Paul’s first principle in his description of being like Jesus (Php 2.3-8) is to change your values—specifically, to regard others as more important than yourself (Php 2.3). In this post we turn to the second, complementary principle—we need to change what we focus on:
Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Php 2.4).
As I’ve noted, this is complementary; it builds on the first principle. We begin by valuing others more than ourselves, and that change in valuation prompts us to “look out for” the interests of those we value.
I suppose the best illustration of this is parents with their children. In most cases this radical shift in focus happens naturally; it’s the rare exception when a mother feels no natural instinct to care for her infant, and indeed to put the infant’s well-being ahead of her own. Parents routinely sacrifice sleep for their newborn, and often they take on extra work to provide for the child’s needs, and further to provide things that may not be needs but that they consider important to the child’s success.
I well remember my last year in public school. I was in 7th grade, in a junior high (that’s what we called them in those days) in a Boston suburb where the leadership was trying all the latest fads in educational theory. There were no grades; there was no discipline; and I was headed for trouble in several obvious ways. My parents decided that my Mom would go to work—she had excellent secretarial skills—and in doing that they were able to pay for tuition in a Christian school several towns over. For the next 4 years I rode to work with my parents, caught a city bus to the next town, walked half a mile down a hill to the private school bus stop, and rode to school on Mr. Dutton’s bus. Reversed the process in the afternoon, studied at Mom’s office till 5, and then drove home with my parents.
Mom didn’t have to do that. I could have kept on going to school for free, catching a bus right down at the corner nearest my house.
But like pretty much all parents, my parents were willing to upend their lives to my advantage, because, at root, they valued me above themselves.
That’s natural, or so it seems. We value our children, and so we focus on their success.
Now, here’s the thing.
We need to do that with everybody.
The ones we don’t naturally feel any special attachment to.
The ones who don’t seem to be as valuable as we are.
And to our minds, that’s pretty much everybody outside our friends and family—and maybe some people within our friends and family as well.
You know who I’m talking about. 🙂
The emphasis in our current verse (Php 2.4) is on focus, on looking around, on paying attention. It’s on noticing need and then acting on it.
You can’t notice if you’re not paying attention—indeed, if you haven’t developed the habit of paying attention.
You can’t notice if your nose is buried in your phone as you’re walking down the sidewalk.
You won’t notice if, like me, you’re such a list-obsessed person that all you normally think about is the thing you’re working on right now, and the next thing, and the next.
Stop. Look around. Pay attention. Notice.
Sure, fellow list-makers, make your list; see to your responsibilities; make each day count; be strategic.
But as you’re doing that, value those around you, and watch them, looking for their needs, ready to be interrupted, and planning how you can help meet them.
When Jesus started his earthly ministry, he had three years to save the world. That’s a pretty big to-do list.
How would you have started?
He started by going over to Bashan and getting baptized. Then he went to a wedding, and when they ran out of wine, he provided some more.
And after 3 years of seeing and acting on other people’s needs, he saved the world.