We have been looking at Philippians 1:27-2:5 the last few posts. This passage is often used to encourage Christians toward godly relationships within the church community, and as we have seen, it is a wonderful principle for relationships in families. In this post, though, I want to look specifically at the admonition in verse 3 to avoid selfishness. In a relational conflict, the default mode is to blame the other person. This becomes more pointed when authority is involved–for example, parental authority. A parent gives a directive or command and a child does not follow this command or chooses to dispute it. Especially if the child is a teenager, this scenario raises the tension level. The parent is committed to standing firm on the basis of his authority. The teenager is just as committed to holding out for fairness and personal rights. Often, what follows is not pretty.
The apostle Paul is addressing just such a situation in this passage. The Holy Spirit’s admonition here is clear and humbling. Here are several translations of verse 3:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. NIV
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. ESV
Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. HCSB
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves… NASB
Few parents readily admit to acting on the motive of selfish ambition–sin deceives us, after all. But notice, however, that this verse contrasts selfish ambition or rivalry with regarding others as more important or significant than yourself. Perhaps opposing these two traits makes the point more directly. Parents, do you regard your teenagers as more important than yourself? Before you answer that, let me say that regarding your teenagers as being more important, significant or better than yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that you follow their wishes.
What does it mean? It means that you treat them with the respect that Scripture calls for. Your children are a trust, a blessing given to you by God. He calls upon you to live with them as he directs, not as you feel. So, following the example of the way God treats you, you are not to treat them as they deserve to be treated (Psalm 103:10). Instead, you listen intently and respectfully (Proverbs 18:13 &15), you say only things that are designed to benefit them (Ephesians 4:29), and you use pleasant words when you speak to them (Proverbs 16:20-24). Following these simple principles with your teenagers (or with anyone) is equivalent to considering them more important than yourself.
Now contrast the behavior we just talked about with a typical conversation. If you had a conversation with your teenager, and someone were to interview your teenager immediately after that conversation to hear his reaction to the conversation, what would he say? Would he say that you listened to him respectfully, wanting to fully understand him before you answered? Would she say that the words that you did speak were carefully chosen to show care for her and address her concerns? Would your teenager say that the words you used were pleasant and built them up? Perhaps someone is thinking, the only person I communicate that way to is my boss! Really? Then you’re getting the point.
Paul is saying that this kind of talk shows that your hearer is more important than you are. Perhaps you’re thinking that it would be nice if your teenager treated you this way! While that’s true, Matthew 7:12 applies here: if this is the way you would like to be treated, then this is how you should treat others.
When you don’t consider others, including your children, as more important than you, it reveals a spirit of selfishness, even an ambitious spirit, that says others exist to serve you. Each translation listed earlier mentions the theme of conceit. So many conflicts between parents and children end with each person thinking the other person cares only about his own selfish needs. These words in Philippians provide a practical and effective way to break this cycle.
As always, give this some thought and share your ideas with us.