Thursday, January 20, 2011

Relax and Be New

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:03-04, NKJV).
Frankly, I am one of the most selfishly ambitious and conceited people I know. I am convinced that when you are not actually talking about me, you are thinking about talking about me. I am the center of the Universe and I've got to work really, really hard to stay there, since there are a few knuckle-head pretenders out there looking to usurp my rightful place on the pedestal. Otherwise, whole continents will be disappointed by my tragic fall from the world's Center Stage.

How exhausting is that? Living life with yourself as the Grand Central Station of Existence is both impossible and self-destructively delusional. Paul's exhortation to the Philippians in the verse above is a merciful attempt to save them from themselves, while simultaneously giving acknowledgement, and tacit approval, to our natural proclivity to put ourselves first. But he emphatically encourages us to mitigate that tendency by making sure our self-focus does NOT blind us completely to everyone else.

There is a huge misconception foisted upon modern Western culture that Christians MUST be sacrificial doormats, allowing themselves to be stepped on by everybody, else they are not "turning the other cheek". There is an equal, but opposite, misconception that Christians, when they aren't doormats - when they stand up for themselves and look after their own interests - are being complete hypocrites, worthy of nothing but contempt. Both extremes are extremely inaccurate. 

I know some radically ambitious and conceited Christians who make me look humble, and they are VERY tiring to be around for more than a polite yawn or two. If they are not overtly sounding their own trumpets, they are doing so under flimsy, gossamer cover, that makes the attempt at subterfuge that much more cringe-worthy. If I feel that way about them, I can readily imagine how people must feel about me. All such ruthless self-promotion is worthless and damaging.

The truth is much more profound, and relaxing, then we might imagine. As a child of God by faith in Christ, I am empowered by His Holy Spirit within me to act more and more like His Son, "who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6, 7, NKJV).  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself… (John 13:3, 4, NKJV), like the lowest level household servant who was given all the nastiest jobs. And surely, redeeming us was the nastiest job conceivable.

Because we are these New Creations in Christ, destined for an eternal inheritance, we need not have our own advancement and maintenance in life as our primary concerns. If you think about that for a second, for just a second, a huge weight should fall from your shoulders, and you should lean back and breathe a long sigh of relief. The unbelieving world has no such refuge from stress. Those who don't know Christ must be, and will be, by nature, completely self-absorbed. Oh, they may manage to put a sweet face on the whole business, but underneath, and not very far underneath at all, there is a dark miasma of compulsion to be first, and most. In the end, IT IS DEADENING. Remember beloved, what He says to the self-absorbed and ambitious, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15, NKJV).
Again, this means we can RELAX. I don't mean vegetate, but I do mean there is no need to agonize and strive in your own strength to put yourself forward and prove to the world that you're something. First of all, the world doesn't care. Everyone in it is too busy worrying about proving the same thing about themselves. Secondly, they won't be convinced anyway, no matter what you do, because they would first have to step off the pedestal stairway to let you pass. And that is not happening. 

Take heart though, Christian. You have already been regenerated , and you, as a finished product, are guaranteed to come off the assembly line as the Lord's Masterpiece, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).

And that's the point. Since we know the end of our personal story, we can afford to, in lowliness of mind, esteem others better than himself. We have nothing to lose but a life-long futile expenditure of energy wasted on ourselves. This, in turn, enables us to look out not only for [our] own interests, but also for the interests of others. And as you practice that, and get better at all of it, life becomes more, well, livable. And just a bit more relaxing.

Finally, the best part is this: if everybody around you has this same mode of operation going, esteeming others better, looking out for others' interests, then you won't have everybody trying to get through the same doorway to self-esteem all at once. There will be a measured, steady, and sweet tenor to life that leads ultimately to that amazing peace of God that passes understanding. Bearing with one another in love will be a piece of cake.

Try it.