Category Archives: Sanctification

9 specific ways to esteem others better than yourself

In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he gives a gospel-centred approach to our relationships and shows how selfishness is cured by understanding the only truly selfless person, Jesus, and his humility in going to the cross for our sins.

Philippians 2:3-8: “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. 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.”

“Me”-centredness is everyone’s default mode of operation. And it’s an area of ongoing work and growth in my life. It’s one thing to know that because of the gospel, we esteem others better than ourselves. But what does it look like in practice? That’s what I often struggle with.

Last weekend we visited some friends who’ve recently joined the exodus out of Auckland. We saw a really helpful list on their fridge that lists 9 specific ways to esteem others better than yourself. I thought it was good enough to share here:

Specific ways to esteem others better than yourself

  1. Don’t assume that others have exactly the same evil motives as you find in your own heart (love “believes all things’, 1 Corinthians 13:7), but rather put the best possible interpretation on their actions.
  2. Look for those virtuous qualities in others that you know you are most in need of yourself. Then seek their help in acquiring those qualities.
  3. Don’t assume that your time, money, energy, thoughts, and opinions are more valuable than your neighbour’s.
  4. When making a decision, consider not only how that decision will affect your own interests, but also how it will affect the interests of others.
  5. Be alert not only to your own needs, but also to the needs of others.
  6. Demonstrate your high estimation of others by commending them for those qualities that are biblically worthy of praise.
  7. Guard your heart from developing a patter of critical, condemnatory, accusatory, judgemental thoughts about others. (Such thoughts make it very difficult, if not impossible, to esteem others better than yourself).
  8. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  9. Remind yourself often that God has given to you everything you have to be proud of and that He has often used others to get you where you are. Thank God and thank thouse whom He has used to bless you.

(from Pleasing People by Lou Priolo)

My favourite suggestion is 8 – how wonderful would it be if Christians were known for “never putting anyone down, except onto prayer lists” (as Don Carson once said about his dad).

The one that I find the hardest is 7. How about you?

Prone to wander: balance, family and priorities

As I look back at our calendar over the past 12 months, it’s easy to be puffed up.

We are the perfect family where I write interesting things, preach, lead worship, study, read, go cycling, play. Cheryl is the perfect housewife who bakes, sews, binds books, cooks, teaches the girls. It’s easy to rattle off what we’ve done and convince ourselves that being busy, doing stuff, going from one thing to another, means we have it all together.

But that’s not true.

That’s not who we are as a family. We struggle with sin. We’re tempted like everyone to make good things ultimate things in our lives. We need to keep bringing ourselves, our idols, to the foot of the cross and find forgiveness and grace in Jesus.

So here is an honest reflection, and an invitation to pray with us and to encourage one another.

One area that’s been a struggle for us in the last few months is in balancing between church and family commitments. And this is an area where I’m the one most at fault. And so earlier this week, after the helter-skelter of organising conferences, planning induction services and all kinds of ministry stuff, it was good for Cheryl and I to sit and think through where we were at.

We got to reflect on many things, including:

  • How easily I’ve said yes to ministry-related requests, even when I knew it was directly at the expense of serving the family.
  • How easy it’s been for date nights and family times to be put aside in exchange for an important ministry task.
  • How my heart is tempted to see up-front ministry as more spiritually formative than reading and praying at the dinner table.
  • Wondering out loud if – Lord forbid – I was willing to sacrifice my children on the altar of ministry “success”.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, no less my best friend. It was difficult but good to wrestle with the truth: these are my temptations and struggles, from a heart that should delight in the love of Christ more than the praises of men, but is still “prone to wander”.

And perhaps they’re your struggles too. Whatever your vocation.

Maybe, like me, you’ve hidden behind your computer or phone screen because it’s easier than resolving the argument with your wife or kids.

Maybe, like me, you’d prefer chatting with the someone who showers you with praise on Sunday morning, than chatting with your wife about what chores need to be done. 

 


 

Last Sunday, the elders of Howick Baptist commissioned Richard and Sam Cutforth into full-time service as Senior and Assistant Pastor respectively. During the commissioning, one of the elders read out 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to remind everyone of the characteristics of an overseer. It was verse 4 and 5 that stuck out to both of us.

“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”

This isn’t just for “elders”. This is a mark of a mature Christian. Faithfulness to the family – how I set my priorities in my home life, how I love Cheryl and the girls, how I serve them – all this determines how effective I am in any kind of gospel ministry.

By God’s grace I hope I don’t forget this.

Who am I? What is my ‘self’?

I_dont_know__Who_Am_I__by_madazulu

In our young adults group on Tuesdays we have been working through the book of Romans. When we were in chapters 6 and 7 there were some great discussions about our true identity as Christians.

In chapter 11 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott explains how a Christian’s identity cannot be recognised accurately without reference to the cross.

Who am I? What is my “self”? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity, because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity, because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me. My true self is what I am by creation, which Christ came to redeem, and by calling. My false self is what I am by the Fall, which Christ came to destroy.

Only when we have discerned which is which within us, shall we know what attitude to adopt towards each. We must be true to our true self and false to our false self. We must be fearless in affirming all that we are by creation, redemption and calling, and ruthless in disowning all that we are by the Fall.

Moreover, the cross of Christ teaches us both attitudes. On the one hand, the cross is the God-given measure of the value of our true self, since Christ loved us and died for us. On the other hand, it is uthe God-given model for the denial of our false self, since we are to nail it to the cross and so put it to death.

Or, more simply, standing before the Cross we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die.

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 329-30.

Birdwatching and the freedom of self-forgetfulness

As the hatchback hurtled towards the airport, I asked a most unnatural question to the man in the front passenger seat: “So are you a birdwatcher?”


A few people know me well enough to be able to see and point out a specific way that my proud heart shows itself. When talking with people, I have a tendency to insert myself into the conversation. I’ve done it too many times to count.

“Oh, you’re from Sydney? I was there 3 months ago, and I did this and this and met so and so, and I think this about Sydney even though it’s not relevant to you. I love Sydney, what a beautiful city.”

Sorry dude, your friendly conversation starter just got hijacked by my ego.

If your conversations with others seem to always steer towards topics you want to talk about, you probably have the same self-aggrandising tendency as I have.

True gospel-humility

It was from reading Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” with Cheryl earlier this year (best $2 we’ve spent all year) that God switched on a light bulb to my problem, and the solution.

Tim Keller writes:

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself: it is thinking of myself less.”

And:

“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

The ultimate self-forgetter

So the problem essentially is that I think about myself too much. The solution is not to think less of myself (“Oh I’m so terrible, I must tell you that” – a false show of self-pity, and really just another expression of selfishness), but to think of myself less.

It’s immensely difficult to change this consciously, especially if you’ve spent your whole life thinking about yours truly, and talking about yourself and what interests you. Blogs and Twitter/Facebook feeds aren’t the problem, they merely amplify the narcissism already in my heart. I’ve been a self-promoter since my youth.

But with the strength of Jesus — the ultimate self-forgetter, advocate and example in true gospel-humility (Phil) — I’ve been given grace to work on dying to myself.

I’ve been practising trying to listen better in conversations with friends or strangers, asking questions and adding responses to encourage the other person, and resisting the temptation to assert my points of interest.

Biting my tongue

So instead of asking Don and Joy what they thought of worship music trends, debating the recent Christian trends, or over-inflating my understanding of Don’s bibliography, I just bit my tongue.

I listened to them retrace where they went on their holiday, excite me with descriptions of the various birds they encountered (Australian birds, I’ve learned, are much more raucous than New Zealand species – perhaps a parable of two nations’ temperaments). I laughed with them upon their discovery of the ubiquitous pukeko (or “water chickens”, as I told them).

“So are you a birdwatcher?”

“Oh, not in a professional sense. But I’m familiar with the different types of birds in our area, local and migratory.”

I’m not there yet. Please tell me, then forgive me the next time I “convojack” you.

And by God’s grace, let’s journey together towards self-forgetfulness.

Age, race and the local church: “Why shouldn’t I stay and build?”

Building Under Construction

Dan Phillips has really good thoughts in his post asking the hard questions about whether our local church reflects the entire age range. Some good challenging insights for those my age prone to wander and church-hop, those who immediately question whether a church is dying if you’re sitting among mostly white-haired saints.

For example:

“…a church lacking the very folks Paul focuses on first in Titus 2 lacks vital resources. Young men won’t have accomplished, seasoned models to look up to, won’t have those resources to draw on or be cautioned or matured by (to dangle a preposition). Young women won’t have those mature ladies to help them navigate the rocks and corals of their own passions or cultural blinders. Better to set out across the desert without water, than to try to navigate the world without mature, older believers in an assembly.

Look at it Biblically and matured saints aren’t a red light, a warning sign, or an obstacle. They’re a gold mine.”

I’m sure that the question could be posed the other way too. If you were an older Christian looking for a church, a group of Biblically faithful Christians on the young side of the register needn’t automatically be a roadblock. So what if their style of music seems foreign, or their understanding of life and faith seems too inexperienced? Maybe that’s exactly the group of people worth investing into, and transferring the gospel to.

But maybe you’re the only young guy in a church whose average age is over 60. Or you’re the only young family and everyone else seems preoccupied with matters of advanced age.

Dan ends the write-up with this anecdote:

“I recall a man telling a story some years ago that led me to respect (and like) him even more than I already did. He was a black brother, who’d begun attending this predominantly white church. After a time, he felt a bit lonesome and discouraged. It was still pretty much just him and his wife amid a sea of lighter shade of pale, and they sometimes felt like they stuck out. After a while of no change in the collective epidermal hue, he was tempted to leave, to give up.

But then Bill asked himself, “So, if I leave, what does the next black brother find, when he comes? Same thing I found. Someone has to be first, someone has to stay, someone has to build. Why shouldn’t it be me?” And he stayed; and in time he was not remain alone. In fact, when the pastor left, the church called a black brother to pastor the church. In part, because Bill asked himself, “Why shouldn’t I stay and build?”

This made me reflect a bit on our home church. In the years before we joined HBC, the church had become predominantly Caucasian and older-aged.

A family I respect a lot once told us about how they ended up joining HBC amidst barriers of distance, age and race because they wanted to find a church with faithful Bible teaching. They remarked how daunting it was to initially be the first “brown people” at the church in a sea of older white faces. But over time, God brought more young families, more people from different cultures and ages to build His church.

Now if you visit our church on a normal Sunday, you’d be worshipping together with a kaleidoscope of cultures, ethnicities and ages. For example, among our church body are bible readers of many different languages (I think there’s at least 30 different nationalities represented), with busy and thriving ministries at both the senior and junior ends of the age range. But it had to start with the first family.

So I’m very thankful that by God’s grace this family also chose to say, “Why shouldn’t I stay and build?”

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After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Rev. 7:9-10 (ESV)

(HT: Thabiti)