L-O-V-E this time of year. For those who know me, you can rightly guess that it’s because college football season is about to start. But that’s not the time of your that I’m talking about. I just finished watching the Little League World Series and have watched a number of the games over the past few weeks. There’s just something about that tournament, with kids from all over the world competing, that just nails me in the heart and chokes me up every single year.
I know. It’s a bunch of kids playing baseball. What could be so intriguing? As with many things in life, perhaps it’s the simple things. Numerous times as I watched the games you see the kids – often who can’t even speak to one another because of language differences – giving an opponent high-fives when they hit a home run, hugging member of the other team after the game even when they lost, consoling an opposing player when the agony of defeat was overwhelming, and even joking around in the stands after both teams were eliminated from tournament contention. The selfless care and humility of these kids, who let’s face it are competing at the highest possible level for someone their age in baseball, is beyond instructive for us older folk.
Perhaps it’s a “Captain Obvious,” thing to say but there seem to be so many divisions in our country (and world) today. Especially in the US, it seems like there is a pressure to be on a “side” and when someone is on that side, the equilibrium of our existence is to yell and scream about the other side. But more than just about the other side’s viewpoints, we’re yelling and screaming about the people on the other side. There’s vitriol the likes of which I am not sure I’ve seen at least in my lifetime. I don’t want to overstate anything or be especially glass half-empty (that is the antithesis of my normal leaning), but with all the arguing and anger it’s pretty hard to hear one another long enough to understand what exactly it is the other side is even saying. There’s too much (not so) friendly fire to even figure out what the heck the war is about.
As I read through my daily devotions this week, I came across a poignant reminder from Paul that it seems was a crucial reminder to the church at Philippi. Perhaps our days today are not all that unusual after all. I’m not sure, but I am sure that if each one of us adopted the truth of this admonition, little by little our families, communities, cities, states, and maybe our nation would begin to see some healing and avoid the (not so) friendly fire. It comes from Philippians 2:3-8…
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. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Perhaps you think me a simpleton. Perhaps it really isn’t as simple as all that. Or perhaps it is.
Take the first two sentences (vv. 3-4) by themselves and invert them. Is there any doubt that at least some of the issues in our families, communities, cities, states, and nation derive from the opposite of those admonitions? From the manifestations of being selfish, of trying to impress others, of not being humble, of not thinking of others as better than ourselves, of looking out for our own interests and ignoring the interests of others? To me, it’s an open-and-shut case. Admittedly, I am painting with a broad brush but as people there are ample examples of us failing to heed these very basic human kindnesses. I’m not trying to pontificate. The failures common to all of us generally apply to me personally. I admit it. But as they say, isn’t that the first step toward healing?
What would our world look like if more often, even just incrementally, we were more selfless? If we sought not to impress others, but rather to be humble and put others’ interests before our own? That is, if we were truly selfless with no motivation to get anything in exchange for it? Think to a time in your life when someone extended you that kind of love. When they clearly had nothing in it for themselves but were demonstrating an altruistic care for you, maybe even to their own detriment. Those moments, small and episodic though they may be, have a way of making ineradicable imprints on us. Now take that and multiply it … no, have it grow exponentially … and imagine how different our world might be.
There is a reason Paul had to address the Philippians this way. I guess they had the same problems in the first century that we do today. Heck, I gather that sin has been around since the garden. But the other side of the coin is that Paul is also providing the rebuke because the behaviors will lead to recovery and restoration. Verses 5-8, in fact, cut all the more to the quick and point out that it’s not just about being “nice.” It’s about being Christlike. Love is not love if it isn’t sacrificial and self-minimalizing. The model of Jesus (vv. 5-8) was the fulfillment of Paul’s guidance (vv. 3-4). And it’s the model for us. It’s the only model that will ever work. Jesus wasn’t selfish, he acted purely against His self-interests and in fulfillment of our interests. Jesus was the very embodiment of humility. He didn’t try to protect Himself, His body or His reputation. He abandoned all of them to serve humanity. Folks, that includes you and me and everyone around us. Maybe the point is, if it was good enough for the Creator of the universe … for God … what argument against it can you and I have?
There’s a pecking order, and it’s not about “looking out for number one.” I don’t know if it’s the one and only solution to the many divisions in our society today, but I do know that God has outlined a way for us to see beyond differences and unite. If you call yourself a Christian, then I daresay this isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command, and the way to avoid (not so) friendly fire. Put others first. Don’t be all about yourself. Be humble. Seems to me, this stuff is not just in Philippians, but it’s generously spread throughout the entirety of Scripture for a reason.
I love how Jon Courson expounds on this in his daily devotional book, A Day’s Journey, “If we looked into people instead of down on people, we would be filled with compassion for people.” Is there any downside to at least trying this in our society today?
And if it’s going to have any place in society, it needs to start somewhere. How about you? How about me? If the (not so) friendly fire is to cease, one of us has to be first. Pray this week and ask God to help you little-by-little (or if you like, in totality) to start being selfless, to not make impressing others a motivation for behavior, to be humble, to put others first before yourself. Trust me, I have a long way to go, but as they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Soli Deo gloria!