By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the major causes of human suffering is the fact that people see life from many different perspectives. While we were in Duluth we went to a park where we stood on a bridge and watched a bus load of junior boys and girls eat their lunch on the rocks below. A lovely stream flowed over the rocks creating a beautiful site with falls and pools of water. Further down a number of fishermen were on the bank. It was a picture of pleasure, but pain was nearer than anyone could suspect. A young couple came past us on the bridge, and they made their way down the stream, and then down into the valley where a very small island had formed, and a delightful pool awaited the swimmers. The girl sat on the sand, and the boy in his early twenties pulled off his shirt and dove into the pool. We were impressed with the natural pool, and standing in the hot sun we could enjoy vicariously the refreshing feeling of the swimmer.
The rocks hid him from our view, but soon we noticed that he came climbing up on the rocks holding his neck. It was obvious he had experienced some sort of injury. He made his way back to the girl, and she quickly gathered up their belongings, and they retraced their path back over the bridge where we were standing, and into their car. I was deeply curious as to the nature of the young man's problem, and so I walked over to the only other swimmer in the pool who was also leaving the area because of the accident. I asked, "What happened to the other young man who was swimming?" He said, "One of the junior boys had thrown a rock into the pool and it hit him in the neck as he was under the water, and it cut a gash. They were heading for the hospital for stitches."
Everybody in that beautiful setting was there for pleasure, but because people find their pleasure in different ways the end result was pain and suffering. Junior boys see such a setting as a place for throwing rocks. I cannot imagine a boy not wanting to throw rocks into that water. For the young couple in their twenties it was a place for a refreshing swim. Both perspectives were legitimate, for it was a lovely spot for both activities, but just not at the same time. Both could have been enjoyed without pain had they been experienced at different times. But here were two people trying to practice perfectly normal and acceptable behavior, but behavior which became incompatible when practiced in the same place at the same time.
There is nothing wrong with track events or stock car races, but to try and have them on the same track at the same time would be a disaster. The point is, you do not need to be doing anything wrong to cause suffering. Even right and good things create suffering. You cannot be content to ask only of your actions, is this right or wrong? You must also ask, is this selfish? Is this behavior which is good for me a risk of the well being of others? It may be an okay thing in itself, but is it appropriate in the circumstance? By broadening our perspective on life, we can prevent suffering which is caused so often by a narrow self-centered perspective.
The accident we saw could have easily been prevented by all of the people involved. The swimmer could have seen the danger of this environment with junior boys swarming all over the place. He could have waited ten minutes to swim, and all could have shared the joy of the setting without pain. A few minutes of sacrifice for the sake of the others enjoying their activity would have prevented the accident. Or the leaders of the youth could have seen that the young man was going to have his own way and swim in that risky environment. They could have warned the boys to cease all rock throwing. Neither of these things happened because everybody was operating from a narrow selfish perspective that saw only self-interest, and was oblivious to the interest of others. Nobody was being evil, and nobody wanted anything but pleasure for all, but a too narrow perspective led to pain.
According to Paul in the text here in Phil. 2, the whole history of man would be one of suffering without hope had Jesus had a narrow selfish perspective. Had He said, "It is in my best interest to cling to equality with the Father," there would not be any plan of salvation. The whole plan depended on Jesus seeing beyond a selfish to a sacrificial perspective. The sacrificial perspective sees life from the point of view of the interests of others. Because Jesus saw what was in our best interest, He paid the price necessary for our salvation, and He prevented perpetual pain by eliminating everlasting suffering for all who receive Him as Savior.
Paul is using Jesus as the prime example of how all of us can prevent suffering by developing a proper perspective. There are only two basic ways in which all of us see life, and the one we chose as our perspective determines whether we are a part of the cause, or part of the cure. The selfish perspective sees life only from the point of view of its effects on one's own interest. The sacrificial perspective sees life from the point of view of the interest of others. Paul says that one of the goals of Christian growth in Christ likeness is to shift your perspective from the selfish to the sacrificial. This is no small task, for it goes against the grain of our selfish nature, which Satan and the world encourage and support.
The world, the flesh, and the devil are all allies in strengthening the selfish perspective of life that causes so much suffering. The majority of the influences in our culture push us to the selfish perspective. It is only by refusing to conform to the world, and by being transformed by the renewing of our minds by surrender to the Holy Spirit, and obedience to God's Word, that we can move from the selfish to the sacrificial perspective. I want to look at how these two perspectives change all of life so we can see why it is worth the cost of moving from the one to the other. Let's begin by looking at-
I.THE SELFISH PERSPECTIVE.
The first thing we need to do is set the record straight, and make clear that self-interest is not a sin. We are made to be responsible for ourselves, and we have an obligation to have self-interest. People who lose this are not fine specimens of humanity. They are the people who have lost their pride and self-respect, and no longer care about how they look and live. They become their own worse enemies. It is curse to have no self-interest. It is self-interest that motivates us to be our best, and achieve excellence in some area of life by persistent use of our gifts.
Note Paul's language carefully in verse 4. He says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interest..." He did not say they should have no self-interest. He was saying they should not have such a perspective of self-interest exclusively. It is not that they should not look at their own interests at all, but not that only. Only is the key word here for clarification. There is no point of feeling guilty because you care about yourself, and the things that matter to you. That is not only normal and natural, it is the way you are expected to see life. To have no self-interest is to be sick, and in need of healing, for it is healthy to have self-interest, and unhealthy not to have it.
The problem is the extreme which makes self-interest the exclusive concern. Then it becomes the negative we call selfishness. Paul in verse 3 says, "Do nothing from selfishness." Selfishness is bad, but self-interest is good as long as it does not become exclusive. When it becomes your only perspective it is a vice and not a virtue. There is a big debate on whether selfishness is good or evil. Both sides have a good case because it is matter of degree. If you mean by selfishness, a concern for the self, and a focus on self-interest, then you are right; it is a virtue. But if you mean by selfishness, and exclusive interest in your own well being regardless of others; then you are wrong.
So many debates are like this. Opponents are talking about two different things, but using the same word to describe them, and so they think they are in radical disagreement when in reality they are not. It is important to define our terms so we know exactly what we are talking about. The selfish perspective that we are looking at as the cause of so much preventable suffering is not self-interest, self-respect, or self-esteem. These are all vital to good mental health. We are looking at that perspective on life that is self-centered to the exclusion of others. A person with this perspective makes decisions and takes actions based solely on what is good for him or her regardless of the consequences for others.
The drug dealer, for example, has no concern about the destroyed brains and lives of his victims. All he sees is the growing bank account in his name. Self-interest is all he can see. It is this exclusive nature of his view point that makes it so evil, and the cause of so much pain. The druggist, no doubt, enjoys seeing his bank account rise as well, and he has an interest in people using drugs for the sake of his own benefit. But he is respected because his perspective takes in the interest of others. He dispenses drugs, not for his own interest exclusively, but for the benefit of all who use them. This broadened perspective makes all the difference in the world. He is concerned about himself, but not only himself. He has to have great concern for all those he serves so as to be careful and accurate for their sake.
The Prodigal Son was seeing life from the selfish perspective when he took his inheritance and left home. He cared only for his own pleasure, and nothing for the dream of his father. When he came back home he was still being motivated by self-interest. He hated eating with the pigs, and living in poverty, when his father's servants lived like kings in comparison. He came home for his own good, and nobody condemns him for that. His self-interest was a part of the virtue that brought him home. But it was no longer like that pure selfishness that led him away. Now he saw life from the father's perspective as well, and that broadened perspective led to his salvation. C. Moore Hunt wrote this word for the Prodigal:
It isn't that the way back
Is any longer.
The mode of transportation is different.
Walking toward the father's house
You see things you didn't notice
On galloping away.
In other words, the Prodigal had a changed perspective. He left with the selfish perspective, but he came back recognizing he had sinned against heaven and his father. He felt unworthy to be his son, and asked to be treated as one of the hired servants. He now is grateful for what he had, and hopes to get at least a portion of it back. He now knew he was responsible to God and to his family. He is now even willing to suffer and sacrifice his rights as a son in order to be restored to fellowship. His selfish perspective caused great pain and suffering that was unnecessary, but his sacrificial perspective is now leading him to his greatest joys. He is now willing to be part of a team, and part of the family, where he will pitch in and do his part for the benefit of the whole family.
Selfishness says all others exist only for me. The sacrificial perspective says we exist for each other, and must be willing to suffer personal loss for the sake of the goals of the whole. This is the foundation for patriotism that sends a man off to lose his own life that his nation and family might live. This is the foundation for all Christian service. We give up personal pleasure and satisfaction in order to enrich others lives that would not be enriched if we did not sacrifice personal comfort. Let's look at this opposite of the selfish perspective, and see how it changes all of life, and helps us be those who prevent suffering.
II. THE SACRIFICIAL PERSPECTIVE.
By sacrificial it is not meant the giving up of one's life for others. Jesus did that for us, it is true, and he said greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for a friend. That is indeed a sacrificial perspective, but we do not want to focus on that, for it is seldom to never we are called upon to give our life for others. What Paul is getting at in this text is that we move from the selfish to the sacrificial perspective by simply letting others share in our concern. In other words, they get on our agenda, and we look at their interests as well as our own. It is a call to a broader perspective. Selfishness does not care about the interests of others. It focuses on the self only. To give up this focus at all is to sacrifice some time, energy, thought, and possibly even some resources for the needs of others.
This may seem like a waste to the selfish person, but the Bible says those who strive to avoid such so-called waste lose their life, and they waste the opportunity to be channels of God's love in the world, and that is life's biggest and saddest waste. We are called to lose our life and thereby save it by sacrificing some of our time, energy, and resources to care for others. This is not waste, but that which gives us worth. The very essence of Christian living is the sacrificing of some aspect of our life for the sake of others. That is what love is. It is the sacrifice of the self for the sake of the other. Paul says in I Cor. 13:5, "Love does not insist on its own way." That is the same as saying that love is not selfish, but it is sacrificial.
We all do this to some degree right along. We have to sacrifice some of our life for the sake of our mates, children, and friends. This often does not seem sacrificial, for there is so much pleasure gained by this sacrifice. We need to recognize that sacrifice does not need to be a negative experience. Love is sacrificial, but it is also the most enjoyable experience of life. But sacrifice can be very hard when we are called upon to look at the interest of others, and not insist on our way.
The teaching of the Bible and the lessons of history make it clear that it is a virtue to compromise one's conviction when that conviction is not a matter of biblical revelation. In other words, it is not wrong to be flexible, and to cooperate with an opponent on issues of human opinion. When the father's of our nation met in Richmond, Virginia to debate whether or not to adopt the Constitution, there were radical differences of opinion among great men. For three weeks the debate went on, and almost every day Patrick Henry spoke against the adoption. This great patriot feared it would lead us into monarchy.
He said, "You will sip sorrow if you give away your rights....It squints toward monarchy. Your president may easily become king...He will be a man of ambition and abilities; how easy for him to render himself absolute....We shall have a king." He carried a lot of weight, and so when the vote was taken it only carried by ten votes. This ten vote majority agreed with Washington that the 13 states had to become one nation. It was the first time Patrick Henry ever lost. His convictions were deep, and he fought for all he was worth, but when the vote went against him he did not stomp out in stubborn defiance. He compromise and said that we must give the Constitution a fair chance. His flexible spirit of cooperation lead the majority to move in his direction and support the addition of the Bill Of Rights to protect against the very things he feared. Stubbornness could have led to the disunited states, but cooperative compromise led to the United States. Henry had the sacrificial perspective on life. He had to give up a lot of self to take on the interests of others.
There are times to be stubborn and uncompromisingly committed to your convictions. Thank God Jesus did not respond when He was challenged to come down from the cross. He stubbornly persisted in laying down His life for our salvation. Compromise would have been the most colossal curse to mankind. When we know the will of God, we dare not deviate and compromise His will with that of the world. But even the highest of convictions which are only human can be, and ought to be, compromise when by so doing we can obey God and live peaceably with all men as far as it lies within our power to do so. Even had it turned out that Patrick Henry was right, and the Constitution led to a monarchy, he was still right to have given it a chance rather than to stubbornly rebel and destroy any hope of its working.
Few men in the history of our nation have had deeper convictions then Robert E. Lee. He was convinced this nation should be divided and become two, with one nation free to have slaves. He was a handsome, brave, charming, and clever leader who had never failed in anything. He was a born winner. But as he led the South in war against the North he lost for the first time in his noble career. Men came to Lee after their defeat and said, "Let's not except this result as final. Let's keep our anger alive. Let's be grim and unconvinced, and wear our bitterness like a medal. You can be our leader in this." Here was an offer to be stubborn to the end, but Lee shook his head and said, "Abandon your animosities and make your sons Americans."
He became the president of a small college of 40 students. He had commanded thousands of young men in battle, but now he wanted to prepare a few hundred for the duties of peace. He showed the nation how a born winner could lose, and because of his submission and cooperative spirit he became a hero even in the North. He lost the war, but he won immortality in American history because he refused to follow the way of the stubborn who insist on their own way.
These men represent what we mean by the sacrificial perspective on life. It is a way of looking at life that does not demand that others see it my way or else. It is a way of looking at life that is willing to bend over backwards to try and see why people think and act so different from you. It is a striving to look at what does not interest you to figure out why it is of such interest to others. It is a willingness to say that maybe I am not the center of the universe, and maybe all of my convictions are not the final and ultimate word on the issues of life. No man can do this easily. It hurts, and it calls for a sacrifice of some aspects of one's self-love. You have to give up the same thing Jesus had to give up. He had to give up equality with the Father. The selfish perspective on life implies that we to are equal with God. We need to give up this illusion, and, like Jesus, humble ourselves and sacrifice some of this self for the sake of serving others.