Author Fareed Zakariah (Za-car e-uh) wrote an article for the New York Times in 1998 entitled “Hell in a hand basket”…an idiom that means a slow and certain march to disaster.
Here’s the gist of what he wrote and why he thought what was happening culturally was a looming disaster.
The article was written shortly after the blockbuster film “Titanic” was released…and he used it as his key example.
He said that among the many differences between the movie and reality was that in the movie as the ship was sinking the first class passengers were mostly third-class human beings.
They scrambled to get into the small number of lifeboats and only the determined seamen with guns kept the rich men at bay so the women and children could get into the boats.
In reality according to survivor accounts the custom of “women and children first’ was observed with virtually no dissension, especially among the upper classes.
The statistics bear this out.
In first class, every child was saved and all but five women were as well (3 of the 5 chose to stay with their husbands) while 70 percent of the men perished.
In second class, 80 percent of the women were saved, 90 percent of the men drowned.
The men in first class were the richest of their day…including John Astor, said to be THE richest man of his day.
Astor, fought his way to a boat, put his wife in it then stepped back and waved her goodbye…then he drowned.
So, Fareed wrote, “Some of the most powerful men in the world adhered to an unwritten code of honor–even though it meant certain death for them. The movie makers altered the story for good reason: no one would believe it today.”
That comment is why he called his article “Hell in a Hand basket’…our slow, sure march to disaster…the loss of honor…the loss of putting others first as a core cultural value…spells disaster for any culture.
He was speaking specifically about culture’s leaders, but it applies more widely than that.
In Potomac Park in DC there is a statue of a man with arms outstretched, Christlike, with this inscription on the pedestal
”To the brave men of the Titanic, who gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”
It was erected by voluntary donations from 25,000 women.
He finished his article with this:
“When the elite did not behave appropriately — and they often broke their norms — it was a matter of dishonor and disappointment…Today, (remember this was written 10 years ago) by contrast, we expect very little of those in positions of power — whether they are Presidents or tycoons or movie stars — and they rarely disappoint us.”
There was embedded in our culture then, even among non-Christians…it was a residue of the ethical heart of the Christian world-view.
“Put the interests of others ahead of your own.”
Now I know that many of those businessmen who died did not apply this principle consistently in their lives and businesses…but when their actual lives were on the line…they did.
Fareed believed…and I tend to agree…movie goers would find the facts of history unbelievable because of the facts of culture now…and maybe the facts of their own hearts.
“I would never do that…they think…so who would”
Fact of culture now: “It is absurd to put the interest of others first…so why would I?”
Let’s look at our Scripture for today:
Phil. 2:3-8 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
The year’s theme is “closing the gap on faith and love.”
This fall we are looking at the seven essential heart attitudes that we want to shape the culture of our church…since the church is “us”…these things must shape each of us individually.
This week we are looking at “Put the interests of others ahead of your own.”
We see this challenge or rather invitation to opportunity in verse 3:
Phil. 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Then the example is Christ himself…
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…”
So we are to have the same “engine” drive our lives that drove Christ’s.
It is not to be “selfish ambition” or “vain conceit”
- Selfish ambition is not ambition in general.
Jesus had great ambitions…they were so great they changed the world.
But he choose them…they were not chosen by culture, or sin
Christ makes people who follow him more, not less ambitious…or at least better in their ambitions.
-More ambitious to produce excellent work, to have successful relationships, and to lives as a whole that are better, more impactful…more ambitious for his glory in their lives.
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed do it all in the name of Jesus.” Paul wrote.
This is a high ambition…it should and does motivate people to accomplish much.
The wrong kind of ambition here in our passage…is specifically the kind of ambition that will step on people to get ahead…the kind of ambition that considers me first.
-It is not the ambition that allows people to be successful in life…it is the ambition that pushes someone else aside to get on the lifeboat…literally or figuratively.
Whereas Christ…died to be the lifeboat…he willingly laid down his life for not just his friends but his enemies.
Selfish ambition is stupid because it doesn’t work.
The goal of selfish ambition is success of some kind…personal advancement.
But it ultimately fails to make a person successful in ways that will matter to them or anyone else in the end (and probably way before the end)
- Vain conceit: This is not a challenge to think more poorly of yourself.
When people follow Christ with their lives it has been my experience that they think more accurately of themselves…not more poorly of themselves.
Their image of self–becomes more accurate…and when it is accurate…they are happier, more balanced, better in their relationships with others.
When self-image is ordered under Christ…people do not think less of self they think of self less…others more.
Vain conceit is literally “empty conceit”
Conceit is to think to highly of self.
This is empty because it starts and ends with us…by ourselves we are nothing…so making our lives about us…is empty.
The Bible, the Universe itself…they start and end with Christ…this is what is real about the world we live in…Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
Whereas empty conceit starts and ends with us…it is empty…void of depth, or meaning, or happiness…for that very reason.
It is a settled fact that those who think first and most of self are the unhappiest people on the planet.
Look at what Paul wrote…we should look not only to our own interests but also the interest of others.
So this is not about being foolish, doing no self-care…it is to move away from starting and ending with “me”
Empty conceit is empty because it is full of me and void of God.
Now to what we are to do and be…
- In humility put others ahead of yourself
Does this mean…I should step aside so a co-worker could have the job I was given?
Do I sit for an hour in the restaurant parking lot at lunchtime giving everyone the next parking place?
This can be taken to the absurd and yet miss the intent.
It means I do not undermine or work against my co-worker in order to get a job and I chose to rejoice if they get it and I don’t.
I don’t aggressively push to get the parking spot…I don’t become enraged and feel like my honor was impugned when someone made a slick move and got the spot first.
But much more than that…I actively work to make others around me successful…it is the opposite of jealously and envy and strife.
It is our “Attitude” that is to be like Christ.
Attitude=here is literally…mind, thought patterns.
From our thoughts flow our lives.
Set your mind to move through your life as Christ moved through his life.
This is no law…”put others first”…how would you know what that meant situation by situation as some kind of law?
This is gospel…Christ died for me, I will live for him…I will close the gap on having a heart that more and more puts others interests ahead of my own.
I will repent when I fail at that and get back into the process of closing the gap.
None of this is passive…when people who don’t understand the gospel read this…they conclude that it is calling us to be weak…co-dependent.
The passive perspective on this is that it means to always let others step on you…you become a doormat.
It may involve the choice at times to let others step on you in certain ways…but if so it will be a choice…not a weakness.
This is active…volitional…strength…never passive in regards to others.
Jesus was no passive pushover…he was not weak, co-dependent…he did not do whatever others demanded he do.
He always did what was right and good to do…he was an internally not externally driven person.
Jesus never had a failure of nerve…he was never a people pleaser…he never altered his values or judgment to adjust to the demands of others.
He lived a perfectly directed, ultimately strategic life.
He could have won every argument, defeated everyone who opposed him…he could have thrown the King off the throne, with a word killed the top general and took over his army.
He could have unleashed his full power…and compel submission by everyone.
He was the most fully self-differentiated person who has ever lived.
He did not need or want the applause or approval of others…he was not dependent on others for anything.
He was able to fully decide and do what was best to do every time with no baggage of sin or insecurity holding him back.
So with all that in mind…what did he do…this man of supreme power, and complete freedom of choice?
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
This is the example and opportunity that is laid before us.
As I said when we began, culturally there are few remnants of this left as a basis for understanding what a good life is.
You find it in a few places…like the military…a stated core value is “service before self.”
But there are more and more violations of this even in the Armed Services and more and more leaders being taken out because of failure to put service before self.
It is not taught or modeled in the arts or the academy…the ruling norm for our culture has truly become the “selfie”
Can you imagine if back in the days before digital photos, you went to person’s home and opened their photo album and it was full of pictures of them…just them.
Nothing but selfie’s with captions written under them…here’s me eating this and wearing this and doing this.
First it would be weird…then boring…and then you would realize…this person has a problem…and our culture has a problem.
The solution is not to complain about it…but to live differently.
So let’s go the biblical norm…the way of Jesus.
First, look at the verses that follow our passage
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:9-11
The irony is…it is NOT about us and yet we try to make it so.
It actually IS all about Jesus and yet he emptied himself…became a servant.
- The bar is set high.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”
Nothing? Not a thing?
Isn’t that unrealistic?
No it is the only rational goal we can have for our lives.
Can you imagine if Paul wrote:
“Don’t do everything out of selfish ambition; try for better than fifty-fifty.”
“If you get to 70 or 80…you are outstanding…way better than average.”
This is of course absurd…how can you truly hope to have a heart for others…without making it your goal of always putting them first.
“Hey, Terry, that was selfish…you should apologize for that.”
“Why should I…I’m getting a good solid ‘B’ today…I’ve been unselfish 80% of the time.”
This is not a scorecard this is the pursuit of the heart of Christ.
The standard is “nothing out of selfish ambition” because that is the heart of Jesus.
To aim for something less than this would be to aim for something less than Jesus.
Paul said “Aim for perfection” (2 Cor. 13:11)
Of course we will not reach perfection in every action and attitude but we must have as our goal to become like Christ.
- The Example of Christ
“Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)
Clearly the incarnation is beyond our full comprehension.
Paul outlines for Timothy the facts of the gospel while at the same time confessing how this is a great mystery.
Yet though it is a mystery, it is one that has been revealed in ways in which we can experience its power and change.
We will never fully grasp what it means that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” but we can certainly understand the key implications for this great reality.
First among them, of course, is that we can have relationship with God through the Son.
But in addition we can have a different kind of life with one another as well…relationship with Jesus empowers relationship with one another.
We can live like Jesus lived…we can experience the joy he had as we seek to put the interests of others ahead of our own.
We all do what makes sense to us…later what you did may not make as much sense to you.
*How many times have you thought: “That was dumb, why did I do that?”
*Because when you did it or said it…it made sense to you.
Friend: I have a friend who several years ago threw away a great career he had built through effort and sacrifice over decades…he threw it away in virtually one day.
It made sense to him on that day to do what he did…but all the days since then it has not made sense to him.
Often it makes sense to us to put ourselves first.
But the day will come…today, tomorrow, or in eternity…where this will make no sense at all.
Why not, right now…live the life that will make sense in the end and beyond?
We can…because we have both the power and the insight to do so.
We have the power…Christ in us.
We have the insight…we know what will make sense in the end…to live as Christ did.
Jesus always did what made sense to him as well.
The difference is that what made sense to him was always right, it was always the best possible way to live.
Embed this thought in your mind…to have the attitude of Christ means.
*Choose your thoughts…those this thought in regards to others…water it, fertilize it, let its roots grow deep into your mind so that it becomes a tree whose fruit falls out into all of your life.
Put the interests of others ahead of your own.
This made sense to Jesus so it must consistently make sense to us…it is the ambition that leads to real success.
III. What will happen if I live this life?
If I put the interests of others ahead of my own who will look out for my interests?
Won’t I come up short?
How will this principle work if I practice it but others around me do not?
First of all it “works” because it is the right way to live…it will prove to be so in the end, but you cannot measure by day to day outcomes.
Many people, probably most people in human history, have put their own interests first and the outcomes of their lives have not been good.
It has simply not worked.
Those who have lived others-centered lives have been the ones whose lives have “worked” well in term of the various measurements of human well being such as satisfaction, contentment, healthy relationships, and purpose.
This is the good life.
But the principle is not intended to be “I scratch your back and you scratch mine.”
It is a sort of “risk” of faith.
I may very well put the interests of others first and they may be self-serving, they may put their own interests ahead of mine, I may be cheated, or taken for granted.
The guarantee here is that you will be living life in a God-pleasing way.
But we are not to be foolish with this.
Jesus didn’t die when others wanted him to…several times they wanted him dead but it was not time.
He “gave” his life…they did not take it from him.
Do not turn this into relational dysfunction…be balanced, be wise.
But there is no promise that others will reciprocate.
However, all that being said, it is very likely that if you live this “put others first” lifestyle in a joyful, consistent, and faith-filled way then some if not many of the people around you will eventually join you in that lifestyle.
Individuals who lead with lifestyles that are healthy and relational often reset their cultures…not everyone in it…but they become thermostats rather than thermometers…they set the climate.
This includes family, work, church, and even larger societal cultures…it takes time.
First we must learn to lead ourselves, and then we will have the capacity to lead others in this.
Self-leadership in this area is continually making choices to serve and bless others and not to give in to self-pity, selfish desires, and self-exaltation…self, self, self.
We lead ourselves by taking our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions captive to the truth of Christ.
Follow Christ by leading yourself to put others first.
Many around you may not follow you in this, but over time it is very likely that many will.
- What exactly will this look like?
Often we look for the great opportunities to put others first.
We are ready to make the great sacrifice and to put forth the heroic effort but rarely do those opportunities come…you will probably not be given the chance to let others have the lifeboat…or take a bullet for someone.
What are most often needed are simple, small, barely noticeable acts of kindness.
Someone may stand ready to give their life to save another life but be unwilling to serve others in ways that seem insignificant to them.
Most of the time putting the interests of others first will be unspectacular…and unnoticed (at least by other humans)
Putting the needs of others ahead of our own will necessitate developing better situational awareness of others…we have see others than just ourselves.
YMCA: As I was waiting on Christy…A man was talking to (at) the lady behind the desk about a football game the day before.
-The man was giving great detail about the game (she seemed to be struggling to pay attention)
-She was also trying to check people in and talk to other guests…trying to be polite…but clearly he was make it hard on her to listen and to do her job.
-He went on…intent on telling her in detail all about what was of great interest to him…clearly not interesting to her.
He lacked, it seemed, SA…situational awareness.
We must pray for, and pursue, and practice having this with others.
We must learn to “see” them and not just ourselves.
We tend to enter rooms, situations, and conversation thinking first and foremost about ourselves.
But we can, move through life looking to bless and not impress others.
To grow in this important quality of the Christ-life we must grow in “seeing” others not just self.
You can train to have better awareness of others…that is part of what is here in this passage.
“Have this attitude” is not some spiritual mumbo jumbo…it train your mind to see others and train your heart to respond to them.
You can pray as you go to work, or a store, or church, or to an event where people will be present…”Lord, open my eyes to the needs of others, help me to see them as you do.”
You can make small choices to put others first, to move through life with a growing awareness in every situation of the opportunities to represent Christ by loving and serving others.
There is great joy and great adventure in this kind of life.
The lifestyle of “self-first” is void of joy, always needing more and never finding contentment.
There is no adventure there, it is the way of an animal in the woods…wondering, foraging with no sense of a greater purpose than survival today.
You were not made for this.
You were made for greatness and greatness is washing the feet of others…that’s what the King of the universe said and did.
What if someone demands that you put him or her first?
What if they are not grateful but expectant…that you are supposed to serve them.
Does this irk you?
If we are to serve as Christ serves and as we are meant to serve then we do not expect applause, or appreciation, or to serve on our terms.
What if you put someone else’s needs ahead of your own and they don’t even notice?
What if they personally benefit from your sacrifice and service but give you no credit or recognition.
What if they give someone else credit for what you did for them?
All these questions are “gut checks.”
It is important that as we serve and put the interests of others first we do so in ways that are actually moving us towards becoming like Christ in character.
When we are treated like servants…we yield our pride to Christ.
When we are not recognized for our service, we remain quiet and yield our reputation to Christ.
When we serve and someone is ungrateful, we remember that when ultimately serve Christ by serving others.
His pleasure is our reward.
Train your mind to remember that always.
If this sounds absurd or unrealistic…then its important to understand that your mind has been trained by the culture rather than by Christ.
Culture is weak and passing…Christ is strong and eternal.
Let the mind of Christ become more and more your mind…there is life and peace there.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace…Romans 8:5,6
Put others first…it is life and peace.
You will do what makes sense to you…this must be what makes sense to you.
It will make sense to you more and more as you let it shape you internally.
*Everything shapes you…every act, thought, song, interaction…be shaped by the mind of Christ.
*Very practical application is: memorize Phil. 2:3
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility considers others better than yourselves.”
Let that truth shape you inside out.