"Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." (Philippians 2:3-4)
I struggle with these verses. They aren't an easy thing for me to read and they totally punch me in the stomach. Do they do the same to anyone else? But if the NLT isn't tough enough, look at The Message translation. It's even rougher:
"Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand." (Philippians 2:3-4)
People, the struggle is real with these verses. Every time I'm on the road, I see my wonderful self as the most important car on the road; my destination is more important than yours. When there is only one lonely piece of coconut bark left and one of my cherubs asks to share it with me, I hate to admit that I say no and shove the whole thing in my mouth more often than not. Or even better, I hide the entire beautiful bag in my nightstand and don't even tell them it exists. Yes, that is a more honest statement.
These are tiny examples. Does Jesus really care if I share my coconut bark or grumble at a car that can't hear me as they meander slowly down the road? I want to say no here. I want to say that he doesn't care one little rip because it just does not matter in a world where we are killing each other, judging others for killing animals that are hurting children, and eliminating the youngest, most vulnerable among us because they are a huge inconvenience (abortion).
But the small things matter. Each one of those tiny moments where you push your way ahead and try to be more important? They add up to lots of moments. They add up to a characteristic of who you are, not just one little poor choice that you made in the moment. It's like the giant glass orbs that hold all the little gem points that each house earns in the Harry Potter movies. One little gem doesn't matter much. But add lots and lots of them and before you know it, you're winning the house cup. The great hall is all decked out in gold and red (because, come on, in this imaginary strangeness, we are clearly all Gryffindors).
And you know what that characteristic is, right? It makes me shudder to even say it here, but that nasty characteristic that I'm displaying when I want to get past that slow car, when I think I'm more important than anyone else? It's pride. And the Bible very clearly says that God hates pride. Here are some verses about it:
"The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day." (Isaiah 2:11)
"In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God." (Psalms 10:4)
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18)
"A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor." (Proverbs 29:23)
So, if I'm honest, I would rather embrace this issue as a selfishness issue. That sounds better to me for some reason. I guess I see it as more of a choice on my part to stop being selfish than to stop being prideful. Pride sounds terrible. It sounds like this permanent part of me while selfishness still sounds like there is hope for my pathetically selfish self. Is it just me? Yes? Okay then, let's keep going...
So what do we do instead?
Let's see what the Bible says next in Philippians 2:
"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion." (Philippians 2:5-8)
Let's make sure we've got this straight. Jesus had equal status to God. They were one in the same even while Jesus was here on earth. And instead of choosing to be full of pride over that, Christ chose the opposite. He chose humility! He chose to stay human and to serve everyone around him even though they really should have been serving him. He demonstrated perfect humility to everyone who knew him in its absolute purest form.
So, if we want to defeat our selfish, prideful selves and be more like Jesus on this one, we need to choose humility too. We need to look at Jesus' example for us, study it, embrace it, pray over it, and take it on as our own. Keeping with this theme, I have this acronym that I learned from my son a few years ago when we got home from vacation. It's JOY. JOY stands for Jesus, Others, Yourself. It's the order that we should be doing things. So we should be serving Jesus first, then Others, then Ourselves. This is the key to living humbly rather than embracing pride.
I heard this sermon once that also applies here. I can't remember for sure who was speaking but they were speaking about this idea at the time. The speaker said that he strives to remind himself that others are more important than he is. He goes so far as to think to himself, "Go ahead. You are more important than me." He said it was a great way to remind him to stay humble. Sometimes I think of it when I'm out in the world.
Here are the first steps that I think we need to take if we want to get on track with this. Pray. A lot. Pray to God, tell him what's going on, tell him about your struggles, ask him to guide you and lead you in the right direction. Ask him to reveal it to you when pride is inching its way into your life. When you feel that pride seeping in, stop what you're doing and acknowledge it. Tell God you're sorry and start over again. Will we get better over night? No. But stick close to God, study his word, talk to him constantly, and I think we can become more and more like him, the humble servant. Focusing on God rather than ourselves is the first and most important step.
God, thank you for knitting us together so wonderfully. Thank you for being here in the midst of our struggles and failures, for your unending patience and grace. I ask you today to come alongside each one of us and show us our prideful selves. Help us to see it so that we can change it with your help. And help us to see ourselves the way that you see us. Loved no matter what. We love you, Lord.