By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Philippians 2.1-11
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the letter of Philippians in conjunction with this article.
We are blessed with a nation that has so much consumer freedom and liberty that sometimes its masks other problematic areas within our culture. Yet, it does not require a lengthy in-depth investigation to reveal issues that stir proper concern. But if there is one area that we should take careful note of it seems to be the incessant endorsement and promotion of self. Self is important. In fact, the reality of self is addressed with Scriptures, but the difference between our culture and the Scriptures is the orientation of self, and what one does with self.
The Confrontation of Self
While America is certainly an outgrowth of the country’s battle for independence, our current cultural environment seems to have adopted the notion that self is the center of life. Our society is embroiled in a battle of whether or not all persons can truly “have it your way” and proudly proclaim, “I did it my way”. On the surface those platitudes sound wonderful, but the application and full acceptance of that philosophy brings a culture to the situation we are in: millions are concerned only with their own identity (self) to the exclusion of the remainder of society. Our nation is so filled with self-gratification and self-satisfaction that self-denial and self-sacrifice seem almost non-existent. Yet we, as disciples, live in this culture and culture influences the church, unless the saints actively work against the wrong cultural idea of self. This correct focus of self is Paul’s primary concern in Philippians 2.1-11.
The Definition of Self
In Philippians 2.1-2 Paul asked the brethren to consider four items: Christ, love, fellowship, and mercy and to use those items to demonstrate harmony of thinking and agreement of sentiment. With these in mind, Paul encourages each of the brethren to sacrifice for the betterment of the community of believers. He wants their community of saints to be free of contention and selfish conceit (2.3a). He wants them to strengthen each other by regarding each brother and sister better than self (2.3b). He wants each believer to be focus on the needs of others, instead of the needs of self (2.4). And Paul wants each to be self-sacrificing, willing to serve others instead of serving self (2.5-11).
The Examination of Self
Paul’s message stands in contrast to our current environment. We are fiercely independent and do many things alone. We surf the Internet by our self. We text message alone. We eat alone. We conquer problems of life alone. We live within a house with parents and siblings, but live alone. Because we are an “army of one”. Is it any wonder that we cry alone?
When good things come our way it’s because of individual efforts. When bad things come our way it is because of someone else’s fault because I, as an individual, cannot be wrong. After all the “consumer is always right”. Independence has so invaded our spiritual life that while we worship with our brethren, we are still alone. We live almost completely separated lives from our “brethren”. After all, each American has the God-given right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Simply stated, twenty-first century Americans have to be the most isolated activity involved people.
Our nation is filled with communal activities, from watching movies to getting coffee. Yet at the end of the day, most people have surface-only relationships, and those relationships are primarily used for the fulfillment of self. Is it any wonder that we seem to struggle with depression?
The Actualization of Self
The paradox of living is that in order to truly find one’s self, one has to stop living for one’s self. Unbridled selfishness brings nothing but emptiness and despair. Unbridled selflessness brings fulfillment and joy. But living such a statement is not a philanthropic exercise, it truly is a belief structure built on the principle of giving glory only to one item, and that is to the most encouraging example of unbridled selflessness the world has ever seen – the risen Savior.1
Paul understood this and understood it so well that he encouraged others to follow him as he followed Christ.2 Jesus, the man from Nazareth, was the perfect example of self-sacrifice (unbridled selflessness). Each person wants self-attainment and self-actualization, but true life is a paradox. To really live one must do engage in an individual effort of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Instead to really live is a genuine giving of self for the betterment of all those around you – even when it costs you everything. May we all be blessed in our abilities to sacrifice for each other and our community.
- Matthew 10.39
- I Corinthians 11.1