United Way – part two

This is the second half of a lesson on Philippians 2:1-4

[How can you express what God has created in you? First, you must recognize an appropriate your identity in Christ. Second, you must make a decision of the will to unite with the body of Christ. The second response is followed up further READ Philippians 2:3–4

2. Dismiss what sin has caused in you. In these verses, Paul gives the means by which to fulfill 2:2. In 2:3, he gives two negatives to avoid and two positives to follow; and in 2:4, a negative and a positive. (READ Philippians 2:3–4). Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Negatively in 2:3, he says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” We are not to be motivated by “selfishness.” Most of us would like to think of ourselves as unselfish creatures. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we are not. The word rendered “selfishness” (eritheia) appears nowhere else in the New Testament. However, Aristotle used it to describe the self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means. It’s ugly self-promotion that steps on the necks of others to lift oneself up. It’s pride intent on advancing itself.

How do we overcome selfishness? We have children and attend church. If you are fortunate enough to have children, you can quickly determine your level of selflessness. After a long hard day when your boy wants to wrestle and you want to watch TV, which do you choose? When your little girl asks you to read her a book, and you’d rather be golfing or shopping, which do you choose? When your children are teenagers (without their license) and want you to drive them all over town, do you put their interests first? God challenges us daily to be selfless as we interact with our children. At work or even in church, we are also tempted to be selfish. It’s easy to get caught up in our project or our ministry. Yet, the Bible is clear that we are to serve others selflessly. This strikes at the very core of our being. It means we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, and our own desires for another’s benefit.
The word translated “empty conceit” (lit. “empty glory”) is a graphic description of the glory this world affords us. Picture a balloon full of hot air and you’ve got the right idea. It may appear beautiful and attractive but it is, in fact, empty. One day the glory of humankind will wither like a scorched flower when the light of God’s glory has risen upon the earth. In that day all the glory of man will be seen as absolutely vain and empty. Thus to live for the glories of this day is a very hollow pursuit. John Wooden, former coach of the UCLA Bruins basketball team gives this helpful advice: “Talent is God given—be humble. Fame is man given—be thankful. Conceit is self-given—be careful.” READ John 5:44

Paul now moves from the negative to the positive. Instead of being consumed with self-promotion, he says, “but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (2:3b). Here, Paul calls for “humility of mind.” But what is humility? It seems that most believers want humility, but no one really knows what it means. Humility means seeing yourself realistically—as God sees you. Not higher than you are—but not lower, either. Humility doesn’t mean that you put yourself down, but that you lift others up. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. The goal is that Jesus Christ increase and that we decrease (John 3:30). One word of caution though: The more we make humility our aim, the more we’re tempted to become proud of our motives. Humility is like a slippery watermelon seed. Once you get it under your finger and you think you have it, it slips away from your grasp. Our focus is not to be on pursuing humility but pursuing Jesus and seeking to be Christlike. As we seek Christ and become like Him, humility will naturally and inevitably follow.

Paul says it like this: “regard one another as more important than yourselves.” The word “regard” (hegeomai) speaks of accounting or reckoning. Practically speaking this means when you go home to your family, you must deliberately regard your spouse as more important than yourself. When you go to work you must consciously regard your co-workers as more important than yourself. Before you pick up the phone you must regard that person on the other end as more important than yourself. Before you reply to that email you must regard that person as more important than yourself. This will require supernatural responses throughout the day. But the rewards are great. Paul Moody said, “Greatness is not measured by how many people are your servants, but by how many people you serve.” This demands regarding others as more important.
I should point out that various English versions (NIV, NRSV, KJV/NKJV, NLT) offer the translation “better” instead of “more important” (NASB, NET, HCSB) or “more significant” (ESV). The English word “better” is awkward and doesn’t quite capture what Paul is saying. It raises the question, “How can I consider someone better than me when I know they’re not? I can sing solos better than they can; my voice is better, and that’s an objective fact. I can lead a meeting better—everyone knows that. I can organize an activity better; I know how to do it. How can I consider someone better when I know realistically that they’re not?” The word “better” doesn’t quite capture what Paul is saying. There will always be people who are better or worse than you are. Regarding others as more important than you has nothing to do with gifting, skill, personality, or ministry responsibility; it has to do with understanding the value, dignity, and worth of other believers. Whenever you look into the eyes of another believer, regard that brother or sister as more significant than yourself. This is not only beneficial to the individual, but it will also teach you humility.

Paul’s final word is especially relevant: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:4). My favorite word in this entire section is the verb “look” (skopeo), which means “to pay careful attention to, look out for, and notice.” If you have ever collected coins, stamps, or baseball cards, you know what it’s like to look closely at objects you care about. You may even take out a magnifying glass and spend long quantities of time discerning the quality of your collectible. Similarly, God wants you to study believers to an even greater extent. He then wants you to prioritize their interests over your own. However, a word of caution is in order. Many Christians assume that we are to pursue the interests of others with all that is within us. ‘No rest for the righteous; there will be plenty of time for rest in heaven! While we’re one earth, we must minister to the death.’ However, this can often lead to the neglect of one’s marriage, family, and personal walk with Christ. Sadly, this is done in the name of ministry! Many well-intentioned people lose their children, end in divorce, and burn out on ministry and the church. Others remain intact, but develop a root of bitterness and resentment toward the church and other believers READ Hebrews 12:15. This festers until it destroys them and those around them. Far better to care for your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs so that you can care for others for many decades of ministries. Paul is simply saying: There’s nothing wrong with looking out for your own personal interests; however, if that is all that you look out for, beware.

Do you look out for the interests of others? When you talk to others, do you talk about yourself or them? God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. He expects you to listen twice as much as you talk. The goal should be to ask questions such as: How are you doing spiritually? How is your marriage and family? Is work going well? What has God been teaching you? How can I be praying for you? Do you pray more for others than you do yourself? Are you seeking to ask certain mature Christians to pray for you so that you can pray for others? Do you genuinely long for the success of others more than yourself? Do you get as excited about what God is doing in and through others as you do about what He is doing in and through you? Do you find satisfaction in seeing your spiritual children surpass you in the work they are called to do? Do you want other life-giving churches in your county to succeed more than your church? Do you study the persecuted church and lift these precious brothers and sisters in Christ up in prayer? If so, you’re applying this verse.

On the hit TV show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, whole communities work together to provide a new home for a family in need. It is amazing to watch the cast and crew of the show as they rally the town, the builders, and each other in order to complete the project within seven days. Then, when it’s time to bring the family home, all those people get the chance to celebrate the accomplishment together. Even viewers feel they have a chance to participate in the celebration.
Now, imagine the excitement and joy we would experience as a community of believers if we banded together in the name of God to effect change in our homes, communities, states, nation, and world! It would be remarkable to see what would happen if we all worked together for God’s purpose. We can and we should. If you are facing a challenge in your life, don’t try to go it alone. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord; then ask them to work with you to accomplish His will. You will find you are stronger in your efforts, and when it comes time to give thanks for what God has done, there will be a pervasive sense of joy for everyone involved.

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