Whitney Houston died this past weekend. Her body was found in the bathtub of a Beverly Hills hotel. The exact cause of death is still to be revealed. At the Grammy awards ceremony she was remembered and praised as one of the all time greats of the modern music scene. Whitney sold over 100 million albums and won a number of Grammies herself. She also professed to have put her faith “in the Lord” and in an Oprah interview claimed to love someone “bigger than you or me.”
Whether this was genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour or another American singer’s quasi-religious, I’d-like-to-thank-God-but-live-as-I-please sentimentalism, I’m not a hundred percent sure. What I know for sure is that Jesus said these words about true greatness in Mark 9:35, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.“
These words parallel with Jesus words in Mark 8:34 when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” What Jesus is saying is that if you want to be one of his followers you must be wiling to deny yourself the right of self-government, be willing to “crucify” you old self and submit to Jesus as king. This is not greatness in the world’s opinion. To the world this is silliness and self destruction. Yet according to Jesus, this is the way to true life that starts now and never ends.
Denying yourself and following Jesus means that you no longer serve yourself and your own interests, but rather you are willing to humble yourself, you are willing to count yourself last and you now serve Jesus and others.
How do you know if you are great in God’s eyes? Are you serving Jesus and are you serving others? Serving is not an optional extra, it’s what a Christian does.
Christianity must be lived out in community for us to demonstrate servanthood. If you’re living apart from the Christian community practising your own “individual” version of Christianity with “private” viewing of TBN on Sundays, you are not serving – you are only serving yourself – and that’s the definition of selfishness. By being part of a community we serve others like Jesus served us. We share burdens, we practise hospitality, we teach at Sunday School, we make dinner for a struggling family, we give someone a lift to Sunday service, we help with the ministry to orphans, we prepare well for teaching our home group, we get up early to pack out chairs, we phone a person we’ve not seen for a while to find out if everything is ok, we pray for the church leaders, we try to encourage a new Christian in her faith, we have the young adults over for a braai, we start family devotions with our children (often we invite the neighbour’s kids over to be part of those devotions), we take some of the senoir citizens out for coffee and a chat. We serve, like Jesus served us. Of course, we can never serve exactly like Jesus served us because he died as our atoning sacrifice – something that we can never do. But we can learn from Jesus example of self-sacrificial servanthood, which according to God is true greatness.
Whitney was a great singer. Was she great in God’s opinion? On that great day when she – as we must too – stands before the throne of Almighty God, will we receive God’s praise? I hope so.