As Ovid’s Greek mythology goes the river god, Cephissus, and the nymph, Liriope, had the most beautiful baby boy. They named him Narcissus from the Greek word for drunkenness because his beauty was so intoxicating. Narcissus would grow up to be a man so handsome that everyone he met was attracted to him: men, women, and nymphs alike.
Narcissus reveled in the attention his looks garnished, but it can become annoying to be that appealing (I’ve heard), for example, when he was being stalked by a shy nymph named Echo. Narcissus would be hunting in the woods and hear someone nearby. He’d call out “Who’s there?” and hear only “Who’s there?” in reply. He became so irritated by Echo that he hunted her down and told her to get lost. She was heartbroken over the unrequited love, so she spent eternity wondering alone in valleys and caves (and some church sound systems).
This sad ordeal was noticed by the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, who decided to punish Narcissus with fitting retribution. She lured him to a crystal-clear pond, where he saw his own reflection, and he fell hopelessly in love with himself. He was so enamored by his own looks that he couldn’t pry himself away from the reflection and ended up dying of starvation, and fertilizing the daffodil genus of flower that bears his name.
I know what you’re thinking. What does ancient Greek fiction have to do with me? I’m glad you asked.
Last week we looked at the motives for unity and the marks of unity. Today we see the means, and next week the model.
2 MEANS OF CUTTING OUT THE CANCER OF SELFISHNESS SO THAT UNITY CAN GROW
1. AVOID WHAT CAUSES SELFISHNESS
Phil 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition [rivalry] or conceit, …
Narcissism is a fairly universal malady. We all succumb to self-interest, self-promotion, and self-absorption. And before you deny that – have you ever used your smartphone to take a selfie? According to data released by Samsung mobile phones division, over 1 million selfies are taken every day. And 30% of pictures taken by people aged 18-24 are selfies, 36% are touched-up to look better than they are. This is a modern version of Narcissus stuck on his own reflection.
Paul says that in order to pursue joy you need to pry yourself away from yourself for a moment and avoid selfish ambition.
The Greek word eritheía connotes working for hire – used in a bad sense of those who seek only their own. It contains the idea of contention, strife, rivalry, driven by self–interest and mercenary motivation.
In the church it looks like this: “Sure I’ll volunteer to run the conference, if I get recognition, if it makes me look good, or if I get a free lunch for doing it.”
Now ambition isn’t wrong in and of itself. It can be godly if it drives you to improve your effective use of God’s gifts to bring God more glory and be a blessing to others.
But selfish ambition or rivalry is the desire to be superior to others. This is when the desire isn’t to improve so God receives glory, but so that you receive recognition.
Then Paul says do nothing out of conceit, kenodoxía; vainglory, empty pride, desire for praise.
You should be aware that God does not reward pride. He opposes it…
1 Pet 5:5 … God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
If you are not being used by God in ministry or the workplace or at school the way you think God should use you, just be humble and do the best you can at what God has given you to do at the time.
2. APPLY WHAT CURES SELFISHNESS
Phil 2:3-5 Do nothing from selfish ambition [rivalry] or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…
Winston Churchill, the master of the back-handed compliment, once referred to a political opponent of his as “A modest man who has much to be modest about.”
We all have much to be modest about. We are all imperfect sinners. You know that, right? So why do you get upset when someone points that out to you?
Because no one likes the taste of humble pie. It’s just not a favorite flavor of humans.
But Paul says – in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
So, do I need to think lowly of myself? No. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.
Rom 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
This verse is interesting. It doesn’t say you must think lowly of yourself. It says you should think realistically about yourself- with sober judgment.
Just know that you are a sinner, and that you are weak, and know your place in the grand scheme of things. God is great, you are not. God wants you focused on him and others, not on yourself.
Having a realistic, honest, self-awareness of your humanness will safeguard you from the pride that prevents repentance.
And then Paul says: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Once you stop considering yourself more highly than others then you can start thinking about others and what’s best for them.
This does not come naturally to us. Think of how you approach the dinner table, (can I get the biggest piece?), the time slot for parent-teacher day, (can I get in first and grab the best time-slot?), the parking lot (let me take the nearest bay). Imagine what this world would be like if everyone looked at a situation and thought not only of what’s good for themselves, but of what’s best for others.
But the best way to learn any skill is to see it performed, to see it in action. And there is no better model of humility in action, selflessness in living color, and concern for others worked out… than our Savior Jesus Christ.
He left heaven and lived among us to die for our sins and carry our punishment so that he could suffer while we go free and live forever in heaven.
This deserves a lot more attention than we can give it today, so… come back next week to learn about our model of humility.