The following article was written for the "Sword of the Lord" Christian paper and has a strong ministerial connotation. I would encourage you, however, to read it with your life, your family, and your business in mind. The principle thus described is universally-applied to every aspect of the Christian life. Enjoy! -Daniel
If the Lord Jesus set before you today the option of being a great man with a great ministry or a good man with a good ministry, which would you choose? What are the moral implications of your choice and how might your life be affected by this decision?
In a recent conversation with an intimate friend I asked him a searing question whose implications still reverberate in my soul. “What makes a great preacher?”
Clearly, my question was based upon criteria I have long-held on the characteristics of a great man of God, to which I have always aspired to be. Chief among them, in typical fashion, are an insatiable desire to know God and His truth, to walk with God in devotion and prayer, to exude the compassion of Christ to the world around us, and to express a genuine and relatable ministry among the sheep to which he ministers. We all feel like we have known great men.
Regardless if it be intentional or unintentional, the pressure to be great is felt by many young preachers. The goal of building a great church is huge. The desire to build a great name, a great reputation, and a great life are inherent in the human condition. Singers want to sing great songs. Preachers want to preach great sermons. Parents want to raise great kids and build great marriages. The acrosticly-crafted national cry of our nation is #MAGA. Let’s say it together— Make America Great Again!
I pivot on this point to prove many others. It was Alexis de Tocqueville whose wrote, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
How many of us are willing to trade in our selfish desire “to be great” in order to be unquestionably good? Have many of us are willing to say, “I was not called to realize the fruits of a great ministry; I was called to produce the fruit of the Spirit in goodness to others!” Will we forfeit our carefully-crafted paradigms of greatness in order to be wonderfully good?
We have believed the “undeniable lie” that the only way to reclaim America is to build great churches and do great works. We have bought into archetypes of success that maximize greatness, while minimizing goodness. We think that the country needs greater churches, while she starves for better men.
Burning wicks at both ends, we have no time to foster a relationship with the soul out of which we seek to win and disciple them, and at the end of many long days, our ministries spread miles wide, and our souls are chiseled paper thin. Are you done with “greatness” yet?
What has greatness done for you lately? Has it enriched your marriage and made your wife feel like she is the most important human relationship in your entire universe? After long days of compassionate empathy, has it brought any kindness and patience home to the little ones you call your children? Has it ever allowed you to sit alone on an empty beach late at night with only the stars as a light upon the Holy Scriptures and allowed to feel that such solitary exercises are in themselves a good work? Has greatness allowed you to rejoice in what the Lord has done, or are you the measuring rod of ultimate success? Has your pursuit of greatness ever allowed you to work an entire year with only the judgment seat in mind? Brethren, does our own conscience not persuade us that in our pursuit of greatness we missed goodness?
You might find it interesting that the expression “great men” is found once in the New Testament. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains. (Revelation 6:15)
The Hebrew connotation of great has the idea of greatness in any sense, whether it speaks of that which is older, insolent, exceeding, or high. There were great cities (Joshua 10:2), great stones (Joshua 10:18), great sins (I Samuel 2:17), great destruction (I Samuel 5:9), great riches (I Samuel 17:25), and great houses (Jeremiah 52:13).
David was given a great name. And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. (II Samuel 7:9)
Job was given great riches. His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand
camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. (Job 1:3)
Daniel was made a great man. Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. (Daniel 2:48)
The Old Testament distinction of great men reflects a quantity of days, riches, influence or power. Webster defined it as “large in bulk or dimension; being of extended length or breadth; large in number; expressing an extensive degree of any thing.” Thus, greatness deals with quantity. There is no moral or ethical quality in relation to the term at all.
Thus, Elihu rebuked Job’s miserable comforters when he said, Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. (Job 32:9) And upon Jehovah’s inspection of the sins of Judah, Jeremiah gat himself to the great men, but sadly noted, they have known the way of the LORD, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds. (Jeremiah 5:5)
Greatness then is a quantitative evaluation of life and ministry. Take, however, the word “goodness.”
Goodness means, “valid; legally firm; not weak or defective; sound; compete or sufficiently perfect in its kind, having moral qualities best adapted to its design and use.” Goodness, then, by its very definition and implication is a value statement which lends itself to qualitative criteria. The question, then, is, “Is my ministry great in quantity or morally good in quality?”
Remember, in the parable of the talents, the lord said unto his servant, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21) We see, then, that the servant was evaluated according to the depth of his goodness and faithfulness and not the breadth of his greatness and fruit.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (I Corinthians 3:11-15)
In the fall of 2016 Hurricane Matthew passed over my house as a Category 1 hurricane. Last year, Hurricane Irma passed over as a Category 2. Believe you me, I know the quantity of wood, hay, and stubble! Lord willing, before the Rapture, I hope to bundle and burn that which remains! What’s the difference in gold, silver, precious stones and wood, hay, and stubble?
The first trinity is quite valuable, while the second is helplessly worthless. Also, I cannot produce the first set, but I can produce the second. In this case I would take quality over quantity without any questions.
Has your striving for greatness snarled the organic growth of your goodness? Stop striving! Is your pursuit of of greatness manward? Look Godward for goodness (James 1:17)! The hunger for greatness leads to empathy fatigue, despair, disillusionment, and discontent. Strive, then, for that which keeps the heart and mind, ensures the spirituality of the minister, and makes for a blessed life that enriches the servant of Christ and those who hear him.
If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. (I Timothy 4:6) Dear Lord, make me a good man! Selah!
Daniel & Marie Cox are best friends, soulmates, and co-laborers in the ministry. They and their four children live in Florida, where they have established a church, a private, Christian school, and a fun-loving family!