In speaking of Timothy, Paul said he was eager to send him to the Philippians because:
I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.
For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Wow. Paul looks at the believers with him and said, that with the exception of Timothy:
“All seek their own interests.”
Even in the church, self-absorption is the norm.
We think about our own needs and our own reputation.
The Greek myth of Narcissus depicts a young man who falls in love with his own reflection. Caravaggio has captured “the circle of melancholy” in one so self-obsessed. Narcissus clearly demonstrates the unhappy end of those who love themselves and their things too much. But Christ longs to set us free.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MIKE DUNN
IT IS RARE TO FIND A BELIEVER WHO DOESN’T SEEK HIS OWN INTERESTS
WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE LIKE THIS, YOU ARE DRAWN, SENSING THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST
I am choosing John Stott, who died last year, as an example of self-forgetfulness. Even in his nineties, he was flying across the world to bring the gospel to others. He was so focused on the Kingdom, so in love with the Lord, that he was, indeed, self-forgetful.
The whole world was impacted by John Stott, whom Christianity Today called “the premier leader” of evangelicalism. When Stott spoke just a few years ago at Redeemer, Tim Keller introduced him as the man who gave us a choice between fundamentalism and liberalism.
On a side note, but an important one, for I want to herald Stott not only has one who had a passion for the lost and the broken, but as an amazing Bible scholar and one you might want to turn to. Keller spoke at Stott’s memorial at Wheaton College, and commented on his ability to exegete a passage. I have turned to Stott when there is a passage that has troubled me and on which commentators have so many interpretations that it makes my head spin. I absolutely remember the day when my friend Sylvia showed me Stott’s exposition of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Though you may not agree, I have never read an exposition on that thorny passage that had the same clarity as Stott’s. He wrote that there were three eternal principles in this passage and three cultural examples. The eternal principles are forever. The cultural examples were relevant then, but not binding now.
- Eternal Principle: Men ought always to pray. Cultural example: Lifting up holy hands
- Eternal Principle: Women should dress modestly. Cultural example: Not with braided hair or pearls
- Eternal Principle: Women should learn quietly and be submissive to authority. Cultural example: Not permitted to teach over men.
This has freed me. Though I have not sought to teach men, when the male authorities of a church or organization have invited me to do so, I have felt freed. Right now I am so thankful to be teaching the adult Sunday school at my church in Wisonsin, under the authority of the male leadership. Stott’s exposition released me to do so.
Stott was a “world Christian,” who cared not only about the spiritual needs of a lost world, but about the hungry, the lonely, and the oppressed. What a legacy he left. And what joy was in this man. He was so self-forgetful he stood out, like a diamond in the universe.
John Stott’s death was mourned throughout the world. If you have time this week, I believe you’d be blessed to watch Tim Keller’s wonderful tribute to him at this Memorial Service at Wheaton College.
I found myself moved to tears, but perhaps that is because John Stott has had such an impact on my own life. His writings impacted me, but it was a personal incident that I will never forget.
It was over twenty-five years ago and I was desperate about my dad’s salvation. Dad and Mother were taking Steve and me to England, so I boldly wrote Dr. Stott. Though I can hardly believe I did this — I asked: “Is there any possibility we could meet you? Somehow I think that if Dad met you, only for a moment, he would know Jesus was real.” That’s how real the spirit of Christ was in Dr. Stott.
Dr. Stott wrote me the kindest letter back, saying that if he were not in China that he would meet with us. He encouraged me to remember God’s great compassion and sovereignty, and to trust His ability to reach my dad through His own good plan. (I believe my dad came to Christ on his deathbed.) Stott took the time to write me because he was looking out for the interests of others.
How did he do this?
Philippians gives us the key.
Note: This Thursday and Friday I’m suggesting, instead of a sermon, if you have an e-book device, to get a very short book by Keller for .99. You may want to get it before Thursday. It takes less than an hour to read, but you may want to contemplate it in smaller pieces.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. It is human nature to put ourselves first, to think primarily of our own needs. It is supernatural to be other-centered, focused on the Kingdom. Are you changing? If so, what is helping you? Have you experienced the surprising joy that comes when you do something for the Kingdom that you thought would be so hard but instead fills you with joy?
3. Give an example of someone in your life who radiates the joy of Christ, is self-forgetful, and looks continually to the needs of others. What do you think is his or her secret?
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study
Philippians was written by Paul from a Roman prison. This last Sunday my pastor in Wisconsin, Doug Quenzer, showed this picture of a Roman prison that was similar to where Paul stayed for two years when he wrote to the Philippians. It was a pit, dug in the ground. Dark, cold, with the stench of human excrement. This is where Paul stayed and had an inextinguishable job. Why? He assessed what was important and was was not in the eternal scheme of things.
THREE EXAMPLES OF THOSE WHO SOARED ABOVE THE PLAGUE OF NARCISSISM
4. Find these three examples and write down whatever you learn about them in Philippians 2:17-30
5. What statement does Paul make in Philippians 2:21? That was true in the church then and true in the church today. Why, do you think? How can we change?
“Why is it so hard to let others go before us — even in traffic or at the store? Why is that we have so much trouble giving up our own rights?” Richey Cable, my pastor in Kansas City, said it is because our “inner assessor” is off.
He talked about how nervous he was when he and his wife were going to sell their sixty-year-old home and an assessor came, kicking at the foundation, peering at the roof, and circling the home. Ritchey feared he would under-value the home and they would have trouble getting a fair price.
“Our problem,” Ritchey said, “is that we have an assessor in our hearts that is off. We over-value the things of this world and we under-value the things that are eternal.”
My friend Rachael had asked me to pray the last week. Her husband would like to be in ministry, but that would probably mean a move, and Rachael dreaded that — leaving family, leaving the familiar, uprooting her kids.
(Optional: If you would like to hear the sermon that impacted Rachael, and which I thought was very good, here is the link)
After church she sent me an e-mail saying God awakened her through Ritchey’s sermon: I’m seeing more clearly that I’ve been in danger of seeking my own interests above God’s glory and the mission He has given us. I have been overestimating the weight of the things of the world (the comfort of living in KC, close to family, and the “control” of my kids’ worlds, etc.). And I’ve been underestimating the riches found in Christ and following Him.
6. Be still before God. What might you be over-valuing? What might you be under-valuing?
7. Read Philippians 2:25-30 again. (Epaphroditus)
A. Why was Epaphroditus distressed?
I cannot help but think of my husband’s distress when he was sick. Not for himself, but for us. He told Annie, “Annie — I am so sorry I have to leave you.”
B. How can you tell from verse 27 how much Epaphroditus meant to Paul?
C How do you think Epaphroditus was able to soar above the plague of narcissism?
Thursday-Friday: Short Keller book
I am hoping that most of you have some kind of e-book device. I’d like you to purchase Keller’s 3 chapter book on Self-Forgetfulness for .99 from Amazon. If you are able to do that, read it (I read it in less than an hour): LINK
8. Write down three main points that stood out to you.
9. If you do not have a kindle device, listen to Keller’s tribute to John Stott above, and write a few things that stood out to you.
10. What is your take-a-way and why?