The title of the news article caught my attention: “Put yourself first, then give others your time.” It was found in the Dear Amy advice column that runs daily in the Detroit News. I often read these columns because they give me a window into the world’s thinking on any number of issues from child rearing to marital relationships to good manners. At times the advice runs from generic to harmless. At other times it is dangerous. This was one of those times.
In this letter to “Dear Amy” a young professional woman was feeling put upon by her long term romantic interest and her very close relationships she has with her family members. She felt her week-ends were no longer her own and was seeking advice from Dear Amy.
Certainly any number of tidbits of advice might have been given. But the underlying philosophy of “me first and others second, third, fourth”, etc. revealed an accepted mantra that has been almost universally embraced in our world today; “I’m the most important person in my life.” Advertisers tell us, “It may cost a little more but you’re worth it.” The language of “drive the car you deserve” or “you owe it to yourself to splurge” permeates our society. Psychiatrists are in the “building self esteem” business. Amy’s advice was frightfully clear; “The primary relationship (in life) is the one you have with yourself, and until you value your lifelong friendship with (yourself) you will never be able to balance the ancillary relationships in your life.”
How I thank God that this was not Jesus Christ’s attitude. Paul tells us in Philippians “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others” (2:3-4). Paul then shows us why this is to be. It is because this was the mind of Christ (which, Paul says, we should emulate). He writes, “…he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death , even death on a cross” (vv. 7-8). Had Jesus’ attitude been “me first” none of us could have been forgiven of our guilt before God and saved from his wrath. He was the ultimate servant who served us in his death in order that we might be redeemed.
Likewise, God calls us, time and time again in the Word, to be servants; to place others before ourselves. This is totally contrary to the world’s thinking. How many times have we heard such tripe as “You can’t love others if you don’t love yourself first”… or “unless you take care of number one, you won’t be able to help number two”… or “you must build your self-esteem in order to build anyone else”? Rather, God call us to humility, servant hood, and thinking of others before ourselves.
Michal and I purchased a house during the housing crisis and fixed it up for Ethan to live in. For a short while, we allowed a young family we were trying to help live in the upstairs while Ethan lived in the down stairs. It really did not work out well and when they left the house, they left it in shambles. It was damaged, dirty, and disheveled. Michal, Ethan, and I spent a whole day just cleaning it apart from the repairs it needed. Ethan’s new appliances, which he allowed them to use, were filthy and the stove beyond returning to its pristine condition when they moved in.
Well, a week or so after they moved out, the young woman called Michal. They had to move into a really filthy house with dog smell and animal stains and she had the audacity to ask Michal to come over and help her clean the house so that it would be a fit place for their family. Guess what… Michal went to help her out… not because she “deserved” it… not because it is easy to do favors for people who have thrown previous favors back in your face… but because it is what Christ would do. Michal, more than most…is a servant…even when it is hard to serve people like this. No they didn’t deserve it…but neither did any of us deserve the grace of God in salvation that Christ has given us.
Now obviously, none of us is called to be at the beck and call of any person at any time under any circumstance. Issues of propriety, stewardship, and balance all come into play. But the underlying philosophy should be a heart to serve others before ourselves.
Let me close with an old Christian cliché. I find old clichés stick around and get old because they have enough truth in them to endure. It goes like this: JOY is spelled Jesus…Others…You. Oh, that I would live more by this ethic.