by Michael E. Brooks
“Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel” (2 Samuel 3:38 NKJV)?
These words are the epitaph of Abner, Commander of the army of Israel, uttered by David at Abner’s death. David was certainly one who would have known Abner’s character and deeds and would have been a capable judge of his worth.
As a youth David became a soldier, then an officer, in the army of Israel, commanded by Abner and in service to King Saul. After Saul had grown to fear and hate David, Abner led the army in pursuit of him throughout the wilderness regions of Judah.
After King Saul’s death Abner led the army of Ishbosheth against David and Judah in an attempt to make the son of Saul king over all Israel. Finally, just before his death, Abner pledged allegiance to David and promised to help David unite all Israel under his rule. Alternately they had been friends and enemies, allies and foes, for several decades.
Presently I am reflecting on epitaphs and such material because a close friend has recently passed away. He is the man who first introduced me to mission work in South Asia, and who is at least partly responsible for the work that I am continuing to do. Though in poor health for several years, he continued to cast a long shadow over the churches in this region. He will be missed by many here.
What is the quality of a great man? That is fairly easy to answer in human terms. We measure greatness mostly in terms of possessions or accomplishments. Wealth, productivity, power, fame – these are the markers by which we gauge a person’s importance and value.
But are these true measures? After enumerating many such physical assets Paul proclaimed, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7). He understood that from an eternal perspective, none of those things really matter.
The only thing of which the apostle would boast is “That I may know [Christ] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:10).
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). It does not matter who one is, or what he has, or what great things he has accomplished. The only criteria for lasting worth is faith in Jesus and obedience to his commands (Luke 6:46).
Jesus once gave a wonderful tribute to John the Baptist who had prepared the way for his ministry. But after that tribute he said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
True greatness is measured only by one’s relationship to God and his kingdom. Entrance into that kingdom depends upon faith and humble submission to Jesus the Savior. Nothing else compares with this. Nothing else will replace it.
The most amazing thing about this greatness, however, is that anyone and everyone can achieve it.
“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
“And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
Jesus died for everyone. Anyone anywhere can become great through his gift.