A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinApril 15, 1994
But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mt. 19:30)
The Lord surprised a number of people throughout His ministry by the company He was with. It was not unusual for the Lord to teach those who were despised by the so-called religious at that time. No upstanding person, at that time, would ever consider being associated with any person who was not considered pure according to the law of Moses. The Lord was even with the tax collectors, who were the most despised people at that time. Once the Lord was willing to meet with little children, whom the disciples rebuked, feeling they would waste the Lord’s time. The Lord vividly showed numerous times the principle of looking for the good in other people, regardless of their background or the circumstances of their lives. The Lord displayed a love towards everyone equally, and never was biased. The Lord was perfectly fair in all His dealings with the people He dealt with while He was on the earth.
Everyone of us is to follow the Lord’s example of fairness. It is a common teaching in the Writings that to love our neighbor we are to look for the good in other people. In fact, a form of loving our neighbor is to try to give the appropriate dignity to everyone we meet. We are in genuine charity, when we are willing to show respect everyone and not make judgements just on external criteria. The more we do not have favorites the more we are in the true form of a love towards the neighbor.
The practice of giving dignity to everyone we are associated with is a discipline that will enable us to look for the positive in others. No matter what the condition of life is, we will be able to see something worthwhile in everyone we meet. We will be able to treat everyone with respect and not showing partiality.
Every person wants to be treated with dignity. Everyone desires to be valued for the contribution they can make towards society, country, the church, and ultimately to heaven itself. The Writings teach that by loving uses are we able to love everyone equally. Heaven is place of perfect equality. There are different degrees of dignity given to certain angels depending upon the use they perform. Yet, the higher angels do not regard themselves as more important than the lower angels because they receive greater recognition and honor. They respect and sincerely admire the use that the lower angels do. Likewise, the lower angels are joyful and appreciate the wisdom of the higher angels, and are not selfish of the distinction that is given to them.
We are not necessarily selfish when we want dignity for ourselves. In fact, the Writings directly state that we need to have dignity if we are to be able to perform services. It is not wrong to want respect and honor. Without a solid reputation, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to benefit others. Every person needs a certain respect if they are to make a contribution towards the whole.
However, there is a proper way that we are taught in wanting dignity for ourselves. In fact, there are six aspects that makes dignity helpful and beneficial, and not harmful. The six principles that we are to keep in mind when we want respect and honor is 1) Give honor to the Lord, 2) Regard the salvation of souls as more important than personal honor or profit, 3) Separate honor of our office from any idea of personal credit, 4) Simply love that which helps others and makes them happy, 5) Look to dignity as a means to an end, not the end itself, and 6) have humility or a proper recognition that without the Lord, we are powerless to do anything that is good. If these six principles are active within us, our desire for dignity will not be a selfish, but one that focuses on the use and the good for other people.
First, we must give honor to the Lord. This involves not only an active and regular practice of adoring and praising the Lord, it also involves the desire that we are under His rule. When we have as our most fundamental the intention to have the Lord’s life manifest in the manner of our living, that is a major step in viewing dignity in a heavenly way and not just for personal gain. In fact, without a desire to have the Lord rule our lives, it is virtually impossible to want dignity except for personal pleasure.
Secondly, we must have the salvation of souls as the highest aspiration in our lives. We must regard the salvation of souls as more important than personal gain. This requires that we continually remind ourselves of the effect our actions will have on those around us and not exclusively think just about ourselves. Only from compliance with the Word are we able to broaden our outlook and have regard for others and not just ourselves. Along with this broadening outlook, we will look upon dignity as a tool in living an effect and meaningful life of charity.
Third we are to separate the honor or the dignity, from the person. This applies to ourselves and to others. It is not a complicated concept to understand that we are not to personify the office with the person who occupies it. As we give and receive the dignity of the office, we must esteem the office, and periodically remind ourselves that the honor is so directed because of the benefits the office can give, and the person, whether it be ourselves or someone else, is merely occupying it. We must always acknowledge that the use would still be done because of the office, not the person occupying it. It may be done more effectively, depending on the person doing the use, but the use still can be performed. We must always keep in mind that the essential of use is not in the person, but in the office he or she has. The office creates the opportunity for a use to be performed. The person performs the use because he or she occupies the office.
Fourth, we are to have some form of loving uses, or that which is helpful for others. The Writings state that we only love what is good, when we love the Lord. By loving the Lord, we are able to love things outside of ourselves, and not exclusively look inward. As we develop the skill of looking outward, by primarily regarding other people, we are also developing the skill of loving what the person can do, and valuing that. Spiritual love is defined as loving the use of the person, not just the person external features. This can only happen if we are in a love from the Lord that allows us to look beyond our self interest.
Fifth, we are to regard dignity as a means to the end, not the end itself. This is one of the main distinctions between the good and the evil. The evil desires dignity strictly to have dominion. They also see dignity as a way to acquire wealth in this world. In reality, despite any pretense of respect and admiration towards others, they view everyone else as insignificant and despise others in comparisons to themselves. They have no consideration about inflicting injury or hurt upon others, especially if they will make a personal gain from it.
The good, on the other hand are directly opposite in regarding dignity. They look upon dignity as a means in performing uses for others. They are glad to receive the honor and the benefits that are bestowed upon them. But these actions do not inflate their selfish pride. They have the perspective of realizing that the dignity is really being directed to their office. They know the dignity is a necessary ingredient in seeing that the use be done effectively. They concentrate upon the final action, which is the goods that are bestowed upon others. When good is looked to and desired as an end product, the Lord is ruling and we are performing a use in our own unique way.
Finally, to have a proper perspective concerning dignity, we must be in humility. We must recognize our total dependency upon the Lord to do good and especially to enjoy it in sincerity. When we are in humility, or the genuine recognition of our dependency upon the Lord, we are in the position to have a delight in serving others. This delight in helping others will far surpass the personal delight that we may receive if honor is given to us. And this delight will make it possible to sincerely acknowledge that all power is from the Lord.
It should be a pattern in our lives to treat everyone we come in contact with dignity and with respect. We must strive not to show partiality, to regard one person as more important as another, and we are especially not to treat anyone as completely worthless. We must always keep in mind that everyone was created by the Lord with an eternal purpose and that everyone has the capability to make a contribution in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. As long as we regard everyone we meet as a creation of the Lord and capable of perform some service in heaven, we are looking at them with the proper dignity that we can unite with in establishing the Lord’s love and wisdom upon the earth. Some will be so crude and vile, it is difficult to see any positive in them. But if we try to see any encouraging signs of order, we will be surprised what we will discover. One way to see the Lord’s goodness and mercy is to look for the good in others. This can only be done if we treat all with respect and appreciation.
We must also strive to receive dignity for ourselves. We must take care that the conduct of our lives will not bring disgrace or shame. We must make the continual effort to build a solid reputation before others. The more we earn the respect and the confidence of those we work with, the greater our capacity to perform our use for others. Also, the more we can unite with others who have the same vision of seeing the Lord’s life more established in the world. The Word teaches us that the best way to have a good reputation is to treat others with respect, to have the desire to serve as the highest priority in our lives, and to recognize that we are superior to no one. If these principles are applied to our lives, then the power of these words will be evident within us, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mt. 19:30)