People are funny. Yes, I know that I am one of those people that often say and do things that are funny, even though I didn’t intend for them to be. We like to have the best seats, to have recognition and to be given honor. In church it is pretty common to hear a discussion about who was up front during a church gathering. We put lots of weight on being up front or having others that are my age group, sex or race up front so that they have recognition as important.
This reminds me of Jesus in Luke 14:7-11. “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the places of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Why is it so hard for us to step down and so easy to step up in life? Some time ago I read the story of when churches in Tennessee decided to rent the Grand Ole Opry House to have a series of meetings. It was to be a joint effort of many churches and was to be a huge effort to reach people in the Tennessee area. There was a lot of discussion about who would be invited to speak at the events. Several good people and great preachers were considered. But they finally chose N.B. Hardeman to be the speaker. Some in the group that made the decision were concerned about some well known brother in the Nashville area that he would be offended since they chose Hardeman instead of him. A group of them went to see him and explain why they had made the choice they did and were surprised at his response. He told them that he was ready to serve in any way, including being the janitor for the event to see it take place. He just wanted to make certain it happened and people had the chance to hear the good news of Jesus. I want to have that spirit all the time. I wish I could remember who the person was that said it. He is my hero even though I don’t remember his name.
In Acts 13 the church in Antioch had several strong leaders and great prophets working with them. As these men were gathered in prayer and fasting the Holy Spirit told them to separate Barnabas and Saul for the ministry that he had called them to do. Barnabas and Saul set out on their first missionary journey and John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas went along with them to be a helper. They arrived at the Island of Cyprus and traveled through the whole Island preaching Christ. When they arrived in Paphos they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus. The Proconsul, a man named Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man and he sent for Barnabas and Saul to come to him and share the message of Jesus. But Elymas the sorcerer (Bar-Jesus) opposed them and tried to turn the Proconsul against them. Suddenly, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is aginst you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately a mist and darkness came over him. He had to be led away but the proconsul saw what had happened and believed on the Lord.
Suddenly, there was a major change in the missionary team. It had been “Barnabas and Saul” from the time they left Antioch. But from here on it become “Paul and his companions.” Notice in Acts 13:13 what happened when the leadership of the group changed from Barnabas to Paul. John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. Barnabas seemed to have handled the change just fine. But his younger cousin couldn’t handle the change. If Barnabas wasn’t the leader he couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t handle the scene of Paul as leader and Barnabas and him being his companions. Later in Acts 15 Barnabas attempts to get Paul to accept Mark back as a helper. Paul couldn’t handle the thought. Their disagreement become so strong that they parted ways and Paul took Silas as his new companion and Barnabas and Mark set out as a new missionary team.
Interestingly, God used the separation or division between Barnabas and Paul to create a new missionary team and thus multiply their ability to reach people for Him. But this event demonstrates the fact that people haven’t changed a whole lot since that time. It isn’t just that we want the best seats for ourselves, but we want them for the ones we identify with. Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually believe what Jesus said on this whole thing? “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man” (Mark 10:43-45).
I wonder if there could be some way in the church gatherings to eliminate the “Up Front” so that everyone is simply part of the assembly. Our whole goal is to elevate Jesus Christ and make ourselves his servants. Remember Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up, will draw all people to me.”