I’m sure if you’ve ever put out a hummingbird feeder, you have witnessed some pretty amazing aerial combat as one of the hummingbirds—usually a brightly colored male—will sit near the feeder to drive away any who try to take “his” nectar. It makes for some pretty entertaining displays of speed and agility. It gets a bit scary if you are sitting on the deck eating a meal and they are zooming by you, sometimes very closely. Our son thought for sure he was going to die with a hummingbird beak stuck in him!
We also have a bird feeder in the back yard which is the scene of some pretty heated competition. Currently we have five large, noisy, stellar jays (also called Canada jays), several flicker woodpeckers, lots of little black-capped chickadees, a pair of doves, and three big Chinese ring-neck pheasants that daily vie for first place at the feeder. It is pretty fascinating to watch the “pecking order” on display. Even though the jays are a bit larger and more aggressive than the doves, we have watched as a single dove held her ground at the feeder in spite of the stellar jays who were “encouraging” her to leave. Then we saw quite an amazing sight as the one jay got up on the roof that covers the feeder, and literally kicked snow down upon the dove a couple times to get her to leave—she wasn’t phased by the tactic! A couple days later we saw the same thing take place when an “alpha male” flicker woodpecker was sitting in the feeder and not interested in leaving no matter the harassment from the jays. Again, a jay—probably the same one—got up on top of the roof and kicked snow on the flicker!
We observe similar competition if we toss out some apples or apple peels where the deer can get them. They have quite the ‘’pecking order” as well and are really not very nice to each other. Often it is a “grandma” doe that kicks others away so she can have first choice—often it is her own “kids” and “grandkids” that she pushes away!
It is not just the birds and animals, however, that display such selfishness and greediness as seen in their “fighting at the feeder.” We human beings, the crown of all God’s creation (Psa. 8) manifest the same selfish, me-first, nature. For those of you who may have participated in the “Black Friday” sales recently, what was it like? Did people patiently wait for you to take a place in line ahead of them? Hardly. It was everyone for himself and there was likely pushing and shoving. Hopefully there were no injuries, but some have literally been trampled at these events.
I remember in grade school kids running to be first in line for just a drink of water or to get into the lunch room. In fact I remember on one occasion being tripped and falling on the gravel, tearing my new jeans and bloodying my knee. (If only I hadn’t been in such a hurry to be one of the first!). I remember going to the wood pile behind the sawmill to get mill ends that were dumped there several times a day. They were free for the taking and the scene at the wood pile was much like that at our bird feeder! Amazing how people will push and shove their way to get the “best” 2×4 ends!
Do you remember what the most common topic of discussion was among Jesus’ disciples? It is recorded numerous times in the Gospels. Mark 9:33-35, for example reads: “And they came to Capernaum and when He was in the house, He (Jesus) began to question them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ (Obviously, Jesus knew) But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.” Luke 9:46 says: “And an argument arose among them as to which of them might be the greatest” (cf Mt. 18:1). Matthew and Mark record one occasion when a couple of the disciples, the brothers James and John, and their mother, came and asked Jesus if the two might have special positions in the kingdom: “And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of you’ (wow, pretty brazen!). And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ And they said to Him, ‘Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left’” (Mk. 10:35-37). Matthew records that their mother also asked (Mt. 20:20-28). When the other disciples heard about the proud, self-seeking request, it says they “began to feel indignant with James and John” (Mk. 10:41). In other words, they were angry because they hadn’t asked first! This seeking to be first was a recurring matter among the disciples right up to the meeting around the table at the Last Supper just before Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, as we see in Luke 22:24: “And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest.”
So, why this drive to be first, to trample over others to get ahead and get the most and the best? It is because of sin entering the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they went against God’s clear command and ate of the forbidden tree, a change took place within them as they now had a nature that was in rebellion against God. That nature, which we call the Adamic or sinful nature, or the old man, or the flesh, was then passed on from Adam to each who has been born (with the exception of Christ, who was born of a virgin). The Apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Ro. 5:12). And, one of the characteristics of that old nature is selfishness and greed. It is a “me-first” mentality. Not only did God place a judgment upon mankind as a result of the sin in the Garden (recorded in Gen. 3:16-19), but He also placed a curse upon the earth which included the plant and animal kingdom (cf Jer. 12:4; Ro. 8:20). Animals no longer lived at peace with man and with each other, but began devouring one another and being unkind even to their own kind.
When Jesus observed the debate among His disciples as to who was the greatest, His response was always: “But many who are first will be last and the last first” (Mt. 19:30; 20:16; Mk. 9:35); “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant and whosoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:26-28 cf Mk. 10:42-45).
As believers, indwelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we now have a new nature (although the old has not yet been eradicated…Gal. 5:16-18) and, in dependence upon Christ who also lives within us through the Holy Spirit, we can manifest the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23). We can obey the command to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3,4). Obviously, we still struggle with the desires of the flesh (the old Adamic nature), but praise God we now can have victory over the flesh and actually be Christ-like in our relations to others, putting their needs above ours. What a different world we would have if more did that. Well, one day, when the Prince of Peace returns, that will be the case. But, meanwhile, let’s do our part to show others what Christ is like.
“All the graces of a Christian spring from the death of self” (Madame Guyon).