“If your attitude is not right, then it doesn’t matter what you do” is a statement I’ve been told for years. It doesn’t matter what ‘good’ things we do on the outside–one can donate millions to orphans or dedicate one’s life to community service–for if in our hearts we do not acknowledge God or give him the glory, we are still in sin, working for our own glory and denying his grace and truth.
Concerning this, Paul writes in Philippians:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3).
Notice that the verse says “from” selfish ambition, “in” humility, and “count” others. It isn’t telling us to do things that aren’t selfishly ambitious or conceited. It isn’t just asking us to be humble and to do things that put others above ourselves. Rather, it is commanding us to have a humble heart. It is dealing with motivations and attitudes.
Once, when I was babysitting two little girls, the two got into a fight over a lego piece:
“Hey, that’s my piece. I found that piece.”
“No, I found it.”
“But I need it for this, and we need this for that. Don’t you want that to happen?”
As I tried to reconcile the two, it struck me how ridiculous the argument was not just because it assumed the paramount importance of that single lego piece, but also because its entirety consisted of “What can I get out of it no matter how trivial and small that gain may be?” Even in the argument, each girl assumed the selfish motivation of the other and attempted to fulfill her own selfish ambition by appealing to the other’s. Unless one solves the selfishness, “Can’t you just share” falls meaningless on their ears. Commanded sharing is but a superficial solution, for a few minutes later, another dispute will arise.
The same applies to us. Simply doing selfless actions isn’t enough. In fact, the world does this on a regular basis, and it ends up nurturing the selfish ambition within you. Rather, God wants a humble heart:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
The question then is how? How can those with a selfish heart ever change their heart? They can’t. We can’t. Only God can:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in 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).
Through Jesus’ death and sacrifice, God gives us mercy. He transforms our hearts. He grants us grace and power to serve Him if we would repent and surrender. That’s the simple message of the gospel, and we hear it all the time, yet we often do not take it to heart.
Paul writes that this humble mind he is talking about is “yours in Christ Jesus.” In other words, a heart that looks to others’ interests first is a necessary characteristic of a Christian who is called imitate Christ.
Jesus, who is God, infinitely great and glorious and holy, stepped down willingly and suffered. He became flesh and blood and faced weakness and hunger. Not only that, but He, the King of Heaven, knelt to serve others. And then, He died for our sake out of his love.
In humbling himself, Jesus set the example for all believers. In saving us, He gave us a purpose–one that is far greater than our own selfish ends:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).
How can our hearts be changed? Only through God’s grace through Jesus Christ. And why does it matter? Because Jesus has given us hope and purpose: to glorify the Almighty God.
Hymn Spotlight: “Crowns” ~ Hillsong Worship
Verse Spotlight: Hebrews 2:14-15
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.