In modern society, a majority of people place an emphasis on the idea of winning and being first but there has been a real swing in philosophy and what it means to win. There are different geographical locations across the country that frowns upon winning as it is seen as barbaric and rather than placing an emphasis on winning, they look at emotions and feelings for their identity. Perhaps there is a place for this mindset as each situation is different but what made America great for so long was the idea of the American Dream and that we all could have a slice of the pie.
Long ago, Jesus gave the statement “But many are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Mathew 19:30). Christ was not speaking in the sense that competition was bad and there should not be any competition whatsoever but rather, informing the rich young ruler that there was another to life that led to eternal bliss. When we study the response from Christ as it relates to the young ruler, we begin to understand that it’s not money or fame or recognition that’s important here below but where we stand with Christ and this is evident when Christ tells the young ruler to sell everything that he owns: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
Christ was not telling every person to sell all their possessions but Christ knew the man’s heart and knew what would hold him back from following Him. The man did think that he was a good man and did the right things but the man’s heart was not right and this is a key ingredient that we cannot forget: our heart. Where is it? We see with the parable of the laborers that Christ reiterates that first is last and last is first: “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). Simply put, God is telling us that no person regardless of social statue, fame, or recognition is superior to another but also, none are inferior.
Again, here on Earth, we typically see things completely different than Christ. On Earth, we seek out victories in many areas of life whether it’s in sports, academics, career achievements, and so forth. These victories may come with trophies, certificates, or monetary recognition and while there is nothing wrong with this, none of this will have any say in whether or not we get into Heaven. When Christ tells us that first is last and last is first does not mean that there is a reversal of roles in Heaven where the poor rule over the rich because financial status on Earth has nothing to do with our position in Heaven.
A perfect example of this may be the Disciples of Christ. They were with Him and spread His word and did all they knew to do. No, they were not perfect and yes, they were poor but them being poor will have nothing to do with their position in Heaven. Rather, their hearts will determine where they are in Heaven. We know from scripture that we do not buy our way into Heaven nor can we earn it through works or acts but rather, our salvation is based on our relationship with God and our heart is key to this relationship: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In other words, those who are first will be last and the last will be first lets us know that God does not look at people and see them the same way as we do. God does not care about the money or fame a person has or what the world thinks of them. We can look and see what many of the religious leaders of the day thought of Christ and how they hated Him but despite their hatred, they could find no fault in Him. When we understand this then we begin to understand the way Christ sees us as Heaven’s reward system is different than the world’s reward system. While a slice of the American Dream is absolutely delicious, it fails in comparison to Heaven’s.