Anyone who has ever tried to work their way up in something knows that hard work is involved. You don't get promoted at work unless you work hard, and often playing the game. You don't improve at a sport without training hard. But no one thinks that the best way to advance is to fail all of the time.
We all like to be great at something, and there isn't anything wrong with wanting to excel. But how do you excel in a community? By pushing to the front? By being impressive or gifted? Certainly gifts are useful if used right, being impressive is a matter of opinion and pushing oneself is a delicate balance between self promotion and simply seeking to have your gifts made useful.
In Luke 22, the disciples argue about who is the greatest. This seems amazingly egotistical to us, but how often do we do this more subtly? Who is more righteous (by talking down others)? How often do we find ourselves saying 'I could do better'? While perhaps the answer might be yes, is that the best way to phrase the question?
Jesus compares such arguments to Roman culture, which was based on ego, social standing, and having power over others by being seen to be a benefactor (verse 25), i.e. no one gave money, time or aid for reasons of altruism but of self-promotion. Instead, Christians are to be like the young (less important compared to elders - shame that kind of respect is absent today) and like servants not leaders. In other words, don't play the game of using your social standing simply to further your social standing, to seek to indebt others to yourself and remind them of it.
We are to (as a friend never tires of saying) 'love and serve', and shouldn't be afraid of doing so in many different ways, although often it will be in accordance with our gifts. The key is less about the gift and more about what needs exist - though the two will often match.
The disciples were offered true greatness - judging the 12 tribes. Is this an end times judgment or more about their ministries of proclaiming the gospel? Either way, for Peter the path to such true greatness had to pass through his rejection of Jesus, and ultimately in rejecting his own self-reliance. May it be so with us.