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The Two Sides of Greatness

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The Two Sides of Greatness

For nearly 70 years now, one of the most popular books ever published was written by a man who grew up poor on a Missouri farm near Maryville, became a salesman in Nebraska, and eventually pioneered self-improvement.  The young man was Dale Carnegie, and his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was first published in 1937, and has sold well over 15,000,000 copies.  It was 10 years on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

In his book, Dale Carnegie discusses many ways that we can all improve our relationships with those around us.  But in one chapter of this book, he discusses “The Big Secret of Dealing with People”.  This chapter covers the first of “The Two Sides of Greatness” that we will be studying this evening. 

Carnegie has a way of slowly revealing the point he is trying to make.  He starts by saying the big secret of dealing with people is simply to give them what they want.  If you are like me, you may have kind of negative reaction to that – sounds like a materialistic marketing mentality.  Carnegie goes on to say that philosophers and psychologists have expressed it in different ways over the years, but it boils down to this:  People want to feel important.

One of the very first people in American business to be paid a salary of a million dollars a year was Charles Schwab.  He was hired in 1921 to run the newly formed U.S. Steel Company.  Was it because Schwab was a genius?  No.  Was it because he was an expert in the steel industry?  No.  When asked why he was so successful, Schwab replied:

“I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people to be the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.”

This would seem like a pretty small skill to require a million dollar a year salary, but it is a fairly uncommon skill.  One of Dale Carnegie’s more memorable quotes is:  “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.”  Criticism is commonplace – so much so that the occasional departure is quite striking.

Sometimes the lessons I am most passionate about sharing, are the ones I need the most in my own life.  If fools criticize, then I have to consider myself a fool.  Far too often, I am overly critical and impatient with those around me.  My sweet wife kindly pointed that out to me recently.  So if you think that it seems as if there is a particular target person for this lesson, you are right – it’s me.  However, I hope that you will take an equally close look at your life as well.

The story is told of a ladies class where each of the ladies were asked to discuss with their husbands the six things their husbands thought that the wives should change about themselves that would make them a better wife.  One wise husband said he would give it some thought and get back with his wife.  The next day he called the florist and had six red roses sent to his wife, along with a note that simply said:  “I can’t think of six things to change about you.  I love you just the way you are.”  He was met at the door that evening with a tearful hug from his appreciated wife.

I guess one of the reasons I like Dale Carnegie, is because his book reminds me so much of the teachings that we find in the New Testament.  In Romans 12:10 Paul says “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”  Paul also told the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

How about some more!  Hebrews 3:13 says “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.”  Hebrews 10:25 says “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. “  In fact, encouragement was one of the primary things that Paul shared as he traveled on his missionary journeys.  Acts 14:21 says “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.”  Acts 20:1-3 states “When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece.”  Over and over Paul encouraged Christians in their faith. 

One of the things I enjoy about my studies in school is seeing how science and research so often are catching up to what the Bible has been teaching all along.  In recent years there has been a body of human resources research conducted around idea of leadership by control versus commitment.  Tonight, I want to share just one thought from those investigations.  This human resources research has shown that when people are appreciated, trusted, and encouraged, their productivity goes up tremendously.  Wow, what a concept!  I hope that as Christians we knew that already.  Do you have any idea how much of an increase in productivity can be seen?  30%, 50%?  Actually, by providing that nurturing and trusting environment, organizations can see as much as a 100% increase in utilization and productivity of their human resources.  Well, we can always count on science to quantify things for us, can’t we!

None of us would ever think about keeping food from someone, especially a baby, for several days.  It would be unconscionable to do such a thing.  Yet how many days do we let pass without giving our brothers and sisters in Christ, our new babes in Christ, our neighbors, our friends, that food of encouragement that we all crave and must have to survive.

Brothers and sisters, if you really want to make a difference in the lives of those around you, Christians and non-Christians alike, take the time to pass along some sincere praise and encouragement.  Give some honest appreciation.  Make others feel important – make them feel great.

Well, the second side of greatness begins with a story about a mother.  This mother lived with her husband and two boys.  Her husband was a fisherman, and their sons had also learned the trade over the years.  The woman’s husband would hire a crew and take his sons out fishing.  As with any mother, she was no doubt proud of her two sons, and wanted good things for them.  Jesus apparently saw a real strength of spirit in these two men, because he named these two men Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder.”  Of course, we know the two sons as James and John.  Apparently seeing the power of Jesus, but not having a clear understanding of what our Lord’s kingdom was all about, this mother made of request of Jesus in Matthew 20:21:  “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”  This mother wanted her two sons to be great.  Jesus explained to her that she really did not know what she was asking for.  The other disciples did not like this discussion about special treatment for James and John.  Matthew tells us that they became indignant.  Jesus settled things down with a key teaching that is our second side of greatness this evening.  Continuing on in Matthew 20:25: 

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

As the first side of greatness considered how we think of and treat others, this second side of greatness focuses on what we think of ourselves.  Those that are concerned about appearances, that are afraid of appearing weak to those around them, who want to be lifted up and recognized by those around them – Jesus says those folks are missing the mark.  Jesus says if you really want to be great, you will be a servant – you will serve others, you will serve your family.  What does that mean to us today?  Husbands, it means we provide for our families, but not to the exclusion of being the husband and father and Christian example we should be.  Wives, it means caring for our families and working to provide for their needs, and also being a godly example to the family.  For sons and daughters it means keeping your rooms clean, cheerfully helping out without being asked and without a huff or grumble, and starting each day with some time with God.  For those who are now single, it means seizing the opportunities that God presents to you each day, to make a life-brightening difference by serving those whose lives you touch.  You see, if any of us is too proud to serve, then we are far too self-centered to ever be really great.

Paul expressed it to the Romans a bit differently in Romans 12:3 when he wrote:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Paul then went on to tell the church at Rome that we are all part of a body.  In other words, if you think are pretty great, remember that you are part of a whole.  Remember that others have helped you grow along the way, and that you have a responsibility to serve others in the body to help them grow.

Folks that want to appear great in front of other people may get their occasional accolades and applause, but that is all they will get.  There is no true greatness of character – nothing of permanent and lasting impact.  What little reward they may feel from their attempt at greatness is shallow at best.  Jesus said it pretty clearly in his sermon on the mount.  Beginning in Matthew 6:1, Jesus said:

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Appearances are trivial, but real greatness comes from an attitude of service, a clear understanding of our place in the body, and humility before God and our fellow man.  I have to tell you, that if that is real greatness, then I am most privileged to know and work with each of you.

What are the two sides of greatness?  If you really want to strengthen others, to have good, vibrant, living relationships with those around you, then make others feel great – make them feel important.  And if you want to be considered really great, then give up your pride, and live a life of service.  That is the kind of person that people remember.

We want to encourage you tonight – encourage you to seek God in your life.  If your need is to begin your walk with Jesus by putting him on in baptism, or if you need the prayers of the church to strengthen you, we all are ready to serve you.  If we can help in any way, won’t you come as we stand and sing. 

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