Pastoral Perspectives

Looking to the interests of others

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) We have memorised this verse; we have preached on it and since we will be wrapping up the sermon series on Philippians today, I would like to flash out in more concrete terms how this verse can be lived out in our individual lives as well as in the life of our church, but first, let’s consider the models at hand.

This is not the only place that Paul exhorts the Christians to look to the interests of others. To the Corinthians he says: “Let no one seeks his own good, but the good of his neighbour” (1 Cor. 10:24) and “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:33). These exhortations are meant for us to be outward looking, to be others centred, to put as priority the interests, the good and the advantage of others. It doesn’t mean that we cannot pursue our own interests but whenever the occasion calls for, we must be willing to deny self so that we put the interests of others first, for the sake of their salvation and discipleship.

For us to be able to look to the interests of others, we will have to exercise humility and count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). We see such a mindset in Paul, in Timothy, in Epaphroditus, and of course in Christ Jesus himself. They are all very good examples of others centred and service centred lives. Paul says: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil. 2:17). In the Old Testament, ‘to be poured out as a drink offering’ refers to the Jewish offering of pouring out wine to God (Num. 28:7), which was often combined with animal sacrifice. It is as though Paul is being drained of himself; he is being expended and poured out in sacrificial service for the sake of the Philippians’ faith. Despite its cost, such service still brings him joy, and that joy he shares with the Philippians.

Pauls says of Timothy: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare (literally your interests). For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:20-22). Timothy has served side by side Paul. Unlike the others, he does not seek his own interests but those of Jesus Christ whom he serves (Phil. 1:1) and that is seen in his genuine concern for the interests of the Philippians.

Paul says of Epaphroditus: “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill… So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honour such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (Phil 2:25-26, 29-30). Epaphroditus risked his life when he remained behind to attend to Paul’s needs and fell ill in the course of it. He also looks to the interests of the Philippians. He is not distress that he is ill. He is distress that they have come to know he is ill. Will they be worried for him? Will they fear that he will die? Their interests are upon his heart.

Of course the best example is that of Christ Jesus, the epitome of humility. We should adopt his mindset which is what Phil. 2:5 means: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” and we should follow in his footsteps: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). For Christ to become man, for him to take on the role of a servant, for him to eventually die on the cross for our sins, he was looking to our interests, our good, our advantage. Otherwise, he would have stayed put in heaven and not embark on this progressively degrading journey.   

As disciples of Jesus, we are to become more and more Christ-like and surely this is an aspect of his Being that we can all grow in – looking to the interests of others in humility.

I am rushing to complete my school work so that I can enjoy my weekend. A classmate comes to me to ask for help with his school work. Do I pause and attend to him or do I let him know that I am very busy and drop hints that he should look for someone else instead?

If there is a new person in class, someone who is a bit socially awkward. Do I join the rest to shun and ridicule him, or do I look to his interests by befriending him at the expense of being slighted by my own friends?

I sense that there is something amiss between my wife and me? Should I act blur and just hope that things will resolve by themselves? I hate confrontations and I get really nervous if she breaks down and cries. But can I look to her interests by initiating a conversation to find out what is troubling her? Will I be humble enough to say ‘sorry’ if I have said or done something that is hurting to her? 

I am seated beside someone unfamiliar in the sanctuary. I am too lazy to talk; I am too shy to talk; I am in no mood to talk; I am in a hurry to leave. But looking to the interests of others means I will stretch out my hand to say ‘hello’ and find out more about the newcomer before inviting him/her to the cozy corner to continue our conversation. And if I am really in a hurry to leave, I will ensure that the newcomer is in the good hands of some other church members.

I see my brother sinning. Do I choose to keep quiet and pretend nothing is happening? Why should I be so nosy? Why can’t I just mind my own business and not bother with others? What if he gets angry with me? He may not even appreciate what I am doing. Can I look to his interests by speaking the truth in love to him?

I am too frightened to share my testimony so I am not coming forward for baptism or I am delaying my membership transfer. Instead of focusing on myself and all my inadequacies, can I rather choose to focus on the interests of Christ Jesus – how my testimony will serve to bring him glory and honour? Can I focus on the interests of others in that they will be edified through the hearing of my testimony?

I am too timid to share the Gospel with my colleagues. I am worried that it will strain our relationships; I am worried that word will get around and I will be labelled a misfit; I am worried that I will not able to defend the Christian faith credibly. Faith comes by hearing, and how will they hear if we are not willing to speak? Can I look to the interests of the spiritually lost and share the good news to the best of my ability?

Looking to the interests of others – this is what I long to become; this is what I long for our church to be like.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

May 12, 2019