When I try to push myself ahead, I wind up last. Recently, I rushed and forced myself into the elevator first. To my dismay, I got stuck in the back corner and left last. All of my efforts to get ahead resulted in being late to my meeting.
This reminded me of Matthew 9:35, “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.” (NKJV) The disciples had argued on the road about who was the greatest among them. When Jesus asked what they had discussed, no one answered. So Jesus scooped up a small child and held him in His lap. He told the disciples that those who received a child, received not only Jesus, but the One who sent Him.
That would have blown the disciples’ minds. It turned everything upside down from the way their society was oriented. Children were the lowest ranked members of their communities. For Jesus to equate receiving a child to receiving God was counter culture. The most revered members of society had wealth and prestige; they weren’t children who couldn’t fend for themselves. Jesus valued what others disdained. He elevated the least of these to the same worth of God Himself. When we love those that society would ignore, we love God.
Another time, Mary the mother of James and John petitioned Jesus to have her sons sit beside Him in His kingdom. Jesus warned them that they did not know what they asked and indicated the Father would choose who sat at His side. This request irked the other disciples.
“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. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-25 (NKJV)
First Jesus told the disciples that accepting children was accepting God. Then Jesus said the very people they had always esteemed—the rulers—were the exact people to avoid emulating. His teachings probably irritated the disciples because it was a radical way to interact with those around them. Jesus’ life goal was to serve others by sacrificing Himself for the world.
Later, Jesus demonstrated servanthood by washing His disciples feet during the meal we call the Last Supper. Jesus bent low and scoured caked mud from His disciples’ feet. The lowest servant usually did this job because it was so filthy. Peter initially refused to allow Jesus to wash His feet because it violated his sense of propriety. It simply was not done for someone important to humble himself to get dirty for someone else.
After Jesus cleaned their feet, He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” John 13:14-16 (NKJV)
Jesus set an example when He cleaned their feet. Nothing was beneath the dignity of Christ. He knew the next day He faced humiliations galore on the cross. His body was bruised and beaten until He was unrecognizable as a human. Yet He took His final moments with His beloved friends to instill in them the importance of serving others.
Christ always focused on others. Jesus bore our sin and shame to restore our relationship with the Father. Everything He did bore witness to His love of service, so we may follow in His footsteps. A servant is not greater than His master. Nothing is beneath us.
The next time I entered an elevator, I let everyone else get on first. I smiled at my fellow passengers instead of tapping my foot and staring at my watch. As the doors opened, because I walked in last, I was nearest the door and exited first. God’s word held true. “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16 (NKJV) When I serve from behind, God gets me where He needs me, when He needs me there.
Has trying to get ahead ever backfired on you?
What ways can you actively seek to serve others?
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.