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Jesus invaded our world to rescue us. He clothed himself with human nature to reach and redeem us through his life and death and resurrection. Even those who don’t fully “get” the Gospel, have some grasp of the idea of Jesus “coming to earth” to do something. And seeing that, helps us understand his non-reciprocal kind of living–and how that kind of life that he lived is to be our example.

Paul calls our attention to this in his letter to Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)

When read honestly, the language here sounds pretty extreme. Specifically . . .

“Do nothing from selfishness.” Selfishness is simply “self-interest.” So, Paul says don’t ever do anything out of self-interest. Really?!? Never do anything from self-interest?

“With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Come on, Paul! Why not “regard others as important as you regard yourself”? Isn’t it a little over the top to insist on considering others as more important than we regard ourselves?

“Do not look out for your own interests.” (Here I have an issue with the translators. The word “merely” is just not in the text that Paul wrote. I think the translators are toning down Paul’s seemingly extreme language.) So we are called to not look out for our own interests. Period. (And the same translators add “also” to the next phrase: “. . . but also for the interests of others.” Paul simple wrote “Do not look out attentively for your own interests but look out attentively for the interests of others.”)

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Now we’re really sounding extreme! Paul suggests that we should have the same attitude, same way of thinking about ourselves and our lives, that Jesus did in the incarnation.

“[Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant . . . he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Paul brings this not-thinking-about-oneself to a climactic point in helping us see Jesus clearly. The attitude we need to “have in ourselves” is just like Jesus’ attitude where he set aside his own rights, embraced servanthood, and humbled himself to the point of death. Now that is extreme.

So here’s the root of non-reciprocal living. It’s found in Jesus. And we’re invited into Jesus’ own heart-attitude.

He settled into living as a servant of others, humbly laying down his life for the good of others. He did this not looking out for his own interests. What was good for those he came to love took precedence. He wasn’t looking for them to reciprocate. He was intending to lay down his life for their good. He didn’t do this selfishly, for his benefit. He regarded others as more important than himself . . . to the point of dying.

That’s pretty extreme. And that is the life we are invited into.

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5 Comments

  1. For a long time I could not come to a understanding what Jesus was saying in Matthew 10:39, 16:25 and Luke 17:33 but now I’m beginning to see that as I give up on my selfish ways my life is much richer than I could ever imaged. Thanks for helping us see this even more clearly. The Jesus life is truly the best life we could hope for!

  2. I would agree, John. The Jesus life is truly the best life we could hope for. If only we saw that . . . and gave ourselves to that!

  3. What is the relationship between loving yourself (and doing so in a healthy and right sense) and not looking out for your interests? Jesus says “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” which seems to have a different perspective on self if you rightly take out “merely” from “do not merely look out for your own interests but also the interests of others”. Having just sat through a very powerful session on healthy friendships in a recovery group, there was a lot of conversation about the need to love yourself in order to truly help and serve those around you. I understand that these are different passages, in different contexts, using different words and I would love to hear your thoughts on how these two work together. Could it be that in understanding the relationship between these two ideas we can steer clear of some unhealthy interpretations and practices?

  4. Sorry – Jesus actually quotes Leviticus saying “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

  5. Dan, You raise an excellent–and common–question about Jesus’ call (which, as you note, is a quote from Leviticus) to “love you neighbor as yourself.” Obviously, I cannot address how the conversation went in your session in a recovery group or what the context was for the comments made, but I think I can make a few observations about how Jesus’ words are understood, what I think he meant, and how it fits with Paul’s call to do nothing from selfishness and to not look out for your own personal interests. Also, I understand that there are complex relationship issues involved in such a discussion, but I am convinced that even in the midst of such complexity, the way forward will always be to listen well to what Jesus is saying. So, with that as background, let me offer a few thoughts.

    Although it is a popular way of “hearing” Jesus’ words, I do not believe Jesus is commanding us to “love ourselves” when he says these words (Matthew 22:36-40). When we pay attention to what is actually said, the command Jesus is calling for is “love your neighbor” and the assumption is that we already have a sense of how that is to be done because we do “love ourselves.” Grammatically, the second half of the sentence is not a command. In other words, Jesus is saying, “You must love others with the same kind of attentive care that you already show you have for yourself.”

    This is very similar to what Jesus says about how we should treat others–the way we want them to treat us. Luke 6:31: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” There is a similar “command with assumption” format here. The command: Treat others well. The assumption: Because you already want to be treated well yourself. We don’t hear these words from Jesus as a command to “make sure you want to be treated well yourself” as the essential pre-step to treating others well. But, unfortunately (to my way of thinking) we do hear Jesus’ words to “love your neighbor as yourself” as requiring/commanding a self-love in order to love others. (This idea of self-care is not lessened by the recognition that some of the things people want for themselves may, in fact, be bad for them! They still pursue what they pursue because they perceive it benefits them. A self-pursuit of “being treated well”–however I define “well”–is ubiquitous.

    I see this assumption of self-concern or self-love in Paul’s words to husbands. There he writes, “for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:29). The idea? That there is a fundamental self-love that is common to all. We take care of ourselves. We tend to our bodies. It isn’t a command to do so but an assumption that this is the common way of approaching life. (Leaving aside for the sake of the length of this response the very serious concern about those who are physically self-abusing.)

    My opinion (and hear it as that) is that Jesus’ quoting of Leviticus about “loving your neighbor as you love yourself” is often hijacked by those who are concerned that they are not getting “their fair share” of attention, that they are being overlooked or neglected, that no one appreciates them, etc. And the insistence that before I could love someone else I must “learn to love myself” becomes a cloak for self-seeking, self-comfort, and reciprocation.

    In the Philippians passage I referenced in this post, the call to do nothing from selfishness would seem to be sufficient to cut the legs out from under such thinking. But with the addition of “do not look out for your own interests” (as I believe Paul’s word are to be read as noted above), confirms this. Because of the magnitude of this call, Paul offers a few “examples” for the Philippians. Most readers of this letter know that Paul turns his attention to Jesus. The description of what Jesus did in order to redeem us does seem to grounded in doing nothing from selfishness and to be a breathtaking example of not looking out for one’s own interests. But because of how staggering the call sounds, I believe that Paul wants to Philippians to understand how “doable” (in grace and by the Spirit) this really is. So Paul offers others examples.

    Paul says of Timothy (Philippians 2:19-24) that he is that rare person who is genuinely concerned for others and does not seek after his own interest. Of Epaphroditus (2:25-35), Paul says that he risked his life for the sake of Christ and for the sake of others.

    My take on those two? Paul commends them for their Christlikeness but in our contemporary culture, influenced by a mis-reading of Jesus’ words, we would chastise them for not “loving themselves” well.

    Alright . . . that’ll have to do for this “reply.” (Maybe another post or two on this subject will come out of this . . . as well as some great exchanges!) Thanks for engaging well, my friend.


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