By Matt Chandler
Monday, October 28, 2013
"For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 2:21).
At The Village Church where I am a pastor, I wear blue jeans and rarely tuck in my shirt, and that kind of outfit seems to be standard issue for most in our church community. We're not trying to make any kind of statement in dressing like that. It's just what we do; it's what we are. We're casual when it comes to our clothes.
But one year, I decided to class myself up a bit for our Christmas Eve service. I went to my closet and found some slacks from a couple of years ago that I could still fit into, and I put on a nice dress shirt. It was red—Christmas-y red. And I tucked it in. Can't say I enjoyed it all that much, but I did it. Just thought I'd dress a little special for this special service. Then I went to church and preached our Christmas Eve services.
The day after Christmas I got an email from a young woman in our congregation—a pretty scathing email essentially calling me a sellout. Her message amounted to this:
I grew up in a church where you had to wear dress clothes every Sunday. You had to wear a suit if you were a man. You had to wear a dress if you were a woman. And all the focus was on our external appearances, and we felt judged if we didn't measure up. It was very superficial and legalistic. And this is one of the things I've loved about attending The Village: how we're free-form and casual and don't try to outdo one another in dressing up. But, Matt, on Christmas Eve you sold out.
I sold out, she said, because I wore nice pants and tucked in my red dress shirt. Can we be honest about what happened here? All this woman did was change the dress code. That's all. She went from rejecting the idea that if you loved the Lord you'd wear suits to accepting the idea that if you loved the Lord you wouldn't. She really just said the same thing the church of her youth told her when she was young, just about a different style of dress.
The reality beneath her irritation was that her hyper-religious and legalistic parents had wounded her heart, and instead of doing business with that wound, she started lashing out at what she perceived to be the enemy. And that is just one example on top of more serious examples. What do we make of it when in a marriage situation one partner says, "This isn't working. I think we need to get help. I think we need to get counseling. I think we need to go see somebody at the church," and their spouse responds with, "No, we're all right. We'll be all right. I'll do better. We'll work it out"?
In both cases, there is a mental and emotional reality at work beneath the words and postures. It is, fundamentally, pride. Pride says, "I have it figured out. I've got this." It's an assertion of independence and self-allegiance and special knowledge, the kind you think you get from forbidden fruit. This phenomenon is what Mary refers to in the Magnificat when she says that God "has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts" (Luke 1:51).
Being locked up in the prison of our own prideful hearts— what a scary thought. This word thoughts in the Greek has more the sense of imagination. God scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. Mary's words foreshadow what Paul writes in Romans 1:21-24:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.
You will find, if you seriously study Scripture, that outside of the idea of hell, there is no more terrifying idea in the Bible than God setting you free to run in the imagination of your heart.
One of the dangerous problems with being stuck in the imagination of our hearts is that we'll never really be able to deal with the sin in our lives because we're always finding its source in other people instead of looking deep into ourselves for the true issue. So what ends up happening is that we start blaming others, justifying ourselves, and living this really weird life where we've got this long, boring story about how everybody's done us wrong. We turn ourselves into martyrs. And all along, we're never able to recognize our own culpability in our sin or our own responsibility to love, forgive, and strive to be at peace with all people as much as possible.
Look, maybe you are the first human being legitimately betrayed by everyone you've ever known. It happens. But it could be that there are some deep heart issues that you need to submit to the Lord. Keep a close watch on your heart, because it is so easy for the proud to get lost in the imagination of their hearts.
May I give you one clue to whether this might be you? Did you just read all that and immediately begin thinking of others who should read it to get straightened out? I don't want to be too bold here—oh, who am I kidding? Sure, I do—but I would just say that if you're thinking right now, Oh, I know who's stuck in the imagination of their heart, then yeah, I think I might know too.
The proud aren't truly seeking the way of Christ because their vision is filled with the self-centered movie playing on the IMAX screen of their darkened hearts.
Sometimes in the evangelical church I get nervous because of the way the Bible talks about rich people. Not because I'm rich but because I'm kind of fond of rich people coming to my church. But the Bible just lays it on really thick: "Hey, rich guy—it's gonna be really difficult, man."
Probably the most famous lines are these:
"Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:23-24).
The Bible says a lot about the dangers of riches, so if you preach the Bible, you end up preaching the dangers of riches quite a bit—and I always feel like people who have done well for themselves always leave church with their tails tucked between their legs. You know, maybe they're getting into their Benz or whatever and just feel ashamed, thinking, I'm sorry I own nice things.
But while the Bible warns us about riches, it doesn't do so because money is itself inherently bad. It's not sinful to be wealthy, in other words. I think the Bible is going after our hearts. And the temptations for people who have money are peculiar, strong temptations. Once you've received a lot of money—whether you earned it, inherited it, or won it—it becomes very easy to believe you deserve that money.
And once you're in entitlement mode, it takes no effort at all to believe you're entitled to more than you currently have. It doesn't have to be money in the mix either; it could be power or respect or anything else to which we feel entitled. And the reason the rich go away empty is because everything they're trying to find fulfillment in, they weren't meant to find fulfillment in.
In Ecclesiastes we find the concept of chasing the wind (or "striving after wind"—1:14). Solomon writes things like, "I threw parties that were so big that we had to kill, you know, a thousand cows just to feed everybody. I threw parties so big that we needed thousands of barrels of wine. And you know what? Vanity. Meaningless. I planted forests and gardens, built houses and temples—you couldn't get more successful than me in business. You know how it ended? Vanity. It's meaningless. I got massages every day. I got the best cook. I had a lot of wives and a lot of concubines. I had more success in every area of life than you will ever have. You know how it ends? Vanity, vanity, it's all vanity."
And the reason the rich so often go away empty is because many of them constantly want more of that which will never fill them. As they're set free to run in the imagination of their prideful hearts, their only option is to keep running. And running. And running and running. Because it's like chasing the wind.
The prophet Isaiah says, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" (Isa. 55:2). We often say things like this:
• If I just get this job, my life will be perfect.
• If I can just get a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a husband or a wife, he or she will complete me.
• If I just make more money, life will be so much easier.
• If I just get this phone, my life will be better.
When we do get what we desire, we find that the goalpost moved. We envision arriving at a particular place of contentment only to find that it's constantly out of our reach. It's a mirage, like an oasis in the desert. We're chasing the wind.
Worse than being released to run on the treadmill of our striving in the prison of our prideful hearts is this: God is opposed to the proud. If you are chasing the wind, God is adamantly against you.
We see this all throughout Scripture:
• Proverbs 6:16-17 says that God hates haughty eyes.
• In Proverbs 8:13, God says, "Pride and arrogance…I hate."
• Proverbs 16:5 says, "Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished."
• James 4:6 says that God opposes the proud.
Are you getting the picture? If you do things out of what Paul calls selfish ambition and conceit, God says, "You are my enemy." "But," God says to the humble in heart, "I'm with you. And I am for you."
Hearing God's word on this issue is important, and I think it is the necessary examination of every heart, every day. Do you trust Him? Do you honor Him? Do you really fear Him? More deeply than that, can you walk in blessing and humility in the midst of great difficulties or suffering?
Can you get sick and yet praise His name? Can you lose all your money and yet praise His name? Can you lose a loved one and yet praise His name? This is the question: Are you using God to get something from Him? Or is God Himself the goal of your striving?
Seeking the Cross
Returning to Philippians 2:3-4, let's consider Paul's instructions again:
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but 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."
Interestingly enough, the word interests isn't actually there in the Greek text. It's a filler word. There is an openness implied in that line: "Let each of you look not only to his own." Fill in the blank. So basically, how this really reads is, "Let each of you look not only to his own house, job, money, family, and friends, but also to the house, job, money, family, and friends of others."
But where does that all-encompassing interest in the needs of others come from? What is the foundation or the motivation of a life that's not built on selfish ambition and conceit but instead on service to and sacrifice for others? Paul tells us:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).
The foundation, the motivation of a life of humility, is the example of Jesus Christ's humble life and sacrificial death on the cross.
The Bible tells us that Jesus, who was very involved in the act of creation, is also involved in the act of sustaining creation. Colossians 1:17 says, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." And Hebrews 1:3 says, "He upholds the universe by the word of his power." So follow where I'm going here.
When the Romans arrest Jesus, they grab Him with hands that He not only created but was, at the time, sustaining. In essence, the power they use to grab Him comes from Him. With muscles that He powers, they stretch their hands back and slap His face. They use the glands that He controls to work up the saliva to spit on Him. They nail Him with metal that He created to a tree that He spoke into existence. And He is able to stop it at any moment.
Do you remember when Peter pulls his sword and whacks off the ear of one of the men arresting Jesus? Jesus picks the ear up, throws it back on the guy's head, fully healed, and the guy still arrests Jesus. What does Jesus say? "Peter, put away the sword. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword" (Matt. 26:52, author's translation). And then: "Don't you know at any moment I could call out to My father and have at My disposal twelve legions of angels? No one's taking My life from Me. I'm laying it down" (v. 53, author's translation).
So what is a life of humility based on? A life of humility is based on the cross of Jesus Christ, which tells us that Jesus could have chosen to do none of it but decided to endure all of it.
Now, look at what happens when we live that way—when we're lowly, when we're humble, when we're considering others better than ourselves:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).
Paul acknowledges here that this isn't natural. What would be natural is to look out for yourself. Selfish ambition and conceit. That would be natural.
Paul talks about an all-out denial of self, a death of self. That is why he turns to the cross. And because none of us turn to the cross naturally, Paul reminds us of the gospel of grace. God in His power grants us in His great love the supernatural ability to seek the cross.
He does this by first giving us the mind of Christ. In Philippians 2:5, when the apostle says, "Have this mind among yourselves," he's not just saying, "Try hard to think like Jesus." He tells us that we have this mind. It is part of the gift of the gospel. It is an act of grace. He says that the mind of Christ "is yours in Christ Jesus" (v. 5). You have this mind, in other words. So use it.
Second, Paul tells the church to work out its salvation with fear and trembling (v. 2:12), but he won't disconnect that difficult command from its gracious empowering: "For it is God who works in you" (v. 2:13). The sin you do? Natural. The good you do for others? Supernatural. Always remember the gospel, so you won't forget that God will not expect something of you that He won't both empower you to obey and forgive you for not obeying.
Always, always, always seek the cross. It is there that we see our example for service and sacrifice to others. It is there that we get the power to serve and sacrifice for others. And it is there that we receive forgiveness when we fail in serving and sacrificing for others.
You and I as Christians are not meant to cease chasing the wind and commence seeking the cross so that we can make much of ourselves. That is still selfish ambition and conceit. There are some in the church who are very good at presenting the appearance of humility and sacrifice, all for selfish, vainglorious reasons. They enjoy their reputations as servants more than they enjoy the gospel. So we must remember the prayer of John the Baptist: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). The pursuit of the cross is ultimately a pursuit of Christ.
Paul continues his admonition along these lines:
"Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me (Phil. 2:14-18).
Is he not considering them better than himself? Of course he is. He is willing to be poured out as a sacrifice if it will increase the faith of the Philippian church. He is in fact "glad" to sacrifice in this way. Why? So that they will think Paul is great? No, though of course they will. So that they will know Christ is great.
Paul gives us two more examples of seeking Christ through humility and sacrifice. The first is here:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also (Phil. 2:19-24).
Timothy is one of Paul's examples of genuine concern for the Philippians' spiritual well-being and growth. For his part, Timothy is willing to leave his father in the faith to go to Philippi so he can bring back good news to cheer Paul's heart. There are two things at work here: Timothy's deep and abiding love for Paul because of the cross of Christ, and Timothy's deep and genuine concern for the church in Philippi because of the cross of Christ.
Timothy is a selfless man. And here is another example:
"I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me" (Phil. 2:25-30).
Epaphroditus reckons that his life is secondary to Paul being encouraged and the church at Philippi growing into a mature faith. Why? "For the work of Christ." He, like Timothy, has the mind of Christ, which is theirs through union with Christ. They risk their lives, knowing that Paul has risked his, because they know that ultimately they are totally secure in Jesus. If this service and sacrifice will make Jesus look big, if it will fulfill Jesus's purposes, if it will communicate Jesus to the church and to the world, they are all for it.
Now, let's try to make this practical. Here's a good litmus test: In your world, do people have souls? I know that sounds like a simple question. Let me put it into context. When you sit down at a restaurant, as a believer in Christ, and a young woman or young man waits on you, do you think of him or her as having a soul? As being a spiritual creature? Or are you thinking, Just give me my drink and take my order and hurry up? Or do you recognize the image of God in that person? Are you able to encourage, love, and serve your servers, even in a situation as simple as that?
What about in the community of faith?
When I first arrived at The Village Church, a weird thing would happen in the parking lot. The lot was built strangely; when it would rain, the far side of the parking lot would flood. Literally, every time after it rained, there would be about four to six inches of standing water. When this happened, Michael Bleecker, who's one of the worship leaders at our church, would park his car right in the middle of this little lake. You can't jump over it. If you park in the middle, the only way to get through it is to walk through the water. Bleecker would get out of his car, carrying his guitar, carrying his bag, and walk through four to six inches of water, getting his shoes soaking wet. You know why he did it? So no one else had to.
The Village Church is in Dallas, Texas. Here's what that means: it means that ten months out of the year it's 147 degrees. Not really. But kinda. We have to watch out for spontaneous combustion in that parking lot. And maybe the most difficult job at The Village is working on the parking team. Each weekend we try to get thousands of people in and out of our parking lots. We are a young church, so the person-to-car ratio isn't in our favor. It is just a big logistical nightmare. So not only is the parking team out in 147-degree weather, but people can get angry with them, and our parking people get told "you're number one" a lot (if you know what I mean). They get ignored. Or sometimes snarled at. It can be a miserable job. But one of our lead pastors serves on the parking team.
We did not implement a rule that says he has to! So why? Why would he do that? He does it to serve Christ and the people of The Village.
Those are just a couple of low-key examples, certainly easy things to do compared to risking one's life in the mission field or risking one's livelihood honoring Christ in the workplace, but they speak to what we seek even when we're trying to be religious.
What about you? Do you approach your community of faith with a heart attitude that says, "How can I serve? How can I sacrifice?"
We must guard our hearts and ask the Spirit to help us lest the church become a consumeristic mess. We can't afford to come in, order our peppermint latte, sit in a massage chair, and have Bible verses wirelessly beamed onto our retinas. Or something like that. It's not what God has for us. Since His heart for us is not about our joy but His glory, it becomes imperative to pay attention to the Scriptures here.
If we don't pay attention, we'll weaken the reality that the church is actually a group of people meant to represent the image of Christ.
To each other and to the world.
Paul's word to the church at Philippi should be a huge antidote to the inclination to walk with a swagger. Instead, we take up our crosses. And in that moment we shine like stars in a crooked and perverse generation. Remember, we're talking about maturity and must pay attention to our hearts as we read. Has this chapter revealed any "developmental delays" in your growth as a follower of Christ? Are there attitudes and actions that need to be laid bare and repented of?
Copyright © 2013 Matt Chandler. To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.