, stunning, brilliant, beyond compare, the best . . . he called it good.
Now, I generally associate the word “Good” with, “Oh, isn’t he a good boy.” and a pat on the head, good not being so much good as a bit pathetic. Who wants to be thought of as “good”, its a bit like “nice” as a word isn’t it?
Except maybe we don’t understand the word good. We don’t get it. Have you ever read through the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians and thought – you know, honestly, you wouldn’t necessarily say this to anyone, but, have you ever thought that some of the fruit mentioned here is a bit . . . bland?
“Kindness”, “Goodness”, “Gentleness” are the three that stand out for, well, not standing out. Yet, they are at the heart of what we should BE – these are not just about the odd act of kindness, or being well behaved (good) or demonstrating gentleness with a wobbly lip, a sniff and a tear.
As we are talking about “Good” – lets drill down a bit, here are some amazing verses where good features,
“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about his present result, to preserve many lives.”
Joseph (Genesis 50:20)
What an amazing place Joseph has got to! This arrogant young man who “Lorded” it over his brothers, has gone from great to good! He has been through a lot, but he has grasped that he is not the centre of the universe, but that God is, and God’s purposes are good. God has brought good, God has done good through the awful circumstances, to get there Joseph, the beloved of his Father, the one who was considered better than his brothers – had to become a slave to discover who he was, to find his destiny without striving for it, declaring how great he was over others, but through hard work, faithfulness, service . . . self control, patience . . . goodness . . . oh, wait a minute – here is Joseph – as he grows throw the rubbish of what has happened, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit written about hundreds of years later.
In Exodus we have this stunning passage,
“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, The LORD (Yahweh), in your presence, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
The Lord speaking to Moses (Exodus 33:19)
All the Lord’s what? Yep, His goodness . . . pretty amazing stuff, this is not just “good” God is the M&S of “good” (obviously, He is more than that . . . ) But we are beginning to get s picture of what true good is like, God himself IS good. Maybe the Psalmist was thinking about this passage and Moses’ encounter when he wrote,
“surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
The Psalmist writes, not with rose tinted spectacles about everything in life being “good”, “good” job, “good” prospects (you know, with a view to having “great” prospects in the future . . . !), nope, the “goodness” here is God Himself. HIS goodness, and that link again with mercy . . .
Jesus then “owns” this phrase for Himself and again, puts “Goodness” right where it belongs – it is about God, it IS God.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered, “No one is good, except God alone.”
No one is good, except God alone . . . hmm, that puts greatness in its place. Jesus, on the one hand seems to be questioning what has been attributed to Him, but also acknowledging it.
Finally, one of the least preached on passages of scripture, seriously! Rarely hear this preached on . . . because it touches on the reality of our condition, even as Christians.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I don’t want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me.”
Paul (Romans 7:18-21)
We cannot be good, we cannot do good . . . and it is goodness that counts. This is why the Holy Spirit is so important for us, this is why dwelling in the presence of Jesus is vital, this is why knowing that we are totally reliant upon Christ for today, and tomorrow, and the day after that – to sustain and empower us – with His perfect goodness.
This perfect goodness can only come from God, only be received from Him – we cannot work ourselves up into a place of “Goodness”,
“Every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”
IF we live in this place of goodness, His goodness, if we “bring the good” as we live and breathe and go about our day. We bring Jesus with us, if Christ is in us by the power of the Spirit, maybe His “goodness passes by” others as it did Moses, not because we are great – but because He is good.
I want to live in a place of goodness. Being good then, trumps great. Being good means there is no need for great. There is no scoring system or league table, there is no good, better, best. There is only His goodness – I think if we could live in that place it would transform our lives – no competition in the Kingdom, no comparison, no building earthly empires under the guise of doing something “great” for God.
God is good (all the time) All the time, (God is good).
I pray I might trust in his goodness and not my perceived greatness and know peace, serve others, love others and know it is not settling for being good enough . . .
Good is ALL there is.