Is caring for others a form of altruism. There is a curious reading in Philippians 2:3-4 “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” Other translations interpret the words “strife or vain glory” as “selfish ambition or conceit.” The New Living Bible reads, “don’t try to impress others.”
But what should interest us is in the New International reading where the word “also” in verse 4 is missing: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Most Biblical scholars like to keep it in. Bishop Lightfoot interprets, “Let them look beyond their own interests to those of others.”1 How disinterested [not influenced by considerations of personal advantage] ought we be when getting involved in the care of others. Is it wrong for us to complain that we also need to take care of ourselves, else, we will not have the energy or ability to help them?
How hard it is to put ourselves last, because that means to many: not at all! But what are we to make of the context of Philippians, chapter 2? Our Savior-God became incarnate, laid aside His “omni” cloak to die for us. Yet one might correctly argue that Jesus’ death and resurrection, though a selfless act of extreme and supreme love, nevertheless, benefitted Him, as well. The Cross was intended by God to reconcile His creation unto Himself, so that He would have us to love. How is that not a benefit to God?
This conundrum is found elsewhere. The New Living Translation of Hebrews 12:2 reads “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross” And then footnotes: “Or Instead of the joy.” How altruistic was the Cross? It almost sounds sacrilegious to ask but this is the instrument and source of God’s grace and, as such, it seems acceptable to ask if the sacrifice of ourselves for others or putting others before ourselves—if this—benefits us, is it really a sacrifice?!
Giving Better Than Receiving
Recall Jesus’ motto in Acts 20:35 “…how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The ultimate giving is a sacrificial gift,2 as a husband should consider for his spouse: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. However, when all is said and done, this husband, or the the Philippian Christians or even our Heavenly Father, Himself, find themselves with a blessing selfish interests could never provide! And if they knew this—and they did—it is proper to conclude that showing grace in a selfless act of love or caring, regardless the size of the sacrifice, was never intended to replace our happiness but to add to it! No wonder Jesus countered the apprehensions of the believers in Smyrna while facing persecution [Revelations 2:9] “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” These believers were following in the steps of the Savior who revealed Himself to them as “The First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” [Revelation 2:8]. When all is said and done, this church and us, too, look forward to inheriting the wealth of Heaven, endless joy, and a happiness that should make us wonder, what was it we thought we sacrificed for our Lord, anyway!
1 J. B. Lightfoot. Saint Paul Epistle to the Philippians. (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI:, 15th printing, 1976), page 110
2 A sacrificial gift is considered one given out of our own need. 2 Corinthians 8:2, 9.