Sometimes I need to remind myself of the radical nature of the second greatest commandment. Christians are not merely commanded to love their neighbor. That on its own might be feasible, especially depending on how we define what it means to love your neighbor. But that is not the whole commandment. We are called to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves! If we honestly examine our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and actions I think we will find that we really, really love ourselves.
So much of what we say and do is for our own benefit and to meet our desires. So much of what we expect from others is centered on ourselves, not them. For example: Have you ever forgiven yourself for something that you wouldn’t forgive someone else for? Have you ever made an excuse for your actions that you would never accept from your spouse, kids, or co-workers? We do things like that all the time because we love ourselves far more than our neighbors. If we are to love our neighbors the way Christ calls us to we must put to death selfishness and replace it with acts of loving service. One way to accomplish this is through the art of self-forgetfulness.
Union with Christ: The Foundation of Christian Service
Service is anything we do that strives to meet the needs and wants of others by giving our time, energy and resources. There are many reasons people serve but only one motivation for true Christian service. We are to serve because God first served us. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Philippians 2:5-11:
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. 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.
We learn in these verses that Christian service finds its foundation in our union with Christ. When are united to Christ by faith the Holy Spirit gives us a new outlook on life, we have the mind of Christ. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us how we ought to think and act. The incarnation itself was an act of service. Christ freely gave up the outward splendor and glory that displayed his eternal divine nature in exchange for the form of a servant, a human form, which obscured the reality of who he truly is. As a servant, he obeyed God the Father perfectly, even when it meant relinquishing the reward and blessing he deserved for perfectly obeying God, and instead receiving the curse and punishment we deserve for our sin. This humble service, relinquishing of his very life, is what Christians are called to emulate.
If you are like me you may be thinking that Jesus’ love, humility, and standard of service are impossible to live up to. If so you are right! We cannot do it on our own. We must remember as Paul teaches us, we can only serve sacrificially because we are a new creation in Christ Jesus. We already have the mind of Christ so we should and can love and serve like he loved and served us. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, sanctifying us day by day, as we work to put to death sin and put on the new man. The foundation for Christian service is nothing other than Christ crucified. On the cross, Christ frees us from sin so we can serve and gives us the reason to serve.
Humility: The Art of Self-Forgetfulness
Having laid the foundation for Christian service we can now talk about how we go about serving others. If we study Christ’s example we see that humility is the key. To serve we must put to death pride in our hearts and replace it with a humble attitude. What is humility? One insightful definition (often wrongly attributed to C.S. Lewis) states, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” This pithy statement cuts to the heart of true humility. Humility is not to be confused with low self-esteem, self-pity, or self-degradation. Rather true humility is the art of self-forgetfulness.
Immediately before the Philippians passage quoted above, Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4). When we are humble we think of others, we love others and seek to meet their needs and accommodate their wants without being fixated on what it may cost us. Humility causes us to value others so highly that self-interest and pride are ruled out. Christ-like humility leads us to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. That is why the art of self-forgetfulness is the key to service.
How to Cultivate Self-Forgetfulness
I want to close with some practical suggestions for cultivating self-forgetfulness and humility.
- Meditate on Christ’s example of humility and service. Put aside time to learn and reflect on his life, death, and resurrection.
- Pray for Christ-like humility. If you do then God will grant it to you! (John 15:7)
- Identify things in your life that work against self-forgetfulness. Change the way to think about, use, or approach those things.
- Find your identity in Christ. In Christ, you can be secure in who you are. If you are secure in your identity you don’t need to spend time thinking about yourself, instead, you can easily forget yourself as you serve others. One of the greatest barriers to service can be how we think others will perceive us. Rather than finding our identity in the opinions of others find it in Christ your Redeemer who loves you unconditionally!
- Serve. At the end of the day, you must choose to serve. Look for opportunities to humbly seek to meet the needs and wants of others. They are there, in fact, Paul tells us that we are created “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
- Sacrifice. Give of your time, energy, skills, and comfort for the sake of others. This is at the heart of the Christian life. We are to have the mind of Christ all the time, therefore, service and sacrifice is something that should be a part of our everyday lives. (Romans 12:1-8)
Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer