“Diotrephes, who loves to be first.” 3 John 9 NIV.

Longing to be important opposes your learning to be significant.

My thoughts and comments today are about “significance.”

When our first grandchild was a preschooler, she tried to unravel the mystery, “Who is the boss of me?” She asked my wife, Gayle, “Nana, if Mommy is my boss, is Daddy her boss?” From there she worked her way to the assumption of Nana being her Dad’s boss, and my being Nana’s boss. After momentary reflection and a bit puzzled, she finally asked, “Who’s Poppa’s boss?” I think her real concern was about how and when she would get to be “boss.” From early years, we have a driven need to be first. People often confuse their inherent desire to excel with a need to exceed.

John warned of the attitude of “Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence . . who likes to put himself first.” 3 John 9 NKJV/ESV. Longing to be important opposes your learning to be significant. Let others give you promotion and prominence as recognition for contribution. Jesus addressed the spiritual and moral etiquette of this, teaching His disciples that when one comes to a dinner, take a “lower seat” until and unless invited to a place of prominence by another. See Proverbs 25:6-7 NIV/Matthew 23:5-6 NKJV.

The disciples were rightly concerned with greatness, but they misunderstood the path and process. “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12 NIV. To our world, Jesus’ Kingdom seems upside down but actually is right-side-up. Jesus asked the clarifying question, “Who is greater, he that sits, being served, or he that serves? But I am among you as one who serves. He that is first is he who serves!” Luke 22:24-27. Being first to serve requires patience and trust in God’s times and ways.

It is common to want to be first. People push others aside in order to be first. If being first is an obsession that compels you, your desire has become misdirected. Being first can become a compulsion that causes you to expect advantages that would not have been yours, mistreat and disregard others, excuse compromises to get ahead, and eventually become more concerned about appearance than accomplishment. Bettering yourself might increase your importance; bettering the lives of others multiplies and extends your significance.

Self-importance is momentary; significance can be lasting. My friend, Kenny, taught me a practical exercise to counteract self-importance. “Take a bucket of water. Stick your finger into the water and pull it out; then notice how long you leave a hole!” In the broader scheme of life, no one is as singularly important as we would hope to be. Significance comes from contribution not competition.

It’s simple; to be first, you put others before yourself. Be recognized for having a heart and hands employed in serving others. “Don’t push your way to the front . . put yourself aside and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourself long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself.” Philippians 2:3-5. MSG.

My prayer for you this day is that you will be first to serve and bless others.