“Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.”
It was a dictum ingrained in my mind growing up in church. If I’m a Christian, then serving others should always precede my needs, right?
Heck, the Bible makes it clear. Look at what Paul says in Philippians:
“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
It seemed as plain as day to me. How could anyone argue that you can follow God and put yourself above others? It’s oxymoronic.
But about a year ago, someone did argue it to me.
The contester wasn’t a non-Christian either… it was my Bible study leader, friend, and mentor - easily one of the most giving, loving, and servant-hearted people I’ve ever met.
That caught my attention.
Over the past year, my thinking has shifted and I have approached my relationship with the Lord in a much different way than the previous 20-plus years of my life.
And yes, it has involved what feels like putting myself before others.
Before you scream “heresy” and skip to my comments section, let me explain to you three reasons I believe Christians should “put themselves first”:
1. We can’t put others before ourselves if we don’t know who we are.
I believe when Paul says to “value others above yourselves,” he does not mean at the expense of ourselves. Unfortunately, I think many, if not most, Western Christians have a low understanding of who we actually are in Christ. It isn’t until this year that I’ve actually began to believe that I am who God says I am. And it hasn’t come naturally.
The reality is that in Christ I am a number of things I don’t “feel” that I am many days. Instead, I believe lies about myself. For example, God declares that I am redeemed, that I am worthy, that I am treasured, that I am secure. I could have told you those are “Biblical truths” for the past 20 years, but my heart often believes I am unworthy, I am unaccepted, I am unseen by God, I am unprotected. When those are the realities of my heart then I cannot truly put anyone before myself.
We can’t honor God in our service if our hearts declare He is a liar. In fact, it isn’t even service at all- it’s an attempt to “be better” so God accepts us. We have to first understand He ALREADY accepts us. That leads to the next point…
2. When we know who we are, we can actually put others first.
As I’ve begun to truly believe that I am who God says I am – accepted, loved, worthy, redeemed – I have had opportunity to truly put others first. The actions may look the same on the outside, but the motivation is entirely different.
When I have low self-awareness and a low understanding of who I am in Christ, I may still cook my husband dinner and wash his clothes. But what is going on in my heart is not putting Brandon before myself. Whether or not I realize it, a lot of times the subconscious motivation is, “If I do this for Brandon, he will accept me. He will love me more. Brandon will show me that love, and then I will know that I’m enough for him.” It makes me feel “good enough” for the day.
When I grasp that I’m already fully accepted by God and completely treasured by Him, cooking and cleaning for my husband means something entirely different. It just means that I love him and I want him to have a good dinner and clean clothes. I don’t expect anything in return because I don’t need anything in return. All that I need has been met in Jesus. My love and value comes from Christ alone.
3. “Putting others first” at the expense of ourselves is sinful.
Not only can we not truly put others first at the expense of ourselves, but also attempting to do so is sinful. Did you know that you could use someone by serving him or her? I’ve operated much of my life using people and feeling “holy” for it.
Take the scenario above. I served Brandon to feel accepted and treasured by him. I had a need and I served him so his reaction would “fill” that need. That’s not love at all. True love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Let me pause right there. Here’s what I don’t want this blog post to do: I don’t want you to read this and think, “Great, more evidence that I’m a failure.” The point of this blog is not to point out our failures. That’s what the whole issue is in the first place! It’s to point out how loved and accepted those of us who are in Christ are… and to encourage us to stop trying to serve others without pursuing that truth.
Let God show you who He truly is and who He says you truly are.
Let’s stop confusing the enemy’s voice with our Father’s.
You’re loved. You’re accepted. You’re secure.
Let’s fight to put ourselves first.
Jordan Sok is a 20-something writer, Christian and newlywed. Her personal blog encourages her readers to “embrace the awkward,” because the way she sees it, a lot of “awkwardness” is simply feeling uncomfortable because something is out of the norm. And maybe that is a good thing. Her blog focuses on a mixture of topics surrounding the 20-something Christian life- the good, the bad, and the funny. Oh, and the awkward.
Publication date: October 5, 2016