Has anyone really overcome the world? Is this possible for any of us? Jesus said to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
What I’m really interested in is how Jesus overcame the world. He didn’t do it in the usual way, with political power or warfare or money or intelligence.
Here is what he says in Matthew 20:26-28:
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus said to become “great” you must be a servant. This is the secret to overcoming the world. You don’t triumph in the usual way. The path to victory is through considering others more important than yourself, loving your enemies, visiting those who are afflicted, and putting yourself last.
We know how Christ overcame the world through service and sacrifice, but does that really work for anyone else? Wasn’t he an exception to the rule?
Well, if you need another example, consider the angels. They’re pretty triumphant. Peter says they are “greater in might and power” than we are (2 Pet. 2:11). But how do they exercise this greatness? Do they go around smashing people to assert themselves? Do they fly circles around airplanes? Do they conquer the world to exploit its treasures? No, they serve. Hebrews 1:14 asks, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Angels aren’t competing with us. They are serving us.
Now, there is a danger in speaking of service as a path to greatness. If we’re not careful we’ll start using service to get on top of things and serve out of ambition instead of love. That’s not the service we have been called to do.
True service, the kind that overcomes the world, is always done in the interest of others. Jesus said, “…love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Lk. 6:35).
Find the meanest, nastiest person you know and do something nice for him. Contribute to a cause that can’t possibly give you anything in return. Do some random act of kindness. Give some anonymous gift. Then you’ll be where Christ and the angels are—on top of the world.