We are very busy people. Our schedules are always filled. But what fills our schedules? We have goals, ambitions, due dates, and projects that all must be accomplished for our week to run smoothly. One of the greatest dangers to the growth and unity of a church is the problem of self-oriented schedules. When all our time and decisions are based on our own personal preferences and priorities, a church cannot be unified and together. Paul told the Philippians that in order to become unified, they must begin considering others as more significant than themselves. My hope is that we will see how destructive selfish schedules, decisions, and priorities are to the Lord’s work. Considering each other with greater importance is a theme that defines the life of Christ and leads the path to growing and unified churches.
Minds: Unified (2:1-2)
Notice Paul’s exhortation to selflessness in Philippians 2:3-4. Why are we supposed to put others interests before ourselves? The world tells us this isn’t smart. If you put other people first, people will take advantage of you. Worry about yourself. Make your life fit your dreams. Have your “me” time. Notice the reason for this command given in verses 1-2.
The reason why Paul commands them count others more important than ourselves is for the sake of unity. Paul is telling them to consider how Christ brought them into this great family to experience encouragement, comfort, love, and fellowship. If a family will not treat each other’s needs as more important than their own, then the family doesn’t fulfill its purpose.
In order to strengthen this unity and togetherness, Paul desires them to be so close that they are of the same mind. “Be of the same mind” can literally mean “think the same thing” or “mind the same thing.” If we should be described like this, Paul is expecting a lot. But what does this look like? Listen to the picture of unity Paul gives in 1:27-28, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that… I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”Unity isn’t accomplished by merely avoiding rifts. Paul describes a people unified in purpose and action. They have discussed how to form the ranks and put their differences in opinion aside because of the great importance of the purpose. They march with purpose and unity against Satan and his followers; they search with unified purpose for the salvation and strengthening of the wounded and lost.
Minds: Toward Others (2:3-4)
When Paul pleads for their church to be united, he does this by telling them to treat one another with greater importance. But how can we treat each other’s needs as more important than our own? Paul identifies selfish ambition and conceit as the problem. A congregation cannot move uniformly in the same direction when members conceitedly overvalue their own personal pursuits. Instead of treating one another with humility, conceit causes each member to have a prideful view of themselves. Instead of making decisions with selfless motives, members are instead disinterested in the wellbeing of others as selfish ambition fills their lives. Churches will not fulfill their purpose by default. Churches are made up of people and when the each person isn’t actively pursuing the growth of others and Christ’s purposes for a church, the congregation is dead in the water. Instead, everyone pulls the congregation in their own personal direction.
Paul’s answer to the Philippian congregation is given in verses 3-4, “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”We all understand that we each have goals and lists to complete and decisions to make. But Paul is warning us to not let these interests consume our lives. This is a call for an entirely new way of thinking. Paul is calling for complete transformation and a complete priority change. I am no longer thinking about myself first. Dr. Phil tells us that we have to help ourselves before we help others. This is not what Paul says and it is not how a church functions. Pursuing our own wellbeing and making decisions based on our own preferences only blinds us to the needs of others. No longer should our lives, priorities, health, and happiness take precedence over others. Our needs should no longer be a great concern. In Christ we will have unity and strength when we begin looking to others needs. Man’s wisdom says, “You need me time” and “Do something for yourself today.” God’s wisdom tells us to be acutely aware of and concerned with the needs and weaknesses of each other. Man’s wisdom says, “You have the right to life, liberty and happiness”; God’s wisdom tells us that the life, wellbeing, and happiness of others is to be accomplished at the sacrifice of our own.
Minds: Like Christ’s (2:5-8)
Why would we make this kind of sacrifice? How can Paul call for this type of sacrifice? Certainly Christ doesn’t want us to seek others’ needs to the extent that our pursuits are neglected! Paul now provides Christ as the perfect example so that we fully understand how to count others as more significant than ourselves. Christ shows us what this type of sacrifice looks like. Notice verses 5-8.
Though Christ is the greatest of all beings, he did not consider himself above service. Instead, Christ defines service, humility, and selflessness. He is God in every way, but did not count his deity as a thing to be held onto for his own advantage. He was clothed with the glory of God, but emptied himself by putting on human flesh with all the pain and toil humanity includes. He left his throne to be born into a poor family. He was a king, but he worked as a carpenter. He was surrounded with the praise and adoration of heavenly beings, but came to earth to be hated by the ones he served. He embodied love and purity, but he was crucified as a criminal. Nothing was too much for him to sacrifice. He laid down his entire life.
Why did Christ do this? He saw us in our weakness and infirmities and valued our redemption instead of his throne in heaven. Instead of valuing his comfort, he prioritized our salvation. Instead of valuing his life, he emptied himself and died to give us life. He was so unconcerned with his own well being that on the cross he cried out for the forgiveness of the ones who slaughtered him without mercy. We became the center of his life and time on the cross. Serving himself was not an option. Our salvation was too important to him. We know our Lord is more important than us; however, he counted us more significant than himself through the cross.
Minds: Like Timothy, Epaphroditus, & Paul (2:5-8)
It is impossible for us to have a perfect response to this kind of love. There is nothing we can do to pay it back. It is amazing that Paul tells us that we can strive to have the same mind as Christ did on the cross. Like little children who imitate a superhero, we fall short of the true reality. But Philippians goes on to show how people respond to what Christ did on the cross. Their lives became tributes to his example.
Notice in Philippians 2:19-22 how Timothy sacrificed his interests because of what Christ did for him. Timothy emulated Christ’s example and didn’t care for his own interests. Paul was sure that he would genuinely care for the Philippian congregation. Genuine. Timothy wasn’t a fake. He would genuinely value the Philippians more than himself. Paul didn’t have the same confidence in others. We could use many young men like him. Does Paul really mean that Timothy wasn’t following the youthful path by spending his time living for himself, travelling the world, and stashing his riches? No, Timothy cared too much for souls to spend his time selfishly.
Notice how Paul uses Epaphroditus as an example in Philippians 2:25-30. I wonder what occupation Epaphroditus normally worked. Regardless, the Philippians needed someone to carry their gift to Paul and Epaphroditus dropped everything to meet what was lacking. Though he became ill to the point of death, he valued the work of Christ and Paul’s wellbeing more than his own health. Paul praises the sacrifice of personal health for others good and calls all to emulate him.
Paul himself emulates a Christ-like care for others. In Philippians 1:23 Paul expresses that his personal desire is to die so that he will be with Christ. Paul had experienced beatings and imprisonments for years. It was time for him to go home. But instead of thinking only of himself, notice what he says in 1:24-26. If Paul only considered himself, his dilemma would be easily answered. Die to be with Christ! Paul was so concerned about the faith and growth of other Christians that he knew he must choose to live in order to strengthen them. Paul’s ambitious selflessness caused him to choose others’ needs above a quicker trip to Heaven.
Counting Others More Significant
Christ, Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus all show us what it is like to count others as more significant than ourselves. Talking about valuing others more than ourselves is much easier said than done. It requires us to consistently correct our attitudes and decisions that slip into selfish ways of thinking. We will not be perfect, but as we further study Christ’s love we will be further motivated to follow his example of treating others with greater importance. As we apply Paul’s words to our lives, I want us to consider how Christ’s sacrifice changes the way we value other people.
Christ emptied himself when he went from King of kings to carpenter to sacrifice on a cross. As we struggle to sacrifice our own pursuits and needs for others, we should consider the relative value of our lives in comparison to the value of Christ’s life. The question the world asks is, “How much is too much to sacrifice for another?” 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”There is no question that Christ is the most important and most glorious; when the King of kings gave up his life, he answered with an infinite value. What is the worth of our evenings, weekends, and time in comparison to Christ’s life? Is our time so valuable that it has greater value than Christ’s life? What is the worth of our money, homes, and food in comparison to the life of Christ? Are they of greater value? What is the worth of our sleep, health TV shows, recreational activities, and happiness? What is the worth of our careers, goals, and geographical preferences? Are any of these things really worth so much that they cannot be sacrificed for others? Are they of greater value than Christ’s life? John goes on to say in 1 John 3:17 that if we do not help when we see our brother in need, we do not have God’s love in us.
Paul’s call is for us to sift through our priorities, goals, and schedules and make major adjustments. When we consider how to spend our time and pray about big life decisions, the needs of others must be thought of before our own. In our families this means that fathers need to first consider the needs of their wife and children. Recreation and hobbies do not come before family or the church. Mothers need to pursue the spiritual and physical wellbeing of their children and husband before career pursuits. They also need to show their children what it is like to count others as more significant than themselves. Children need to consider the needs of the household and their church family before their own needs and desires. Children should learn selflessness from a young age! Families need to make decisions based on the needs of other families in the church before they consider their own family. Men, this means that we may be offered an economic boost elsewhere, but our economic desires do not take precedence over the needs of people at church. Whatever best serves others and the work of the Lord must determine our decision. Remember Christ’s example when he demoted himself from King of kings to carpenter to a sacrificial lamb.
If others are more important than us, then we need to remember that Bible classes and community studies are about the growth of others. Our preparation, participation, and attendance to these classes should show that we prioritize the growth of others over our careers and relaxing time. If others are most important, we must make time to study with weaker members and build their faith and incorporate them in the direction of the congregation. Putting others’ needs first means that if there are newlyweds or new parents, experienced couples and parents need to take the time to share their wisdom. Putting others first means that if someone has experienced loss or is struggling alone, our personal schedules should be sacrificed. Work, school, hobbies, and children’s sports are not more important than the stability of our family in Christ. The older generation must stand out as an example for the younger to look up to. College students and young professionals, this means that though the world tells us to center our lives around good grades and a thriving career – the spiritual life of those around you are more important. How tempting it is to believe that we can pass on sacrificing our needs when it comes to school and careers! Putting others first means that even though we may have plenty of friends, we are eternally willing to add to our list of friends in order to meet their needs – not our own. Without these decisions the weak and lonely will be ignored, the sick will be neglected, the poor will be despised, and the needs of Christ for his church will be left alone. How much conceited and selfish mindsets can cripple the work of the Lord!
Paul has called us to put the interests of others ahead of ourselves so that we would have love and unity with one another. A church cannot have this unity if we only see each other for a couple hours per week. These times we get together strengthen us for our fight. This is not the fight. The fight happens outside these walls. Unity starts with a congregation’s shepherds having a vision. Though Christ gives the purpose and direction, the shepherds lead their sheep toward that purpose while protecting from distractions. They serve by guiding resources and members to strengthen each other’s faith and rescue the lost in the world. The members are not half-interested club attendees; they are fully invested in the direction given them by both the Chief shepherd and their human shepherds. They are individually filled with the same purpose that drives the rest of the congregation. They are unified to support one another. They are unified to save the lost world. Community classes, group meetings, small groups in coffee shops, and many other venues support this. The people and purpose are unified when plans to strengthen the weak and serve struggling families culminates in real action. There is no time for gossiping in the hallways, fighting about Bible class curriculum, or holding onto something that happened between families 5 years ago. They are busy with the Lord’s work.
Notice the example of the first Christians in Acts 2:44–47, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” These Christians cared about each other and the church’s growth so much that they met every day to study and eat together. They did not need to be coerced. If we can change our busyness with self to a schedule filled with meeting the needs of others, then this church will begin moving toward true unity. Not a unity that prides itself on a lack of division – but a unity that is founded on the belief that Christ’s needs and others needs are more important than our own. It really is true that others are more important than us. The question is whether or not we will realize it. We must see how Christ gave up everything for us and determine to let his grace drive the same attitude in our own lives.