By Pastor Glenn Pease
William Stidger, the great preacher, was in France during World War I, and he visited the city of Marseilles where he saw the aqueduct that all visitors are guided to see. The story of this source of water to the city goes back to the old man who became known as the miser of Marseilles. He walked the streets saving every piece of junk he could find, and he hoarded his money. He was hated, for he was considered the freak of the community. He was so despised that when he died there was only one person at his funeral. What a shock it was to all when his will was read and made public. Let me share what it said.
"From my infancy I noticed that the poor people of Marseilles
had great difficulty in getting water. I noticed that water the
gift of God, was very dear and difficult to obtain. And when
they could get that water, it was not as pure and clean as God
intended it to be. Therefore I vowed before God that I would live but for one purpose, for one end. I would save money, money, money;that I might give it to the city on one condition: That an aqueduct be built to bring fresh, pure water from yonder lakein the hills to Marseilles. That I now make possible by leavingall my hoarded wealth to this city. This is my last will and
The people have now had pure water for decades because of a man who thought not only of his own interest, but of the interest of others. Like Jesus, he became despised and rejected of men that he might provide for them the water of life. Let's face it, there is not a lot of this going around, but Paul writes to the Philippian Christians and implies this is to be a part of the normal Christian life. This is not for super-duper saints, but for every member of the body of Christ.
To be a Christian is to be Christlike, and that means to be self-sacrificing rather than self-centered. This is not a popular message in a culture where self-centeredness is the essence of the cultural religion. All through history Christianity has been corrupted by taking on the flavor of the popular religions in its environment, just as Israel did all through its history. There is nothing new under the sun, and so the process continues, and all of us are affected by it. Our Christian faith and values are always being flavored by the culture. It is so subtle that we do not even realize it, and that is why the Bible often has to be so radical to jar us awake to the fact that we are to be different from the world.
The Christlike life is no easy mark to hit. We have to go against the grain of culture, and our own natural tendencies to even get close. It is no big deal to be religious. You can do that with a minimum of effort and nearly no sacrifice. Paul is not challenging anybody to be religious, but to be like Christ, and to do this we have to face up honestly to the problem and the solution. First look at:
I. THE PROBLEM.
Verse 3 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit." This is a good verse to illustrate how you can prove anything from the Bible by taking its words out of context. Paul actually says, "Do nothing." If you stop there and do not finish the sentence, that becomes the message, "Do nothing." All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Yet Paul says, "Do nothing." You can see how easy it is to pervert the Word of God, and anyone else's words if you take them out of context. It is done all the time, and you have a responsibility to make sure of the context before you judge another's words. This is especially true if you hear them from a critic, for critics love to quote out of context.
Paul is not saying that we are to do nothing. He is saying that we are to do nothing with these two most popular motives of the world: Selfish ambition and vain conceit. The word for selfish ambition refers to the strive and quarreling Christians go through because they want their own way. In other words, it is fighting for my perspective without concern for the rest of the body. This self-centered perspective, where the only goal is self-satisfaction, not the welfare of the body, is a major problem. Where is exists Christ likeness does not exist.
When you read of Christians being terrible to each other, and splitting a church over the color of the carpet or some such minor issue, that is not a failure of Christianity, for there is no Christianity there. That is not Christianity failing. It is the lack of Christianity that is failing. That is the problem that Christians can still function on a non-Christian level, and cling to their self-centered perspective regardless of who gets hurt.
Jesus was equal with the Father, but He did not cling to that equality, but gave up His right to be above all the folly and pain of a fallen world. He came into it to suffer and die for us and all mankind. If Jesus would have been self-centered, we never would have heard of the Gospel. The incarnation would not even be in our imagination, for selfishness would have made it inconceivable. Everything we have in Christ is due to His not having selfish ambition. But unfortunately not all Christians have this selfless spirit, and no Christian has it always.
We fight a constant tendency to be self-centered. That is why authentic Christianity is rare. It is not that we don't all succeed daily, but the goal is a life time of being Christlike. It is hard because Christians are in the same culture as the world that says success at any price. This means that Christians too have to fight for success, and this often involved putting others down to raise self up. There are Christian leaders who get their egos built up by tearing Billy Graham down. I know some very godly men whom God has blessed who would not set on the same platform with Billy Graham. They would not attend one of his crusades, nor pray for his success in leading people to Christ.
If these things were not possible for true Christians to do, Paul would not be wasting his time telling Christians not to do it. Of course, Christians can be self-centered and fight other Christians for their share of fame, honor, and contributions. It is part of the Christian world, but it is not Christlike. When your non-Christian friends are critical of Christians, do not defend these brothers at that point, but admit that it is so that Christians are far short of the mark. But point out that Christianity is not based on Christians, but on Christ, and He is the Savior and the giver of eternal life. The church and Christians cannot save anyone, but only Christ can. Christians are just saved sinners who are supposed to be working all their life at becoming sanctified sinners. This means they are sinning less and less and learning more and more about how to be truly Christlike.
To reject Christ because of poor Christians is as foolish as not drinking good milk because some milk is sour. It is to not eat good fruit because some fruit is rotten. It is to not buy a car because some cars are lemons. Imperfect examples never stop people from seeking for good examples of any product, and that is to be the same approach to the Christian faith. Christians will fail everywhere, but Jesus does not, and neither do many of His mature disciples. If people reject Jesus because of poor examples, it is like sitting in the dark because some light bulbs do not work. It is folly.
Christian pride and selfishness is a problem, but it is never a valid excuse for anyone to reject Christ, for He is not a problem. He is always the answer. Nevertheless, if Christians were more Christlike and less selfish, it would eliminate a major excuse people have for rejecting the Christian faith. Selfish ambition and vain conceit in Christians are major turn offs for the world. The world thrives on these things, but they know they are inappropriate for Christians who profess to follow Jesus.
George Nathan represents the typical worldly perspective when he writes, "To me pleasure and my own personal happiness-only infrequently collaborating with that of others-are all I deem worth a hoot....As a matter of fact, the happiness and welfare of mankind are not my profession; I am perfectly willing to leave them to the care of the professional missionaries of one sort or another; I have all that I can do to look out for my own happiness and welfare...."
Nobody is shocked when a worldly person canveys this philosophy of life. It is what should be expected. But when a believer is this self-centered it becomes an offense even to the non-believer, for self-centeredness is a form of idolatry. From a Jewish point of view Lawrence Kushner says that the essense of idolatry is thinking you are better than other people. He quotes Menachem Mendl who says, "The great hazard is that one will be filled with himself or herself, with conceit, with self-satisfaction, feelings which are nothing less than idol-worship...." Then he adds, "The prohibition against idolatry, ineffect, also prohibits egotism, self-centeredness at the expense of someone else. Self-centeredness at the expense of someone else is the root of being a mean person. Therefore, the prohibition against worshiping idols is just a fancy theological way of saying, don't be self-centered."
A self-centered person cannot be a good Jew or a good Christian, or a good person in any religion, for self-centeredness is basically a denial of God, and a worship of the self as God. Jesus was God, but He could not be a good God if He was self-centered. Had He been such He would not have left His glory and eternal power to come into human life and endure the pain of its fallenness. You can't even be a good God, let alone a good human, if you are self-centered. God is love and that means He had to consider the interest of His creatures, and plan a merciful way of saving them from the consequences of the free will He gave them. Love has to sacrifice self, and give self for others, or it ceases to be love.
So we see that the greatest problem in the universe is selfishness, which is the same thing as pride, or another way of saying it: It is the lack of love. This is where all sin and all evil have their origin. Every problem can be traced to this cause. But because God is love there is an answer, or a solution, to every problem. Let's look at the solution.
II. THE SOLUTION.
How do we counter-act the natural tendency to compete and rise above others in conceit and pride, and use them for our selfish ambitions? Paul says in verse 3, "In humility consider others better than yourselves." In verse 4 he says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others." These are not things you are going to hear in seminars on how to succeed and get ahead in our culture. You have got to have a self-centered focus to do that. Paul is telling you that you need to recognize the value of other people, and that their perspective is not only valid, but worthy of your consideration.
This is pure heresy in the world of self-assertion. You will never get to first base if you do not think you are number one, and if you waste your time caring about other people's interests. This whole Christian philosophy of being Christlike throws a damper on much that we take for granted as a valid part of our way of life. It is hard to be a Christian when you start taking passages like this seriously. The goal of most Christians fits our cultural values more than the values Paul speaks of here. The self-centered Christian tends to think like this: My goal is to be better than other Christians so I can be admired as such, just like the Pharisees. I want to be known as the best teacher, best prayer, best giver, and receive the praise of men. This is the source of all the religious pride Jesus blasted in the Pharisees.
Paul says we are to see others better than ourselves. This is the essence of humility. It is the ability to say it and mean it, that others are just as valuable as we are. Their lives, their time, their interests, are just as worthy as mine. Chuck Swindoll in his book Laugh Again asks the question, "What is the most Christlike attitude on earth? He says that some will say love, others patience, and still others will say grace. These are all good choices, but then he writes, "As important as those traits may be, however, they are not the ones Jesus Himself referred to when He described Himself for the only time in Scripture. I am thinking of those familiar words: "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light." Matt. 11:28-30.
"Did you catch the key words? "I am gentle and humble in heart," which might best be summed up in one word unselfish. According to Jesus' testimony, that is the most Christlike attitude we can demonstrate. Because He was so humble-so unselfish-the last person He thought of was Himself."
Jesus thought of everyone as worthy of dying for, for He died for the sin of the whole world. He put Himself below everyone, and God exalted Him above everyone. He is the greatest example ever of humility and unselfishness. What we need to see is that considering others better than yourself does not mean you have to trick your mind into believing you are inferior to everybody. This would make and inferiority complex the key to being a good Christian. This would be nonsense. Jesus did not have to convince Himself that every sinner in this fallen world was superior to Him. He was the pure and spotless Son of God, and equal with God the Father. He reveals that the greatest and most superior can be humble.
Humility is not intellectual dishonesty, but rather, absolute honesty. Humility is saying that other persons given the gifts, opportunities, love, and guidance I have had, may well have done more for the glory of God than I have. I can look at the sinner, and in pride say, "Thank God I am not such scum." Or I can say, "If that person had all God has blessed me with, he probably would be a better Christian than I am. And if I had all the neglect, trial, and handicaps they have had, I might be a rebel living a godless life that would leave them out of the competition." In other words, humility is just the opposite of pride which takes all the credit for what one is, not recognizing we are mostly what we are by the grace of God. We have not done nearly all we could to capitalize on His grace. Honest self-evaluation will lead us to consider others better than ourselves, even if objectively we measure up as superior, for we know we are far from what we ought to be.
Jesus did not have to think this way, for He was perfect and without sin. But you do not see Him flaunting His perfection in the face of sinners. He treated them as people of worth. Look at how He treated Zacchaeus. He did not say, "You sniviling little twerp and rip-off artist. You should be hung up on that tree for your crimes." That is how the Pharisees would treat him, and snear at him. But Jesus treated him like a superior and said in effect: "I have no place to invite you, but you can have me to your place for supper. I would like to be your guest."
Nobody would dream of making Zacchaeus their host, but Jesus did. That is humility. Jesus treated him like a valued person, and he repented of his ways, and chose to become an honest man in his financial dealing with others. Treat people like dirt, and they will treat others the same way. Treat them as diamonds, and they will treat others as gems too. Consider others better than yourself, and they will consider you better than themselves. If you look down your nose at others and make it clear you think they are inferior, they will feel superior to you, and despise you for your pride and arrogance.
The reason Jesus is the universal person is because He never treated anyone as inferior. He treated sinners as people worthy of His friendship. Children were welcome to come to Him. Women, be they pure or prostitutes, were treated with respect and compassion. Publicans were called to follow Him. He even ate with the hated Pharisees. There was not a proud or prejudiced bone in the body of our Lord. He loved all people, and treated them with dignity. Jesus was not the perfect man just because He never did any evil. He was perfect because He always did what was good.
He took an interest in every person who crossed His path. He never asked if it was politically correct to associate with Publicans. He never asked if it was culturally correct to associate with a Samaritan woman. He never asked if it was ethically correct to associate with the Pharisees. He never asked if it was morally correct to associate with fallen women. He never asked if it was socially correct to associate with lepers. He never asked if it was intellectually correct to associate with children. Jesus had none of the pride that leads to discrimination, but in humility He loved and accepted all people.
To achieve this level of Christ likeness Paul says we need to consider others better than ourselves, for as soon as we even think we are better than anyone else we have established a basis for discrimination. If I am better than blacks, Mexicans, or Orientals, why should I stoop to associate with them? They should climb to associate with me. This is the kind of pride that hinders the unity of Christians all over the world.
The solution to all the evils of human pride is in Christlike humility. If you are involved in any relationship that is not going well, and there is failure and frustration, try some self-examination in the light of this passage. Edward Biederdolf put it in poetry:
When you're criticizing others and finding here and there,
A fault or two to speak of or a weakness you can tear;
When you're blaming someone's meanness or accusing some of pelf,
It's time that you went out to take a walk around yourself.
There's a lot of human failures in the average of us all,
And lot's of grave short comings in the short ones and the tall;
But when we think of evils men should lay upon the shelves,
It's time we all went out to take a walk around ourselves.
We need so often in this life the balancing of scales,
This seening in us how much wins and how much in us fails;
But before you judge another-just to lay him on the shelf-
It would be a splendid plan to take a walk around yourself.
Look at yourself and ask, do I treat others better than myself? Do I have respect, and give them a sense of worth and dignity? Do I take an equal concern in their interests as I do in my own? Every relationship would improve radically if Paul's words were taken seriously and applied. Do you want to be a mediator between labor and management? Do you want to be a marriage counselor? Do you want to settle disputes of all kinds? You do not need to go to school and study for years. You need only to persuade people to read and heed these words of Paul. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
There is no school on the planet that can teach you a better solution to life's conflicts. Having this Christlike attitude does not solve every conflict and problem, for Jesus still had people reject Him and walk away. Nobody wins them all, but this spirit will save you a lot of unnecessary internal conflict, even if it does not win an opponent.
Dr. David Schwartz tells of his experience in a Memphis hotel. The clerk was busy checking people in, and one fellow came to the desk and asked for his room. "Yes sir Mr. R," the clerk said. "We have a fine single for you." "Single!" he shouted. "I ordered a double." "Let me check sir," the clerk said politely. He pulled out the reservation file and said, "I'm sorry sir, your telegram specified a single. I'd be happy to put you in a double, but there are none available." The irate customer shouted, "I don't care what that blankety blank paper says, I want a double." He began to threaten the clerk. "I'll get you fired," he shouted as he headed for the door, "I wouldn't stay in this hotel anyway."
Dr. Schwartz stepped up to the clerk and said, "I certainly admired the way you handled yourself. You have marvelous temper control. "Well, sir," the clerk replied, "I really can't get mad at a fellow like that. You see, he really isn't mad at me. I was just a scapegoat. The poor fellow may be in bad trouble with his wife, or his business may be off. I'm just the guy who gave him a chance to get something out of his system. Underneath he's probably a very nice guy."
The clerk may be right, but even if he isn't, and this guy is a perpetual jerk going through life making people miserable, the clerk prevented himself from becoming a combatant and making the conflict spread. His attitude confined the problem so it did not spill over and damage other relationships. The point is, this solution works whether the other person is a jerk or a gem. Humility always comes out a winner over pride. If you want to be part of the answer, and not part of the problem, counteract Christless pride with Christlike humility.