The front or the back of the line?

Posted by on July 18, 2008

Eleanor and I were headed for a rare cup of coffee without the kids and during the five-minute drive, we encountered two different people who were angry over someone getting into the lane of traffic ahead of them.  Eleanor and I actually let a couple of people in and then found a great parking place!  Is it better to be in front or at the back?  Usually we’d say “at the front,” but I was reading my Morning and Evening devotion by Charles Spurgeon today, and he took a contrarian view.  (His writings are in the public domain now, and you can read today’s devotions for free at The Spurgeon Archive.)

July 18th’s morning reading from Morning and Evening:

“They shall go hindmost with their standards.” — Numbers 2:31

The camp of Dan brought up the rear when the armies of Israel were on the march. The Danites occupied the hindmost place, but what mattered the position, since they were as truly part of the host as were the foremost tribes; they followed the same fiery cloudy pillar, they ate of the same manna, drank of the same spiritual rock, and journeyed to the same inheritance. Come, my heart, cheer up, though last and least; it is thy privilege to be in the army, and to fare as they fare who lead the van. Some one must be hindmost in honour and esteem, some one must do menial work for Jesus, and why should not I? In a poor village, among an ignorant peasantry; or in a back street, among degraded sinners, I will work on, and “go hindmost with my standard.”

The Danites occupied a very useful place. Stragglers have to be picked up upon the march, and lost property has to be gathered from the field. Fiery spirits may dash forward over untrodden paths to learn fresh truth, and win more souls to Jesus; but some of a more conservative spirit may be well engaged in reminding the church of her ancient faith, and restoring her fainting sons. Every position has its duties, and the slowly moving children of God will find their peculiar state one in which they may be eminently a blessing to the whole host.

The rear guard is a place of danger.There are foes behind us as well as before us. Attacks may come from any quarter. We read that Amalek fell upon Israel, and slew some of the hindmost of them. The experienced Christian will find much work for his weapons in aiding those poor doubting, desponding, wavering, souls, who are hindmost in faith, knowledge, and joy. These must not be left unaided, and therefore be it the business of well-taught saints to bear their standards among the hindmost. My soul, do thou tenderly watch to help the hindmost this day.

There are some big churches who seem to be marching in to conquer the Promised Land with great resources,  filled with capable people who seem to have it all together.  But many of us smaller churches find ourselves in the tribe of Dan’s position – bringing up the rear and gathering those who have wandered away or who have been left behind in the march. We have an awful lot of people in our congregation who have been hurt by churches. Welcoming them is a really important calling, and one that smaller churches may be uniquely qualified to handle.

It may not be glamorous, but Jesus had different ideas about position and status than we do. In Matthew 19:30, he tells us that “many who are last will be first and many who are first will be last.”  I believe that helping those who have been left behind by those ahead is something Jesus celebrates.

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