Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reflections on Philippians 2:4

I've been reading through Philippians the last couple months, taking it slowly so that I can reflect on each section. The past week I've been meditating on the first few verses of chapter two. I came to verse four, which in the NLT reads: "Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing." This verse prompted a lot of thinking.

First of all it challenged me to examine my own behavior. Do I think about the needs of those around me? Do I consider what is happening in their lives and how I might show the love of God through some act of service or a well-spoken word? Although I see progress in this area, I have to admit that I still have a long way to go in this area. I all-too-easily focus on my own affairs and get caught up in my own agenda. In doing so I miss opportunities to serve those around me. I miss hearing God's voice directing me to pay attention to the needs of others. So for me the challenge is to learn to actively look at the lives of those around me and to take concern for their needs and affairs, as this verse exhorts us.

Reflecting further though, I began to wonder whether there are any limits on this exhortation. Should we be interested in the affairs of everyone around us? Do we need to be responding to every need that presents itself or that we are aware of? This seems to me to be an unrealistic expectation. I know of people who say yes to nearly every request made of them, for various reasons. These people, while well-intentioned, often end up being overwhelmed, frazzled and eventually burned out. That doesn't strike me as a healthy lifestyle either and while it may seem spiritually commendable, it isn't sustainable.

So what does God ask of us? He obviously wants us to think of the needs of others as well as our own needs. He wants us to respond in love to the needs of those around us. My present understanding of this recognizes that we must use spiritual wisdom to know where the boundaries are. While being aware of and concerned for the needs of others, it may not always be that I am the one God would have meet those needs. Just because something is a good thing to do doesn't mean that I'm the one that should do it. On the other hand I obviously cannot and should not be self-absorbed, spending all my time, energy and other resources only on myself. To discern how God wants me to respond to a given situation, I need to be in communication with him. I also need to be aware of what is happening in the lives of those around me. If I am not paying attention, I may miss an opportunity where God wants to use me. If I am not walking closely with God, I will not hear his voice directing me. Both elements are necessary. If both are in place, then I can live consistently with God's desire that I look out both for my own needs and those of others.