Being Last Isn’t So Bad
And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
In our society today, being last in something is not always considered a good thing. It seems to give the impression that the one who comes in last in things is not good enough or is considered a loser. True, there are times when we are trying to achieve something that coming in last does not give us that reward such as in a race, a test, a promotion, etc. But being last isn’t always a bad thing either and in fact it’s what is needed to become first and we see Jesus explain this to His disciples.
As Jesus and His disciples were walking, He had heard them discuss something and asked them what they were talking about. The disciples, however, kept silent for a moment but Jesus knew what was in their hearts. They were discussing among themselves which one of them was the greatest. Jesus began to set them straight as we see in verse 35:
35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
In Luke 22:25-27 He explains it this way:
25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles have absolute power and lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not to be this way with you; on the contrary, the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest [and least privileged], and the [one who is the] leader, like the servant. 27 For who is the greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
And in Matthew 18:2-5 He states:
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
In our world, we consider the greatest to be the one who is served or is most recognized and seen, but in Jesus world, the greatest is considered the one who is serving others and maybe not seen as much. The Pharisees were big on being seen. They dressed extravagantly, made their voices heard especially when praying and made sure their “good works” were seen by others. This was opposite of Christ’s nature and what He taught His disciples. When we have the mindset of being a servant, we aren’t lowering ourselves, but raising ourselves up to the Lord’s standards. We aren’t losing anything but gaining everything. The key verse is in Matthew 18:4 which states: Therefore, who takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When you hear “lowly position”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Unimportant? Least? A servant? Children, when young, are humble and very trusting. They don’t contemplate everything that is said to them, but listen and understand in simpler terms. Many times they want to help others. Adults worry about position and prestige and can be unteachable at times, while children play ( and work) together and can be taught more easily.
When we begin to worry about our position and being considered the “greatest” among others, this is when we know pride has entered our hearts. Proverbs 16:18 states:
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
To be haughty means to be arrogant and this is what the Lord is trying to get a cross to His disciples, to be humble not prideful and arrogant. We must not worry about becoming “greatest” in this world but instead be concerned about humbling ourselves which is what the Lord is looking for in His leaders and in all people. He doesn’t want us to have a “me” attitude. He wants us to consider others first. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us to do the following:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Jesus wants His disciples to avoid looking at themselves but instead to consider others first and that means they must not neglect those who are considered least. They must be like little children who are more accepting of others and look at things more simply. They must have a willing heart to help others and not be concerned with how important it will make them look or be concerned about “what’s in it for me”. In order to do this, the disciples must do a heart check and so must we.
Has pride crept into your heart? As pride can come in many forms, we must do a heart check periodically to see if pride has entered in. Read the list below to see if any of them apply to you:
- Do you find it hard to admit when you are wrong, yet find it easy to point out others mistakes?
- Do find it difficult to take directions from others, especially your peers?
- Do you undermine the authority of others?
- Do you generally think that your way is right or is the best way and find it hard to accept doing things that other people suggest? Are you controlling of others, wanting them to do things your way because you feel you are right?
- Do you feel you are better than others?
- Do you think of yourself as more spiritual than others? Do you compare yourself to them (i.e. I pray more than them, read the Bible more than them, help others more than them, give financially more than them)
- Do you look down on others who are less educated, less refined or less successful than yourself? Do you avoid talking to them?
- Do you have a sharp, critical tongue?
- Do you quickly correct or criticize other people who are in positions of leadership? Do you ignore or do the opposite of what they ask you to do?
- Are you driven to receive approval or acceptance from others?
- Are you argumentative?
- Do you have a hard time asking for help or admitting you have a problem? Do you want people to think you don’t struggle in order not to look weak in front of them?
- Do you resent being asked or expected to serve others?
- Are you a perfectionist and become impatient with those who make mistakes?
- Do you become defensive when criticized or corrected?
- Do you complain about other people or consider yourself a better Christian than they are. Are you quick to point out their unchristian ways as opposed to praying for them or encouraging them?
- Are you more concerned about your problems rather than the burdens of others?
- Do you talk about yourself or your situations more than listening to others? Do you interrupt people in order to talk more about yourself?
- Are you hurt when your opinions or feelings are not considered or used or you are not informed when a change or decision is made?
- Do you worry about what others think of you and try to make yourself look better or smarter? Do you avoid being around certain people because they make you feel inferior?
These are only a few ways pride can creep in. When you read the list above, what is the common theme? The focus is “me”. When we have a more humble characteristic, the focus will be off of ourselves and more on serving others. That’s not to say you should not take care of yourself because you are important. But when we look only at our wants, our situations and our concerns, we therefore are only thinking of ourselves and not others.
In order to be greatest in God’s eyes, we must serve others which means we take a step back and allow someone else to come first. We must look at the needs of others, bear (hold up; support) their burdens (but not be consumed by them) and help them when possible (1 John 3:17).
Take some time today and go over this list again. Ask the Lord to show you where you may be prideful in your life and pray for God to break you of it and to give you a more humble character. Then begin applying the Word to situations that call for you to put others before yourself. This doesn’t mean you neglect your own needs, it just means that when you have the ability to help others, you do it. Sometimes it’s just giving others your time and a listening ear. When you can lift them up or help them to advance as opposed to making yourself look better, you do it. In the end, you may not receive the greatest recognition on earth, but God will recognize you when you get to Heaven. There is no greater reward than to please our heavenly Father!