Vol. 11 No. 6 June 2009
One of the ministers in the brotherhood that my husband and I have known since the late 1970’s writes to us from time to time. His letters, if you can call them that, are not the typical ones relating what’s happening in his family or his travels as a minister or things of that nature. They are mini sermons, and we have told him they should be put in a book, and that he really needs to write before the Lord calls him home. He has thought about that to some degree, but to date, there is no book in the works as far as we know.
In a recent letter, one of the thoughts he comments on is, “I want you to be first, after me.” When my husband read that sentence to me, I was intrigued by the concept, so this article takes shape around that premise. We live in a world that is bombarded with the promotion of self-interest. We naturally tend to focus on ourselves rather than on others. After all, the Bible says, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephesians 5:29).
The higher calling for us as Christians is to seek balance in the fact of that truth against “me, myself, and I.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus had to deal with this problem of “me first” among His apostles regarding who would be first or who among them would be the greatest and have a position of prominence.
The mother James and John came asking that Jesus grant her sons to sit on His right and on His left in the kingdom. Matthew 20:24 says, “And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers.” It is interesting to note in this passage that it says, “when the ten heard it” — not the nine. Some would have us to believe that Jesus had already given that position of prominence to Peter. “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26).
Paul reminds us that we are to consider and put others before ourselves. In Philippians 2:3 he says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” How much does nothing cover? This attitude of wanting others to be first after us has been with us virtually since God created time.
John 5:1-7 is the account of a pool having five porches. Verse 3 says, “In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.” Verse 4 tells us what they thought was the significance of the moving of the water. “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.”
As the account continues in verses 5 and 6, a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in that condition for a long time, He asked the man if he wanted to be made well. Take special notice of the man’s response in verse seven: “The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’” What happened to the Lord’s admonition to do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12)? What happened to another’s needs coming before our own (Philippians 2:3)? What happened to being kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another (Romans 12:10)? Didn’t this man have at least one friend or relative who would have stayed with him to make sure he at least had a chance to go in the pool first?
This principle of putting others before self is demonstrated in 1 Kings 17:8-16 in a way that is startling! God tells the prophet Elijah that He has commanded a widow to provide for him. Elijah goes to the city and sees the widow gathering sticks. He asked her for a little water and a morsel of bread. The widow told him she had no bread, only a handful of flour, a little oil in a jar, and that she was gathering sticks to prepare it for herself and her son so they could eat it and die.
What Elijah then asked the widow to do is almost beyond belief! “And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17:13). It took faith for the widow to believe what he said next. “For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth” (Vs. 14). Her faith is put into action as we read verse 15; “So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The attitude of “I want you to be first, after me” is completely dispelled in the life of this widow! Her obedient faith is rewarded as we read verse 16; “The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah.”
“I want you to be first, after me” is a desire we will be grappling with and struggling to subdue all of our lives! We are born literally screaming for attention! Some of us never grow very far, if ever, from that infantile way of acting. Only through Jesus Christ will we ever restrain our tendency to self-centeredness. We are given the formula for being successful in gaining that step to spiritual maturity in 1 Peter 3:8-9; “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”