Do nothing from selfishness of 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. - Vs 3-4
Maybe it's an ego problem, but I keep wanting to read Paul's letters as if they were written to me alone. Like he was my best friend writing to encourage me while I was away at camp. So I tend to read them from a self-centered perspective and forget the fact that he was writing to a group of people who were probably hearing his letter read out loud to them as they met together for fellowship. If I read chapter two with that group context in mind, it changes the message for me. It reminds me of Paul's obsession with living out the power of the gospel in the context of community.
In verse 2 he tells them to make his joy complete by "being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." Listen to that same verse from the New Living Translation: "Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose." Paul's joy was focused on the believers in Philippi having a unity of heart and purpose motivated by a genuine love for one another. Paul wasn't interested in raising up individual believers with their own personal agendas and spiritual growth plans. He wanted to see a local body of believers who were living out their faith in loving community. It is as if Paul was saying, "You want to make me happy? Then get along!" It's the same thing I say to my kids whenever they ask me what I want for Christmas or my birthday. I always say the same thing. "I just want me kids to love one another." They always roll their eyes and say, "Come on Dad, be serious. What do you really want?" But what they don't understand is that is exactly what I want. Their love for one another is my greatest desire. Paul felt the same way. And he knew what was the greatest roadblock to this kind of community. He names it in verses 3-4.
Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.
Selfishness. Self-centeredness. Individualism. Pride. Wanting things your own way. Having your own personal agenda and demanding that everyone else follow it. Thinking of yourself as more important than anyone else around you. Paul knew all it would take is one person with this kind of attitude to destroy any sense of community in the body of believers at Philippi. There was no room for selfishness or self-centeredness. No one had the right to consider himself or herself better or more important than anyone else. In fact, they weren't to consider themselves at all. Instead, they were to have an attitude of humility. Some say that humility is thinking less of yourself. No, humility is not thinking of yourself at all. It is not a belittling of yourself or lowering your estimation of your own self worth. To do those things you would have to spend precious time thinking about yourself. Paul seems to be saying, stop thinking about yourself so much and start thinking about others. The truth is, we think way too much about ourselves and of ourselves. It's a "the-world-revolves-around-me" mentality that is a cancer that will destroy and sense of community, whether in a family, a small group, a Bible study, or a local body of believers.
So Paul says, "have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." In other words, he is saying they should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. And so should we. An attitude of humility, selflessness, sacrifice, servanthood, and love that puts self so far in the background that it is willing to see self die in order to put the needs of others first.
Paul goes on to say, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Vs 12-13). Paul is talking to the "beloved" – the body. He seems to be addressing the group, not the individual. God is at work among them. He wants them to individually and corporately to be extra careful to put into action God’s saving work in their lives. Why? So that they will be "blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach" (Vs 15). Their unity and love will make them stand out like bright shining lights in the midst of a "crooked and perverse generation."
Isn't that what our world is dying to see? Our lives shining like a bright light in the darkness? But they won't see it if we are all living for ourselves, selfishly focusing on our own individual needs and concerns. When we live like that, we are no different than the world. God has called us to imitate His Son. To live lives of humility and self-sacrifice. To love others more than we love ourselves. To be willing to give rather than get. To serve rather than be served. To die to self and live for the sake of others. To be willing to be "poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service" of one another's faith (Vs 17). What a difference that kind of attitude would make in our churches, our homes, and in our community.
Father, you have called us to live in a way that is so foreign to our natural inclinations. My flesh doesn't want to die. I want to be the center of my own little world. But You are calling me to die daily. I know I don't have the power to do that in and of myself, but with the help of Your Holy Spirit, I can put that selfish, self-centered part of me to death and live for the sake of others. Show me how to do that even today. Amen