Throughout history, and just as true today, the measure of success has been how many people are beneath you in the hierarchy of society. To be a boss or a manager means you’ve made it. Because of this, to be ambitious often means to put yourself above others. But the Bible is counter intuitive in this regard. Jesus said:
The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23:11)
Applying this teaching, Paul said:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
My wife worked for a child care center which was described by everyone who worked there as a horrible place to work. In my view of the situation it was a horrible place to work because everyone did everything out of rivalry and conceit, and everyone thought they were better than everyone else. Everyone thought they could run the place better and were continually fighting for their ideas to be respected and implemented. They were continually hurt because nobody liked their ideas, but that was because they all wanted to be recognized for their own ideas. This is a perfect example of what the world is often like, and how God's counter intuitive wisdom is actually the true wisdom. If you had tried to reason with these folks that they should stop worrying about their own ideas and encourage and build the ideas of others, they probably would have said “No way! I’m not going to let them walk all over me! You have to be assertive if you want to get anywhere.” This is language we’ve all heard before and is familiar to us. But one of Jesus' sayings which has particularly influenced the way I live my life is this...
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:8-11)
In this world it has always been the case that people will trample over everyone to get to the top. And so this Christian attitude of humility is often scorned and seen as weak. After all, if we don't fight to have our talents and ideas recognized, how will we get anywhere? But the Christian knows and trusts that God is sovereign over all. "He removes kings and sets up kings" (Daniel 2:21). We are told to be a servant of all, and to submit to those who have been given authority over us, for all authority comes from God (Romans 13:1). Servitude is the opposite of what people want; this is completely counter intuitive wisdom. A few years ago, however, I joined an online Bible study and fellowship. From the very beginning I was very aware of other people’s feelings and needs. I often wrote to people privately to encourage them and often to comfort or counsel them as they had shared their trials in the public forum. I never did anything in order to be noticed; this was all done privately out of a genuine desire to serve others out of love. Whenever I wrote on the public forum it was always to build others up and never to show off my own knowledge. I never strove to be anybody significant on that site, but after about a year I was invited to be a moderator. Later still, I was invited to create content for the Bible study courses they were running. I never told anybody how the forum ought to be run; I always respected that this wasn’t my forum and it wasn’t my position to change things. After a while, however, I noticed that some of the other moderators were imitating me in a few things. I’d had an influence, not by telling people “Do things my way”, but through my sincere service to others. I eventually left the forum to focus my time on other things, but my time there was a wonderful experience, and essentially without conflict. The kind of unity God wants in His Church is achieved through obedience to His Word and living according to Biblical principles. This was certainly something I learned while I was there; that the ones I became closely bonded with were the ones who had the same attitude of service as I did. We were all equals working towards a common goal; the edification of one another and the glorification of God. No matter what position a Christian finds themselves in, they are in a position of service. Even to properly handle the responsibility of authority is to always remember that you are actually serving those who are under you.
In the greater scheme of things, we all want to be masters over our own lives. We want to do whatever we want, which really means that we serve ourselves. But being a Christian necessarily means serving Christ first, then others, and ourselves last. To serve Christ and others is going to mean, quite literally, that you can’t necessarily do whatever you want. And if people were with me up to this point in regard to serving others, this is where I might still lose others. Often we’ll acknowledge that the Biblical ideal of serving others is good and wise, but the one area of life which people really have trouble relinquishing control is over their own lives. In fact, when my mother became a Christian this was her first question and the one thing holding her back... “What will I have to give up?” The pastor speaking to her at the time said “Nothing.” In one sense I understand what he meant, because a Christian doesn’t miss anything, so it doesn’t feel like you’re “giving up” anything. My mother was worried about the parties and the drinking, but soon found (as Christians do) that she no longer wanted those things anyway. But in the truer sense, the answer is most certainly that you have to give up something. In truth, you have to give up being master of your own life. When I became a Christian, this is what I realized. My first confession of faith was that I was prepared to give up my own “life plan” and to follow God’s plan for my life. This is a step of faith; you don’t know what God’s plan might be, or what the cost of following that plan will be. But knowing who God is and that He is trustworthy, a life of servitude to Him will never be a regret.
His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:23)