We are intoxicated with and by power. No one escapes its controlling draw. In the process of being overtaken by this cruel dictator, we in turn devalue and even crush the weak that stand within the reach of our fists: children, spouse, employees, the poor, the sick, the elderly.
Christ, on the other hand, taught us a better way. You want to be great? Then lay your life down. Serve the lowest, the dirtiest, the most inconsequential. Our Lord not only did this by washing feet, more importantly He did it by dying as the Substitute for many that they might take on His righteousness and favor.
There are countless men and women who have heeded our Lord’s command. William Wilberforce is one example of greatness being displayed through service. Wilberforce was labeled an extremist—in other words, his genuine faith compelled him to make a difference in the world by living out God’s call in his life. Part of this calling involved a battle to end the slave trade in Great Britain. This fight required decades of energy and effort. By God’s grace, however, Wilberforce was used to end the savage business.
On the occasion of the abolition of the British slave trade, Sir Charles Fox had this insightful word on Wilberforce:
“When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon - men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who's achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.”
Wilberforce understood greatness … Napoleon didn’t. And how about us? Do we truly understand greatness as Wilberforce and others have? We all have our individual methods of operation—ways in which we move and operate in this world to get what we want. Our sin-filled, deceitful hearts always push us to grab at more power. Has the light of the gospel truly shown us the way in which we are to walk? How are we different because of the fact that the Creator and Lord of the universe took on flesh, came as a servant and became obedient to death, even death on a cross? And what about the girl stolen away through human trafficking or the AIDS orphan? Who will take notice? Who will stand up, as a 21st Century William Wilberforce, and risk everything—reputation, possessions, EVERYTHING—for the sake of one of the least of these?
On another occasion, Jesus taught the crowds regarding the great Day of Judgment. He said that the Lord would separate the masses as a shepherd does the sheep and the goats. As you read this account which are you? What have you done, or not done, for the Son of God?
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)