HOW TO BE A GREAT PERSON
- HOW TO BE A GREAT PERSON
One of the greatest struggles we have as people and as people of the Word is how to live a life that honours God but also soothes our ego. Everyone seeks to be recognized and acknowledged for their contributions to the life of the community here in this place as well as in our homes, our places of employment, our social clubs and with our friends. Being recognized and acknowledged as having value and worth is critical to our well-being. But too often we either boldly assert ourselves over others so that our value will be acknowledged or we retreat in abject humility to a place where any value or worth we may contribute to the community becomes muted or even ignored. Becoming a great person, though, is neither about being so humble as to never allow us to feel any pride in our abilities or talents nor is it about being so bold as to believe that we possess talents and abilities unrivalled anywhere in the world. Becoming a great person is about finding our place within the community and allowing others to encourage us as we encourage them to share our lives together. God seeks for us to find fulfilment in life but not at the expense of another person.
When Jesus speaks to the disciples and tells them to be first you must be last, he is reminding them that the greatest among them will be the one who is willing to recognize and acknowledge the value and worth of those around them. The world in which we live encourages us to be bold in our dealings with one another. We are encouraged to look out for ourselves, to grab the bull by the horns, to be aggressively assertive, and to promote ourselves. Certainly there is nothing wrong with sharing with one another our vision for the life of our community and how we may be able to make contributions but we are to be conscious of how our thoughts, words and actions may impact the life of someone in the community who is not as sure of themselves or who feel that they have less to contribute. And who does Jesus look to when he is seeking for an example of how the disciples can start on the path to greatness? He points to a child. He then takes the child and places the child in the midst of them and then takes the child into his arms. The child probably has the least ability to make a difference in the world at that moment but for Jesus this child represents the very heart of greatness. To have the ability to see, acknowledge, accept and love a child whose life is just beginning opens us up to see, acknowledge, accept and love those whose lives have been lived and influenced in ways that will bring challenges to us. If we cannot take time for them, we probably will not be willing to take time for others. If we think ourselves too good or too important or too great to bother with a child, chances are we will think ourselves too good, important or great to bother with anyone else whom we may feel are beneath us.
It is a fact of our human existence and dilemma that even though we will acknowledge our God and the physical presence of God in Jesus Christ as the greatest person among us, we will still seek to know who comes second, third, fourth and so on. Somehow we need that pecking order.
In the letter that the apostle James wrote, we find that Jesus’ words concerning greatness are still a struggle for the people. It seems that everyone in the community wants to be seen as the most important. People were seeking to become teachers in the community but without the necessary skill and aptitude. People were boasting of their faith in God but not showing it in practical ways. In a real sense, people had lost the heart of wisdom. Wisdom is not just a matter of knowledge. People can have great knowledge but lack wisdom. Wisdom is about knowing how to apply knowledge in such a way as to truly encourage and teach others the lessons of life as God has given them. How often we want to share our knowledge or experience. We want others to know how knowledgeable we are. We fear someone else might be seen as having more knowledge or a greater experience than ourselves and we will not be valued. But remember the wisdom of Solomon who knew so well that a wise person often says little while a fool will run on at the mouth.
Someone once said that he didn’t like silence. He said it was like death but silence is fuller of meaning than we may imagine. In silence we can observe movement, we can hear breathing, and we can feel our heart. But silence scares us. It scares us because we are so surrounded by the sound of traffic and commerce that the idea of being silent is to us a void. It seems to be an empty place that we need to fill but in truth that so-called empty place is fuller than anything we may imagine. It is a place where God can be heard, where he can be felt and where we can touch and be touched.
In this passage, James does not tackle all the issues that cause us to struggle with what it means to be great people of God but he does touch on a number of them. He begins by cautioning us against a wisdom that encourages bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Such wisdom brings disorder to our community life as a Christian congregation and disorder to our life in general. When we become jealous of the abilities or talents of others, we can find ourselves seeking for ways to derail them and promote ourselves instead. We can find ourselves working to bring division within the community and so disrupt its life and peace.
He then points to the wars and fights that he sees. He knows too well that the jealousies we feel come from our desire to have something we can’t or to be someone we cannot be. He recognizes that we all struggle with finding our place in the community and recognizing the gifts and talents and abilities of one another. When such things become all-consuming, the community is in grave danger of dissolution. Even more, he would say, we are at risk of losing the vision and goal of our faith and life and descending into an abyss of self-promotion and aggrandizement.
To counteract this tendency within us, he encourages us to seek for the real wisdom of God. He tells us that such wisdom is pure, that is, it is untainted by the jealousies that afflict us for it seeks to honour the life of all. Further he adds that such a wisdom is peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.
The true wisdom of God that we are to seek for and practice in our life will not desire to cause war and strife but will desire to find peace for mind, body and spirit. It will desire to gently instruct and persuade rather than be heavy-handed. It will be open to reason for it will be willing to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others and see whether there is any truth and any good in what is being suggested. The ideas and thoughts of others will not be summarily dismissed. The true wisdom of God will be full of mercy for it will not seek to condemn but to inform and teach and it will be a wisdom that will not be seen as temporary or fleeting nor will it be easily shaken. It will be a wisdom that can be trusted.
We can be certain of what we believe and express it in a firm yet gentle way. We can be sincere in what we believe and yet reveal that we are open to listen. We can be great people without being dominating or domineering. After all, no one of us is perfect. Every one of us will make mistakes. How we deal with our mistakes and the mistakes of others will reveal whether our wisdom is of God or of man.
Remember the words of Paul in speaking of Jesus. He reminded the people in Philippi that Jesus was above every other creature in creation. In other words, he is the greatest person to ever walk on the earth yet he did not celebrate his greatness by lording it over others. Instead he emptied himself of all vanity and self. He put himself in the position of one who serves, of the lowest in the pecking order. His greatness came not from people looking to him to worship him but from him looking at people with compassion and mercy.
Who among us will be remembered as the greatest? Perhaps we will never find the answer. Perhaps we should never seek to be that person but each of us can be a great person by striving to encourage, uplift and forgive others, by recognizing the heart and life of others in the community and by bringing peace and sincerity to others through words and actions.