The Me-First Syndrome
“Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandments to depart unto the other side [of the sea of Galilee]. And there came a scribe, and said unto him, Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.’ And another of the disciples said unto him, ‘Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said to him, Follow me; and leave the dead to bury their own dead’” (Matthew 8:18-22).
A Jewish scribe approached Christ, boasting that he would follow the Lord anywhere. Jesus cautioned that such a pledge must not be taken lightly. He then underscored the difficulties that discipleship on his behalf would incur. A man ought to “count the cost” before he makes a rash vow (cf. Luke 14:28).
At that point another disciple said, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father” (emphasis added). It was not that Jesus was unsympathetic to the gentleman’s domestic misfortune; rather, Christ quickly perceived that the man was afflicted with a common syndrome, which, for lack of a better name, may be designated the “Me-First Syndrome.”
A syndrome is a “pattern of symptoms” that identifies an “abnormality.” While the “me-first” mentality is not deemed a “syndrome” by society at large (looking out for “number one” is standard), such a disposition is quite at variance with the teaching of the Son of God.
The Savior warned that self-serving interests must not take precedence over devotion to him. Such a claim might seem egotistical indeed, were it not for the identity of the One who made the demand—God in fleshly form (John 1:1-3, 14). By virtue of his very nature and sovereignty, Deity has the right to make demands.
Elsewhere in a similar vein, the Lord insisted that the goals of the kingdom of God must transcend personal, material pursuits. “Seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness …” (Matthew 6:33; emp. added). Those who subordinate spiritual interests to that of the material, have no real concept of what serving Christ is about.
An Historical Example
The Jews of the first century had become experts in the “me-first” mentality. Christ blistered the Pharisees because their materialistic traditions led them to neglect the most sacred of obligations.
For example, the Law of Moses bade the Jews “honor” their parents, which included caring for parental needs. But because these hypocrites were afflicted with “me-firstism,” they concocted a method of avoiding this solemn duty. They “tagged” their financial resources as “Corban,” i.e., dedicated to God (Mark 7:8ff), hence claimed that it would be improper to spend their finances on behalf of their needy parents. This disposition was the epitome of wickedness.
The Modern Syndrome
“Me-firstism” is by no means dead. The “me-first” syndrome is only occasionally recognized, rarely specifically identified, and generally is ignored. The fact is, there are far too many professing Christians who are smitten with this malady.
The “me-first” ideology is seen in church attendance. Though the New Testament is as clear as the noontime sun regarding God’s will that his people gather together for worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Hebrews 10:25), numerous folks will subordinate periods of Bible study and worship to a variety of personal interests, e.g., recreational outings, family gatherings, club meetings, elective secular classes, and other such enterprises. Their personal satisfaction or ambition is the priority.
The “me-first” syndrome is seen in the way many church members give of their prosperity. In spite of the fact that God’s people are charged to contribute into the church treasury each Lord’s day as they have been prospered (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), many church members complain that they cannot afford to give. They are swamped with payments (many of which are not for necessities), and so “me-firstism” prevails. When crunch-time comes, the first thing ejected from their budget is the Lord’s contribution; that is “me-firstology.”
It is also possible for a church to practice the “me-first” religion. This type of church cannot help those beyond their walls (even though quite capable of doing so), because they first must remodel that building, replace the carpet, buy new lights, resurface the parking lot, reseed the lawn, etc. There is always a “project” to be completed. They have an agenda with which they intend to stick—no matter how desperate the need of others may be. It is called the “Me-First Plan.” No missionary need ask for an appointment, because there is a sign on the door, “The Church of Me-First Meets Here.” A struggling congregation may not expect help from the “Me-First” group, and the reason is too obvious to state.
The “Christ-First” Nobility
Have we seriously considered what our plight would be if Jesus Christ had been afflicted with the “me-first” mentality? All of God’s children need a healthy dose of 2 Corinthians 8:9.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.”
This breath-taking text was written regarding some congregations that were of the “Christ-first” temperament—the churches of Macedonia. One may read about these noble brethren in the 8th chapter of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.
Though they had been burdened with great adversity, their generosity flowed mightily toward the less-fortunate—even their Hebrew brethren, though they were Gentiles (Romans 15:26-27). Here is the key to their nobility: “first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:5; emphasis added).
There are “Macedonians” that thrive yet; but some, who profess a vibrant Christianity, stand far from the shadow of this model.