Good morning and welcome to today’s Foundations Podcast. My name is Bryony and I’m part of the staff team here at STC Sheffield. I hope you’ve had a great weekend and you are feeling (sort of!) ready for Monday! It’s great to spend this week journeying with you further through the book of Philippians. Last week we considered chapter one and unsurprisingly today we are started at chapter two. Personally Philippians is my favourite book in the Bible: I find it really encouraging and challenging, just packed with wisdom. If I ever need reminding of the ‘why’ of my faith this is where I always come.
In the passages we will look at this week we are going to be confronted with Paul’s analysis of our human nature, particularly the selfishness that we struggle with. We’ll be encouraged to view Jesus as a model and teacher of what is means to live selflessly.
As a parent I find it fascinating to observe my children go through significant stages of development. It’s great to see them taking their first steps, cutting their first tooth or holding a pencil properly for the first time. More interesting to me however is way they develop emotionally and socially. My youngest child has recently discovered the joys of ownership and has got the word ‘mine’ perfected beautifully! Young children are self-centred by nature, they find it difficult or even impossible to empathise, to be able to recognise other people’s wants and needs. That’s why it’s really rewarding as a parent when you see your child sharing for the first time, acknowledging someone’s upset or doing something because they know the other person will like it. It’s rewarding to see them move from a place of being self-centred to being more connected with those around them. To starting to wrestle with the lie that ‘I am the centre of my world’.
In Philippians Paul pulls no punches in challenging the fact that this struggle of wanting to be the centre of our world follows us way out of the toddler years. In verse 3 of chapter 2 he writes;
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Paul challenges two areas of our drive or motivation here. Firstly ‘ambition’ – the desire for things, but specifically ‘selfish ambition’ – a wanting of things for yourself, for your success, for your own glory. And secondly ‘vain conceit’ – this is thinking of yourself as better than others. Both of these motivators (which Paul tells us to avoid) are rooted in the problem of ‘me’, of ‘me’ coming first, of ‘my’ needs being the most important, of you serving me. He contrasts this with another way to live, valuing others above ourselves. This isn’t just about practical things; selfish ambition and vain conceit can’t simply be remedied by letting someone take the praise at work. No, Paul is saying it’s what you value that matters, anyone can do those things from a place of their hearts being unchanged. What Paul identifies here is the need to have a heart and mind overhaul, to put others first because of the great value we place on them.
Like a toddler moving from a ‘I’ view to a view of ‘you’ and ‘us’, our view of how we see ourselves and others constantly needs challenging because human nature causes us to retreat back to our default position of putting ourselves in the centre. I know this to be true in my life, I begrudge doing housework rather than seeing it as an opportunity to love my family; I see others receiving affirmation and praise and wonder what I did wrong rather than celebrating with them. My default is selfishness!
So today let’s challenge that mindset, today let’s actively look for places where we can prefer others. Moments where we can put our own agenda aside to serve someone else. More than that, let’s reflect on the ‘why’ of what we’re doing, that people around us are of infinite value to God, that they are worthy of honour and service and love. Like my toddler, I’m learning that I’m not the centre of the world – it’s a slow process but a worthwhile one!
God, thank you that you call us to a life of change, of becoming all that you want us to be. Help us to move from self-centeredness to selflessness, to value, love and care for others as you do. Thank you that this is possible because of your Spirit being at work in us.
READING: PHILIPPIANS 2:1-4
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.