From Great to Good

What’s so great about being great? 

A few decades ago, Jim Collins wrote the book From Good to Great, a pathway for businesses and leaders to move from average to great. While Collins wrote to business owners, the phrase embodies the sentiments of our culture; why settle for good when you can be great?

While the pursuit of greatness is no new thing—history books are literally filled with stories depicting it, not to mention the Bible (Tower of Babel, anyone?)—what does seem new is the going out of style of goodness.

Karen Swallow Prior, a professor and writer teaches the classical virtues. Something she notes is how certain virtues have become very unpopular—prudence, temperance, and chastity, once prized and valued, are a waste of time in our modern culture.

But Prior also argues that for any virtue to be truly virtuous, it must be held in balance like a counterweight with the other virtues. For example, you cannot be truly just without also being temperate (restrained, using moderation, and self-controlled). Without temperance, justice would turn into tyranny.

Jesus teaches us the counterweight to greatness in Mark 9 when the disciples ask him who among them is the greatest. In response, he says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).

In the economy of God, greatness is not wrong to pursue—Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples for being interested in greatness—but it is only achieved through goodness. Greatness grows from goodness. To be great, you must consider yourself the least important person in the room; spend your time serving others; humble yourself, not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less often, as CS Lewis says.

When you look at the church, it is all too easy to see disciples of Jesus missing this completely. Megachurches and celebrity pastors chase greatness, but when we see them disintegrate into spiritual abuse, affairs, and greed, it is clear they were not good. Not pursuing good, not making more of others than of themselves, not as interested in growing the Kingdom of God as their own kingdom.

Though Jesus tells the disciples to humble themselves and value goodness over greatness, we also see Jesus doing exactly that, offering a template of what true greatness looks like. This is why Pauls says, “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8-11).

The great one, God himself, chooses to serve, not lord his greatness over others, not consider himself more self-important than everyone else. No, the great one humbles himself unto the point of death, calls himself the Good Shepherd, and does good to those who persecuted him. This is greatness, and He calls us to the same greatness, achieved on the pathway of goodness.

To hunger for greatness is not wrong; we worship and are made in the image of a Great God. But the greatness we are made for is not the warped, greedy, broken greatness of our world, it is a greatness that comes by way of goodness, wielded with love, ever seeking to serve, and born of the Holy Spirit.

A king is not saved by his greatness (Ps 33:16), but we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10). May this be our greatest endeavor.

Forget “Forgive and Forget” Part 2: God isn’t forgetful

Forgive and forget sounds like a holy action. Forgive the person who wronged you and forget about it; that’s the best solution to being wronged. But more than that, many Christians believe we should forgive and forget because they think it is biblical; that forgiving and forgetting sin is something our God does and therefore should be emulated. 

This idea likely comes from a handful of Bible verses that describe God as not remembering or “forgetting” our sins. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31:34) or I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins (Is 43:23). Though these verses suggest that God chooses to forget our sin, he actually chooses to not remember them, a subtle but important distinction. When God forgives sin and remembers it no more, he is putting it behind him in the act of forgiveness, but he has not forgotten. 

God is omniscient, so for Him to forget our sins would make him no longer all-knowing. We know from 2 Cor 5:10 that on the day of judgment each person will give account for their sins—God will recount all of our deeds, good and bad, and judge them justly. God is not a forgetful god in the way that I forget to water my plants, rather God chooses to not remember our sins by putting them behind him and no longer holding them against us by forgiving us.

Out of his deep love for us, God chooses to no longer hold our sins against us because he loves us and chooses to forgive us. So forgiveness, rather than being about forgetting something painful, is much more about deciding to no longer hold an action against someone or allow their sin to inform how you treat them today

Forgiving does not mean that we forget what happened—quite the opposite, it means that we remember it and choose to forgive and release the perpetrator from their debt in spite of it. Forgiveness offers an offender freedom from their debt, no longer bringing up their sin when we are having a bad day or hurling their actions in their face when they annoy us. This kind of action invokes a movement of love towards the one who hurt us in the same way that 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that love keeps no record of wrongs; love does not use past sins as weapons against another. Like our loving Father, we are invited to put sins behind us, out of view, no longer holding them against a wrongdoer. 

By remembering our sins no more, God models the pathway to restoration and reunion. He restores us into right relationship with him—our sin no longer stands between us creating hostility or the need for atonement—and he reunites us to himself.

Furthermore, when we choose to forgive, remember no more, and restore relationship, we also have the opportunity to allow that process of forgiveness to become a victory in our relationship with the other; forgiveness and restoration become crowning jewels in relationships, proof that the gospel is at work in our lives. Forgiveness can act as a trail marker indicating how far a relationship has come since that wound rather than being seen as an awkward situation to put aside. Forgiveness should be our treasure, our reward, our crown because it shouts of the supernatural and countercultural work of Christ. When we forgive, we choose the way of Christ and we can celebrate the costly yet beautiful decision for grace that shines in our hearts and the one we have forgiven.

Forgiveness is not simply looking aside. It is choosing to move forward even while the memory is fresh. And in Christ, by His Spirit, we have the resources to forgive and not pretend that an injury didn’t happen. Through the powerful working of His Spirit, we are able to forgive, as Christ has forgiven us.