Print

THE PRIORITY OF THE OTHER

Scattered right through the Scriptures we find teaching about the priority of the other. For example: 

John 15:12 - 'Love each other as I have loved you.'
Romans 12:10 - 'Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.'
Galatians 6:2 - 'Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.'
Ephesians 5:25: 'Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ...'
Philippians 2:3: 'Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.'
1John 4:11 - 'Dear friends, since God so loves us, we also ought to love one another.'

This priority of the other is grounded in the fact that people belong to God, and are special to God, on two counts:

Human beings are endowed with sacredness by virtue of creation in the image of God. [See Genesis 9:6; James 3:9.]

Those human beings who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are endowed with an additional level of belonging to God, and an extra level of preciousness, by virtue of salvation. [Read Romans 14:15; 1Corinthians 8:11.]

In the priorities of God's glory, God's kingdom and God's will we learned that we must put aside our quest for personal power and seek only to honour God; here we learn an extension of this: that to pursue God’s honour, God’s kingdom and God’s will means also to put aside our private agendas and seek also the well-being of the other. [This priority of the other translates into the principle of respect for human beings, the 'one another' principle, and the principle of submission, all of which we will look at in a few weeks time.]

When the devil tempted Jesus [Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13] his line of attack was focused on getting Jesus to put himself first - to seek his own comfort, his own power, his own glory, rejecting God's honour, God's glory and God's kingdom, and jettisoning God's plan for our eternal salvation. But Jesus, prioritising God and God's plan for our eternal well-being, refused each of the temptations. The power and the glory were in fact rightfully his, but in order to follow through with the only way to save us, he, the Lord of glory, the eternal Son, rejected the way of self-glory, setting his face steadfastly towards the cross - which, in the perception of the culture, was the exact opposite of power and glory.

The two texts below speak of this incredible priority Jesus Christ thus gave to people. As our Lord and our Teacher he commands us to follow him in this humble, self-sacrificing prioritisation of ‘the other’.

Mark 10:35-45: In response to the power and position grabbing mindset of James and John, Jesus rebuked them, and instructed all of his disciples not to copy the power hungry 'rulers of the Gentiles' and 'their high officials'. Rather, he said, '... whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all'. He then directly connected and exemplified this priority of the other with a reference to his own agenda and mindset: 'For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.' Jesus Christ, the one whom every human being should actually be serving, came to serve us by bearing our sins in his body on the cross and thereby obtaining our eternal redemption.

Philippians 2:1-8: This priority that Christians should give to the other is powerfully taught in Philippians 2. As in Mark 10 the command to prioritise others is similarly grounded in the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ. This mindset of Christ - his self-denial, his humility, his unconcern for his own rights, his unconcern for his own prestige - challenges us with Jesus' prioritisation of the other. Here Jesus prioritised us. Here God commands us to similarly prioritise the other.

This does not come easily for many of us. It is one thing to prioritise God's glory, God's kingdom and God's will. But it is quite another thing to prioritise our fellow human being, who, like us, is not at all in the same category as God. But, as Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31ff, to prioritise the other, even the 'least' of the others, is to prioritise him: 'Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

© Rosemary Bardsley 2016