We live in a culture of driven, winning (thanks Charlie Sheen), hard charging, take no prisoners mind sets. As long as I have been alive that is the attitude that will carry you through life to the place where you are on top of things. When that’s the case, is it any wonder that so many people struggle with the gospel? To be honest it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many people… Christians included, struggle to grasp the gospel message. Especially when we are honest with the fact that the gospel puts us in perpetual, life-long last place.
Last week I was watching (be prepared for surprising, or not, tv show confession) “The Voice”. The actual episode was from two weeks ago but sometimes we just rely on the ole DVR to help us catch up. Anyway… moving forward. There was a young man who had made it through the trial rounds by offering a very stirring rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. Prior to that moment he was a mere sandwich maker from Chicago named Jamie. Having thoroughly enjoyed his performance I thought for sure he might go a long way, but alas, it was not to be. He was ushered out in the “battle rounds” after singing a duet version of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” with a real powerhouse singer named Jamar. All these details are really pointless, it probably just shows that I’m paying too much attention, but what really struck me is the reaction from Jaime as he was interviewed afterward. He said something so noteworthy…
“I feel like there is a reason I’m here and maybe that’s to be here to let Jamar go through and win everything… he’s such an awesome person”
I was dumbstruck… through tears this young man just pointed out something that I think so many of us miss in life. He went to a place that simply elevated the elegance of last place. Jaime is a talented musician and singer, and has the potential to go far, but he has the intangible element that truly matters; humility. This stands out in a world where we celebrate the outspoken, self-aggrandizing, and the winners (if you doubt it… turn on the t.v.)
As those who follow after Jesus, we have to realize that we are following after a Savior who, in His example to us, did not exalt those positions. This is something we miss all to often in our lives and it can have a detrimental impact on our hearts. We can get wrapped up in being good, and then can become proud of just how “good” we are. In Andrew Murray’s book aptly named “Humility” he writes this:
“The question is often asked, “How we can consider others better than ourselves when we see that they are far below us in wisdom and in holiness, in natural gifts, or in grace received?” Asking this question proves at once how little we understand what humbling ourselves really involves. True humility comes when, in the light of God, we come to see ourselves as nothing, consent to put our self-will aside, and let God be all.” (language updated/revised by C. Walth)
Murray nails it. We can never forget that we are not in search of self glory but self sacrifice, and we are not looking to be elevated but to be in surrender.
So where does the this understanding really come from? Surprise… we need look no further than the gospel. It provides us with an example, with freedom, and with sufficiency to live in a mindset that allows for the stirring, and possibly offensive, idea that I may exist in this moment not for what I can get out of it, but for how I may sacrifice myself so that someone else gains. This is the entire narrative of Jesus’ ministry & message summed up in a single verse:
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” Matt 20:28.
It echoes out again and again throughout the NT and is staring us right in the face challenging us with the example of a humble Savior who could have been a “winner” but chose to wash the feet of the man who would turn Him over to be killed. This is the example that should keep us from self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and free us from drowning in the “must do” mentality of religion. It also frees us to then love and serve those around us with an honest humility that allows for true discipleship, servant leadership, and sacrificial servant-hood.
So how do we respond? Seek to cultivate humility and weaken pride… not by efforts and checklist based religion, but by grabbing hold of Jesus and staring into His example, allow the message of the Gospel to remind you “How can anyone be arrogant when he stand beside the Cross?” C. Henry. For much better insight into this I recommend starting with Philippians 2 and a host of other texts in the Bible, and for opinions that are way smarter and more practical than mine… try reading “Humility” by Andrew Murray and “Humility: True Greatness” by C.J. Mahaney
And of course… we need to constantly die to ourselves, pray that we draw near to Jesus in His perfect example of humility and when given opportunity walk it out in every relationship we have, and in our interactions throughout each day, trusting that He is enough for us and through His sacrifice we are free to live this way. That ultimately, in Jesus, there is a beauty, a freedom, and an amazing elegance, in being in last place.