Chloe is going through this stage where she wants to be first. When I take her and Cole to school, she wants to go inside before he does. When we're about to eat supper, she wants her plate before anyone else gets theirs. When she and Cole are taking medicine, she insists I give Cole his after she gets hers.
The other morning I was loading her and Cole in the van. Cole started to climb in before her when she grabbed him and pulled him away from the door. "I want to go first!" she screamed.
In a moment of inspiration I told her, "Chloe, Jesus said that if you want to be first, you have to be last. And you have to serve others" (Mark 9:35).
She gave me a blank look.
I tried a different approach. "Why do you always have to be first?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Isn't it polite to let others go first sometimes?"
"Then why don't you let Cole get in before you?"
"Because I WANT to be first!" She screamed. Such is the flawless reasoning of a 4-year-old.
This was the same reasoning of the disciples. When Jesus made this statement about being last and serving others, he wasn't talking to the Pharisees. He was talking to his own disciples.
While traveling to Capernaum, the disciples got into an argument about which of them was the greatest. Such was their desire for recognition. Such was their desire to be first. They were so focused on their own reputations, they forgot who was the truly greatest one of them all - Jesus!
Jesus quickly set the record straight. He told them that whoever wanted to be first had to be last, and had to be the servant of all. Later in his ministry, Jesus drove this point home when he washed his disciples' feet at the last supper (John 13:1-5). Then, as Roman soldiers drove nails through his hands and feet, he proved this point again.
In both instances, Jesus - who had every right to demand first place - made himself last, humbling himself and becoming a servant. He served his disciples by washing their feet. And he served humanity by dying for the sins of all mankind.
But that's not the end. Philippians 2:5-11 tells us that because Jesus humbled himself in such a way, God the father has exalted him and given him a name that is above all names. One of these days, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus made himself last, made himself the servant of all, and God has made him first.
As God's children, we must decide whose example we will follow: the disciples' or Jesus'. To fight over first place, or aspire to be last.
I think you already know the answer to that, don't you?
Parrish Myers is pastor of Pine Crest Baptist Church in Gainesville. His column runs every other week in Sunday Life.