READ: Leviticus 16-18, Psalm 37, Mark 9, Romans 9
A dispute arises among the followers of Jesus regarding which of them would become greatest. We all have a little bit of Absalom in us, angling for the throne, sizing up our competition, hoping to be first in line to succeed the current authority. Jesus steps into the midst of our scheming and tells us, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last.”
The anyone refers, of course, to everyone. All want to be first (in one manner or another) but there can be only one above all others. Jesus is not implicitly commending the means to emerge greater than others; He is indirectly pointing out there can only be one who is first: Himself. When we strive to be first, we are, in fact, striving to be God. This is His place, and His alone.
The surprising remedy? The way to deal with our ambition to be God is, first, to intentionally try to be like Him. This seems counter-intuitive theoretically, but functionally it is simple. God (as Jesus modeled) cares for the weak and insignificant. In our attempt to be like Him, by putting the needs of those we consider inferior above ourselves, we will both succeed and fail. In our success we will begin to acquire His character, and His character will give us such delight in serving that we will forget about being primary. In our failure we will acquire humility (which is also of His image), and that humility will reveal to us the folly of our original ambition – being primary. So then Humility also helps us realize and embrace the great comfort of being the creation without the pressure of being the Creator. Giving up greatness is both security and rest.
Pride, the mother of all sins, is for the most part very subtle in its initial forays into our spirit. I lead a great team here in Egypt. I rejoice in seeing them thrive and grow, pass me in their Arabic, cultural, and church planting abilities. I feel sometimes like a commander surrounded by incredible generals. Problem is, I find myself easily getting bossy, forgetting to be polite or thankful, and relishing sitting on my missiological perch as the voluble know-it-all. When I am not careful, I easily slip into my God-fantasy of being first among equals. To be like Jesus is not to be Jesus (the only one who is first); it is to relish being great-less, being the last among equals.