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KOEDYKER: True greatness has to do with putting others first

• Jun 13, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Since our first years playing with siblings at home or kids in the neighborhood, we have repeated the familiar words again and again — “Me first!” Nobody wants to be last.

Leo Durocher, the late, legendary Major League Baseball manager, once remarked while referring to a rival team that “nice guys finish last.” Our self-centered, selfish nature tells us, “Be aggressive!” and “Look out for No. 1.”

This was not an uncommon sentiment, even for the disciples of Jesus.

One day, an argument had broken out between the disciples about who was the greatest. When Jesus asked them about it, they were a bit ashamed of themselves. They should have known he would not approve. Indeed, he did not! The response of Jesus to this squabble was, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

This attitude was really the hallmark of the life and teaching of Jesus. Rather than aggressively setting himself up as a king and ruler, he took the path of humility. He put others before himself. This is especially evident in his sacrificial death on the cross. As the apostle Paul was to remark some years later, that even though Jesus existed in the form of God, he “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” and “he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7,8)

A good dose of humility would probably be good for most of us.

I was actually quite surprised when I read an article by Thom Reiner, the healthy church guru, who stated that one of the main criticisms that non-Christians have of Christians is that they are self-centered, judgmental and not really interested in others. Ouch — that hurt! In the article, he went on further to quote one non-Christian who felt that way as follows: “The reason the world hates Christians is because they behave badly, they’re rude, boorish, arrogant, conceited, full of themselves, ignorant and judgmental.” Ouch again!

If the above is true, then we Christians have some repenting to do. When we arrogantly put ourselves and our (judgmental) proclamations first, we are not “putting our best foot forward,” as they say. Nor are we following the instructions and example of Jesus. It all comes down to that word “servant.” As we live out the “me first” attitude, do we want others to want people to serve us? Or do we follow Christ who put others first and lived as the servant of all?

“Others first” is certainly a challenge for us human beings. But it is the Jesus way, and the best way. It is the way of humility first set down by Jesus himself.

So, the same biblical writer, Paul, likewise instructs us that we are to have the same attitude of Jesus and “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant” than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Winston Churchill was notoriously hard to work for. He was demanding, impatient and oftentimes downright rude. On one occasion, a servant was bold enough to stand up to Churchill, taking strong issue with the British prime minister.

Churchill is reported to have said, “You were very rude to me, you know.”

“Well,” replied the servant, “you were very rude to me, too.”

“Yes,” said Churchill, “but I am a great man.”

Although Churchill’s reply may have been “tongue in cheek,” it is obvious that Churchill well knew the greatness of his lofty position as prime minister of Great Britain and was not one to shy away from the privileges it brought him. But “greatness” does not necessarily translate to “goodness.” As Charles Spurgeon the great preacher once said, “Many, wishing to be great, failed to be good.”

To God’s way of thinking, greatness is not measured by accomplishment, but by character — character marked by humility, servanthood and, most importantly, love.

Indeed, as Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and servant of all.”

— The Rev. John Koedyker is the pastor of congregational care for First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.

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