The point is not just to get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.
1 Cor 10:24 MSG
When I was four years old I was invited to a birthday party for my friend Jason, who lived on our street. We played some games in the garden, and then there was party food. I had scouted the buffet ahead of time, and I knew there were chocolate fingers. This was very exciting.
The game with balloons came to an end, and Jason’s mum said it was time to go inside to eat. There was an immediate stampede, elbows flying, smaller kids pushed into the flower beds. Paper plates were snatched out of hands, grubby fists grabbing handfuls of hula hoops. Basically, it was the cornucopia scene out of The Hunger Games, but with biscuits.
We, humans, are hardwired to remember trauma. It helps us to avoid danger. So I remember this as clearly as if it had happened yesterday: when I got to the table, there were no chocolate fingers.
That’s the trouble with letting others go first. You might miss out.
If you don’t put yourself first, you’ll come second. And second is the first loser.
That’s pretty much the opposite of what the Bible says though. Consider others better than yourselves, it says. Whoever wants to be great should be a servant to others. Love your neighbour as yourself. The first will be last and the last will be first. The meek will inherit the earth. It’s a recurring theme. The Bible constantly invites us to be others-centred, not self-centred.
Does God want us to be unhappy? Does being a good person mean choosing second best for ourselves? Of course not.
To begin with, why do we need to come first? People who need to be the best at everything are often hiding a deep insecurity about their own worth. Do you know anyone who has to constantly remind you how much their shoes cost, and that their phone is newer than yours? They’re trying to make up for something. And it’s kind of exhausting, for them as much as for you. If your sense of self is all about being the best or the first, you can never really relax. Someone else is always after what you have. It’s lonely and isolating to live only for yourself in that way.
That’s not a game we need to play. God already gave up everything for us and invited us into a new future for humanity. We could not be more loved and more precious, and it’s all grace. None of us could live up to the gift we receive in Jesus, and none of us need to. We have nothing to prove. We can care for others and know that being inter-dependent on each other doesn’t make us any less than what we are.
Secondly, another recurring theme in the Bible is that things are often upside down. The first are last and the last are first. It’s more blessed to give than to receive. Helping others is deeply rewarding. When the Bible suggests that our ‘foremost effort should be to help others to live well’, that’s an invitation to blessing, not to sacrifice or self-denial.
There’s a verse in the Psalms that says God owns ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’. That’s obviously an ancient metaphor, and we’re not so impressed with large herds of cattle these days. But it’s basically saying that God owns all the chocolate fingers. And the factory. And the cocoa plantations. We can trust God’s abundance, and be confident that we’re not missing out on anything.
So go ahead. No, please, after you.