Who’s the G.O.A.T.

What makes us great isn’t what you think.

Who’s the G.O.A.T.
Photo by Peter Neumann / Unsplash

I went on YouTube the other day and typed in “who is the GOAT?”. After going down a YouTube hole, I discovered people have a lot of opinions about the GOAT — the Greatest of All Time.

According to the videos I saw the GOAT is: Earl Manigault, Tom Brady, Drake, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Dave Chapelle, Lionel Messi, and Serena Williams. I’m sure there are more but I gave up looking.

During my deep dive I learned the term “GOAT” came from the title of LL Cool J’s eighth album, which came out in 2000. LL titled the album “G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time).”

So does that make LL the ultimate GOAT? Probably not.

With all of these opinions, is it even possible for all these people be the greatest of all time?

Here in America, we’re raised to strive for greatness in everything we do. It seems like it’s part of our cultural DNA.

  • 4.0 used to be the highest GPA there was, but now students are told to enter a great college they must achieve greatscores, well beyond 4.0.
  • Our culture has defined success as being dependent upon achieving wealth, status, and therefore greatness.
  • The current president’s entire campaign focused on a perceived lack of greatness pervading our country.

So why are we so obsessed with being great? And what makes us great anyway?

LL Cool J might have coined the term 18 years ago, but the debate about being the GOAT goes back a long, long time.

In the Book of Mark, a debate is captured over greatness. It says:

They entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, (Jesus) asked (James and John), “What were you arguing about during the journey?” They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. (Jesus) sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then (Jesus) said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33–37 CEB

James and John are arguing over which of them is the greatest disciple — the one who gets to sit next to Jesus in the seat of honor. When Jesus asks them what they are discussing, neither answer.

James and John don’t answer Jesus because they know their argument is silly. It was silly 2,000 years ago and it’s silly today.

Jesus knew what James and John were arguing over, it’s why he called them on it. The argument is silly because it defines one person as being greater than another. If James or John were the greatest disciple, then everyone else would be less than them.

Arguing over greatness is an argument over status. It’s an argument over being better than others.

Why do we argue about this question? Why do we care who has the best grades or who has the best argument or the most toys?

None of those things make us truly great.

In that passage in Mark, Jesus explains what makes us great: “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.”

Biblical greatness is putting other people before ourselves and caring for them. Serving them.

But this isn’t the culture we live in. Our American culture teaches us to be first. To be the best. To be great!

Jesus’ message is one that is counter to culture. As followers of Jesus we must not give into culture’s definitions and ways. We must be counter-cultural. Following Jesus means not caring about being great, but instead loving all people equally and doing everything we can to serve others.

Before the Last Supper, Jesus was surrounded with his Disciples and, again, they were arguing over who the greatest was. Again. That silly question arose. So what did Jesus do? He washed their feet.

Jesus washed the feet of his Disciples not to do a nice thing for his friends, but to show that God is not above serving other people. Jesus washed the feet of his Disciples to model true greatness. If God, creator of the universe and everything in it, isn’t above serving others then there is no way you or I are above serving others.

So where do we start? How do we begin to confront a culture of greatness? We have to start small and make individual changes to our own way of life.

When is the last time you admitted you were wrong or said “I don’t know”?

This one is hard for me. I love to be right. I love to have the answers. But the truth is, I don’t always have them. Admitting I’m wrong means there are things I don’t know. Admitting I’m wrong means I’m not great. But saying “I don’t know” or admitting when I’m wrong adds humility into my life and humility is a step toward Biblical greatness.

When is the last time you had a real conversation with someone you don’t agree with?

Our world is super divided right now and, because of technology, we have the ability to tune out and avoid people we disagree with. Yet, truly listening to people we disagree with and discussing our commonalities bring people together. It means taking a step off our platform of greatness and listening to others. Again, it’s a small step toward Biblical greatness.

After Jesus tells James and John what being great is, he uses a child as an example. Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”

Jesus isn’t saying children are better than adults, he’s saying that children are the lowest of low status. They have zero rights. Zero wealth. Zero success based on societal standards. Children are the absolute furthest thing from what society defines as great, yet they are exactly what the Bible defines as great.

Biblical greatness is being humble, serving others, and not caring about status. Biblical greatness is following Jesus’ teachings and putting others before ourselves. Jesus calls on each of us to be humble and put others first. This is what makes us great.

On Wednesday I asked my leadership team who they thought the GOAT is. Someone immediately said, “Jesus”. While it’s cliché, if anyone were truly the greatest of all time, it would be him.

Jesus not only defined Biblical greatness, he embodied it. Jesus gave himself to the cross so that we would all have life. Jesus taught us how to forgive, taught us how to love, and taught us how to be great.

When we gather for worship, we don’t gather to sing pretty songs or listen to a good speech. We worship to give praise and thanks to our God, who is great. Anything other than celebrating God’s greatness turns worship into the same silly debate James and John had on the road to Capernaum.

As we move into a time of communion, approach the table humbly and without status. Approach the table of the one who is great and in turns makes us all great. Let’s share a meal with our God.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!