Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4
In these verses, Paul tells us what our love for one another looks like in practice. Before we go too much further, we need to consider what this love really is, because it has nothing to do with our emotions or feelings, after all how can an emotion be commanded? The English language lacks the vocabulary to make distinctions between different kinds of love. For example, the love a person has for a spouse is of a different sort than the love they might have for a child, a sibling, their country or for pizza. Greek, the original language of the New Testament, on the other hand, has five different words that reflect five different kinds of love, and the one used in all of these verses is the word agape, which is a godly and totally selfless love that puts the other first in all things. It has nothing to do with feelings, but rather involves a conscious decision to put others first. Notice Paul’s emphasis on “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” This is what our love for others should be like. Going further, he says, “. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Can you see the concepts of selflessness and humility at work here? Our love for one another must be selfless in its nature, because it is the exact opposite of “selfish ambition” and “vain conceit”. Our love for one another needs to be like the love that Jesus showed for us; He is our role model. Paul went on to describe our new attitude in the rest of this passé: Read Philippians 2:5-11 now and note that after He humbled Himself and completed His mission on earth in perfect obedience to the Father, He was rewarded with glory and honor. After reading the passage, discuss as a group how His example relates to our everyday life.
Putting Others First As you are no doubt aware, the passage above is one of many that teach us about putting others first, living selfless lives, humility and serving others in the New Testament epistles. Jesus also taught these things often, through direct statements, parables and preaching. Consider these passages that are sometimes misunderstood… Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:24-26 Here, Jesus is talking about this same issue. Setting aside our old ways of thinking and our old attitudes, we follow Him as Christians. From the point of view of the world around us, we haves “lost” our lives, for we have given up its ways to follow Jesus. Yet, we really haven’t lost much of anything, for we have gained so much more than the world can imagine in its place.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
Let’s be honest, these verses are entirely counter-intuitive and counter cultural. They certainly do not describe the attitude of our culture, nor do they describe our natural human inclinations, but they do describe what love in action looks like, for they describe a person who is willing to be set free from the desire to be “important” and assertive as this world sees these things. Instead, they describe a person who is willing to humbly serve God by serving others without expecting anything in return. This is love in its purest form!
The Role of Pride and Self I don’t need to tell any of you what the Bible says about pride and self; you already. Instead, here’s a question for discussion: If godly love can be seen through humility and selflessness, what is demonstrated by pride and selfishness? If a person finds him or herself in a situation where they have a real struggle forgiving another person for something they have done, hypothetically speaking, are they demonstrating godly love or could it be that pride or self may be involved? Of course, it is certainly true that when others have sinned against us there can be many factors and variables in operation at the same, not to mention a variety of emotions. Injustice is never easy to swallow, nor is outright violence or loss. Yet when the emotions begin to subside and healing has begun to take place, there are many times when the only thing that stands between us and forgiving the other person is pride or self, and in some cases these are manifested by rage, resentment and/or a strong desire for retribution. Hypothetically speaking, how do these emotions reflect God’s teaching of love, humility and forgiveness?
The Golden Rule
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 Chances are that you learned this as a child; even if you weren’t brought up in a Christian home. Since this is a lesson on forgiveness, let’s get right to the point, since we are already familiar with this verse.
If you did something that resulted in pain or harm or hurt to another person, would you want them to forgive you?
OK, nobody ever says “no” to that question! Let’s try another one: Are you willing to be first and forgive others who hurt you in some way, even if they might not always forgive you?
Ah, now that one isn’t quite as easy. If you said “yes,” then have you already forgiven those who have wronged you in your life? Maybe we need to take a look at that one before you answer. We know that God has forgiven us for our sins when we become Christians. There are literally hundreds of verses in the New Testament that tell us so, in fact they tell us that not only has God forgiven us, but that He has taken our sins away completely. It isn’t as though our “permanent record” shows that we have committed infractions, and that those infractions are “paid for”. God has taken the infractions away completely; our “record” is completely clean. Thus, God’s forgiveness means that there is no record of our sins any more, and that there is no penalty or repercussions either: We have been justified before God. What great news!
Then God tells us that just as our sins have been forgiven, so also must we forgive others. When we forgive another person, that means that we no longer reserve the right to punish them; there are no repercussions from us. If the person has committed a crime, there might be legal ramifications, and if they are not followers of Christ, they may have an issue with God, but we have acknowledged that we have forgiven them and have moved on. That doesn’t mean that we have necessarily forgotten the incident, and it surely doesn’t mean that we will put ourselves or our families into harm’s way, but we will not seek to impose sanctions ourselves, and there will be no grudges. When we do this, we gain two wonderful advantages, first, we will grow closer in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and for our action is one of love and within His will for us. Second, we will have lifted a terrible burden off of our own shoulders, since we won’t have the baggage of pain and emotional trauma to carry through life any more.
So, back to the question: Are you willing to be first and forgive others who hurt you in some way, even if they might not always forgive you?