Listening to the Word

Today I was reminded yet again of how important it is to read Scripture and spend time in prayer.

I sat down to do my devotional today and decided to use The verse for the day is “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

This is not a new verse for me. I took an entire semester on Philippians in college, and I’ve translated most of Philippians between English, Greek, and German. I’ve preached on that particular verse a few times and taught about it as part of a Bible study. It’s a verse that comes to me whenever I think about Christian community – it’s one of the main reasons I advocate an attitude of other-centered humility as a way to practice the commandment to love my neighbor as myself.

You might think I wouldn’t have much more to learn from this verse, but you’d be wrong. I made it through the first sentence and had to stop. Don’t do anything selfishly, but “in humility think of others as better than yourselves.” Immediately I realized that there are many times that I try to serve others in my daily life, but instead of doing something good in humility, I do something good because, at least subconsciously, I think that makes me a better person.

On the face of it, that’s fine – at least good things are happening! But what if I were to think of others as better than myself? I am no longer the central focus of my choice to help others – the other specific person I’m thinking of helping becomes the focus. And I can’t be helping them out of pity or my own generous magnanimity. I have to help because I can see their good qualities, the things that they do better than I do, the wonderful and unique things they bring into the world just through being themselves. And my helping them becomes a way for me to lift up all their good qualities even further, to show my appreciation for who they are. The hierarchy has shifted: I’m no longer looking down on a weak person in need of help, I’m looking up to a great person in support.

So, after sending off a message to a person who, I was reminded, had asked for some help on a task, I continued on: “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” And again, I was stopped in my tracks. This is a new translation of the verse for me, so it sent my mind off in a different direction. I’m often asked to “watch out” for a job opening, a place to rent, volunteer opportunities, or volunteers looking for a project. This sentence immediately made me think of someone in my life for whom I had been asked to “watch out” for something. She had found that something and I hadn’t heard from her in a while because, I assumed, everything was status quo. But Paul doesn’t ask us to just do what we’re asked to do for our own good, he asks us to think about the good of others. So, yes, I had fulfilled my obligations to this person – but that didn’t end my Christian obligations. I felt the need to reach out to see how things were working out for her. I didn’t know what was going on in her life after the last issue had been resolved, so how could I “watch out for what is better” for her?

So, after sending off a message to that person, I stepped back for a moment. Just reading that verse with my mind opened to new possibilities had reconnected me with two important people in my life. I’m a little nervous about reading the next verse – what does God have planned for that? Of course, God doesn’t change our lives with each new verse we read – that would be exhausting. But it renews my faith when such a small amount of study and listening makes such a big difference in my life. That experience was encouraging to me, and I hope it’s encouraging to you as well.