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The Last Shall Be First

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” - Matthew 20:26-27 by Emily Marszalek

Returning home from walking my two dogs each morning, my younger dog, Lucy,  always pushes her way in front of my older dog, Charlie, to ensure she is first inside the house. I suspect Lucy is simply overly eager to get her leash off and enjoy a sumptuous dog treat, but whatever her rationale may be, one thing is certain: she always wants to be first. 

“Lucy, don’t you know Jesus said those who are first will be last?” I said half-jokingly to her one morning after watching her once again forcibly push her way in front of both Charlie and me. Looking up at me with her dark brown puppy-dog eyes, she gave me a startled expression as if to say, “Huh? I didn’t read that in the New Canine Translation!”  

While I lightheartedly scolded Lucy for her desire to always be first, I realized it was a lesson I needed to re-learn too. Although I may not push ahead to the front of the line like my young pup, I oftentimes put my own needs first, prioritizing myself over others. I grow impatient when the person in front of me in the checkout line at the grocery store is proceeding slowly, engaging the checker in a long-winded conversation. Or I’m annoyed when a coworker asks for assistance on one of their tasks, as it interrupts progress on my own work. My needs, my wants and my convenience often take priority.  

In describing the kingdom of heaven, Jesus explained how His kingdom’s standards differ drastically from those of the world: “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). Unlike worldly standards, where the desire to be first in competitions, the workplace, hobbies and the community takes precedence, God sets selflessness and servanthood as His standard.

How can we adopt a servant’s heart?   

Study Jesus’ Example 

Jesus came to the earth as a humble servant. He served those around Him. He washed His disciples’ feet. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He taught the multitudes. He shared meals with others. He made time for people. He gave His own life on the cross to save humanity. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus set the perfect example, and as we study His example, we better learn what it looks like to be a servant to God, to our communities and the people around us. As we study His example and seek to mirror Him, we can humbly ask Him to help us love others as He loves them and to see others as He sees them. As He shapes us to look more like Him, we will increasingly adopt His heart for others. And as we increasingly adopt His heart for others, we will naturally adopt a servant’s heart and harbor the desire to serve those around us.  

Seek First His Kingdom & His Righteousness  

We live in a me-focused world where we’re encouraged to put ourselves—our needs, passions, wants and well-being—first. Instead of being me-focused, God calls us to be He-focused and Kingdom-focused. In discussing concerns about having one’s material needs satisfied, Jesus states, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV). When we prioritize seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, we take ourselves off the pedestal and humbly offer ourselves to God in service of His purposes. Jesus assures us that as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, God will make sure we are cared for. He already knows what we need, and like a good Father, He will provide for those needs as we seek Him and submit to His will.

Ask God & Be Ready to Act 

The Holy Spirit dwells within all who invite Jesus into their hearts. The Holy Spirit who dwells within us acts as a helper, an intercessor and a guide. As we make ourselves available to God and ask Him for opportunities to serve those around us, the Holy Spirit will help fulfill that request, nudging, guiding and directing us to people whom we can serve. If we only make ourselves available, He will open our eyes to opportunities to put others first. As we ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to such opportunities, our spiritual senses will be increasingly fine-tuned to our surroundings and we will begin to notice opportunities to serve those around us everywhere we go: to let the mother venturing to comfort her teary toddler behind us in the grocery line go first; to offer a helping hand to the coworker feeling stressed and overwhelmed; to bring a meal to an elderly neighbor. As we recognize those opportunities thanks to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, we must be ready to act, obediently operating as the hands and feet of Christ in our world. As we serve others, we serve Christ. “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:40).  

While sweet little Lucy may never stop pushing to the front of the line to ensure she is first inside the house after our morning walk, I scratch her fuzzy head and thank her for the daily reminder to look for opportunities to put others first. Greatness in God’s eyes comes not through achievement or worldly success, but rather through serving and loving our neighbors, putting their needs ahead of our own. As we prioritize others’ needs and look for opportunities to love and serve those around us, we mirror Jesus and honor our Creator. For in His kingdom, the last will be first and the first will be last. 

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