Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Me First

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us . . . he refuses to welcome the brothers (3 John 9-10).

I didn’t know how long it would take. My two children were reunited a few days ago following a two week separation while brother was away at camp. I had hopes that it would be days before either of them cried foul for whatever reason. While away, my son had written a letter to his sister. He said things in that letter that I’d never heard him say before. His words were genuinely kind and it sounded like he truly missed his sister. I was a little concerned. For a moment I wondered, “Who wrote this letter and what have they done with my son?”

So here we are with three full days of togetherness behind us . . . and we’ve already had our moments. For the most part they have been the best of friends. But it doesn’t take much to evoke conflict. Annoyances creep up from out of nowhere. They bicker. They compare and complain of perceived injustices. I’m not too bothered by this, at least not yet. This is what brothers and sisters do.

What happens in the family under my roof happens with troubling frequency in God’s family as well. The difference is that we almost expect this kind of thing between siblings who live in the same house. But when it comes to brothers and sisters who are joined by the Spirit of God and gathered in their common desire to worship and to love God, we expect better.

Explanations for our failure to obey Jesus and “love one another” are many. However, in the little New Testament letter of Third John we get a specific insight into what goes wrong and why we sometimes struggle to love our brothers and sisters.

The entire letter of Third John is only 13 verses long. Right near the middle John mentions someone in the church who seems to be causing trouble. Diotrephes won’t have anything to do with John and “he refuses to welcome the brothers.” John diagnoses the problem with a simple observation. Diotrephes loves to be first (3 John 9-10).

Me first. The words sound like something we might hear from children, especially brothers and sisters. And these words will almost always invite resistance. “Me first” is always answered by “No . . . me first.” And on it goes.

As we grow older we outgrow those petty words, but we find different ways to say the same thing: Me first. And when me first is resisted or denied, when that approach to life isn’t working for us, we find that hostility towards our brothers and sisters grows. James put it this way: “What causes fights ands quarrels among you? . . . You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1-2).

The presence of brothers and sisters in our lives means that we do not have unhindered access to our own way. Sometimes we have to give way, let others go first, attend to the needs of someone else before our own. To truly love our brothers and sisters we’ll have to wage war against pride and against self.

We all love to be first. Having brothers and sisters means allowing someone else to occupy that place. How can you do that today?

Lord Jesus, we need your grace to follow the new command you gave us. We need your help to love one another. Forgive our insistence on being first, especially when it divides your family. Teach us to relinquish that place, not grasping and fighting for position, but receiving what you give to us. Amen.

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