Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4
My wife and I do not hesitate to consider the needs of our children as more important than ours. Indeed, most parents sacrifice for their children. Some parents would rather not eat so their children can eat. Many parents make sure their children have good clothes, the latest electronics, and live as comfortably as possible while their needs are de-prioritized.
What does it mean to consider others more important than ourselves? That does not seem logical in the “me first” world we live in. Indeed, it is very challenging to consider others more important than ourselves when some of the others are using their false sense of superiority to devalue the dignity of others.
Such teaching is very challenging for someone like me, who has been the victim of racism because of my race and ethnicity. How do we practice such teaching when we are passed over for a promotion, or deny access to certain places, or profiled by the police while shopping or driving, or denied the right to buy real estate in certain neighborhoods, as is the reality for a majority of people of color? Is it even existentially responsible to consider some who already think they are superior to most, as more important than ourselves?
Paul had the same challenge in his time that we do in ours. As he was writing this letter to the Philippians, he was under house arrest because the religious leaders said that he was an embarrassment to the Jewish faith for desecrating the temple by bringing a Gentile in the sacred worship space of the Jews. Jesus died on the cross because he considered wretched sinners like us more important than himself.
The apostle Paul teaches us that the spiritual wellbeing of others is more important than our comfort, and our personal wellbeing. He was writing to encourage other Christians that were free and experiencing a better quality of life than he was. Paul was more concerned about the way the Philippians were practicing their faith and living the Christian life than his own quality of life.
That does not mean Paul was only writing sweet nothings to the Philippians. He exhorted them to live a life worthy of the gospel. Paul was a stern spiritual disciplinarian who expected Christians to imitate God. His standard was very high, indeed.
To consider others more important than ourselves does not mean we remain silent against injustice and inequality. Jesus criticized and rebuked the Jewish religious leaders of his day. Yet he died for their salvation because he considered their spiritual needs as more important than his physical life. In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul demanded that the church excommunicated one of its members who was having an affair with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1-12).
When we invest our financial resources to go on mission trips in foreign countries so we can share the good news of the gospel with others, or use our talents as medical doctors, or engineers, or agronomists, or linguists, we are considering others more important than ourselves. When we respond to racism with love, or to personal attacks with grace, we are considering others as more important than ourselves. When we give back to those who will never show gratitude, or sacrifice so a student can go to college, we are considering others as more important than ourselves.
In Philippians 2:4, Paul says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.” Considering others more important than ourselves does not mean we deny or neglect our own needs. We must look to our own interests. However, we should not do so the detriment of the interests of others. It is not okay to live in prosperity and abundance as others are struggling to make ends meet. Whether black or white or Asian or Hispanic, upper class, or middle class, we have to take a stand against racism and the abject poverty that defines the lives of the poor in America and our world. Many of us have to consider the socio-economic struggles of the marginalized as more important than our membership in our golf or tennis , or other social clubs.
Prayer- Blessed Lord, May the rich look to the interests of the poor and working. May those in the racial majority look to the interests of those in the racial minority in this country.