“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
DREDD once told me that every man eventually struggles with the question, “What happens when I die?”
While many men start their journey by focusing on the immediate, the realization of our mortality and questions of eternity are inevitable. As we appraise what we have accomplished we discover that the things we long to achieve are really diametrically opposed.
While many men long to make a name for themselves, Christianity emerged to offer an opposite objective–to lose ourselves.
Lucian, a Roman historian writes during the third century about the foolheaded beliefs of Christians. He writes, “these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property (Death of Peregrinus).” He describes “their absurd generosity and their sacrificial concern for others whom they didn’t even know by name” (Williamson, Acts, p24). Through generosity and sacrifice, Christ-followers follow down a path of self-forgetfulness, while the Greek (and current culture) paves a road of self-importance.
Hannah Arendt argues that in Greek civilization men sought to achieve immortality through heroic deeds, while the emerging Christian worldview claimed that eternal salvation was found in a form of self-forgetfulness. “The Greek heroes performed noble deeds so as to attract the admiration of their peers, expecting that their highly personal acts of bravery would be passed on in songs and stories from generation to generation…Saints, on the contrary, surrendered individuality so as to merge their thoughts and actions with the will of God, expecting to live forever after union with Him.” I would add that union with God will cause a losing of our own lives, so that we may sing and share the songs and stories of God’s greatness.
This clash of worldviews between the Greeks and the Christ-followers is just as pertinent today, because it is actually a clash within our souls. Just before Paul breaks into song in the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2, he has to remind–no, command–us to do nothing out of selfish ambition. Our inner struggle is that we want to be a hero, but we also know the True Hero.
Paul writes in Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Tim Keller in the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness realizes that living in faith of Christ’s love means that “because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my résumé. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.” Suddenly we are free from the pressure to be a hero and can point to the True Hero of our lives.
Which path are you walking down right now? Are you seeking fame and recognition? Would you be willing to be forgotten if Christ was glorified? Are you making a resume for yourself or a testimony for Christ?
This inner struggle is why John the Baptist’s prayer in John 3:30 has become my living mantra:
“He must become greater; I must become less.”