“It’s just common sense, you’re supposed to look out for number one, and for your family, and anything else comes after that.” Ah the logic of self-preservation and self-protection and self-service. It is everywhere in our culture. It is so basic to our individualistic and narcissistic culture that you hardly hear it either defended or explained. It’s just taken for granted. You even hear Christians say things like this, which is just another sign of Biblical illiteracy being rampant in the land. Let me explain what I mean. Let’s begin by looking at a couple of oft mistranslated verses in Philippians 2.3-4. Here is a proper rendering of the Greek “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look notto your own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” And then it adds the classic example of such abandonment of self-centered, self-protective behavior instead embracing truly self-sacrificial behavior— “have this mind in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus”.
You may remember as well, during the course of Jesus’ public ministry that Jesus tells his disciples that they may well have to abandon their jobs, their families, and even give up their lives to take up their crosses and follow Jesus. Lest you think that was a one time proviso just when Jesus was walking this earth, if you turn the page to the Good Book of Acts or Paul’s letters you will discover the same kind of sacrifices expected of Christians, including of course ministers. The followers of Jesus are inherently called to self-sacrificial lifestyles and practices.
So how has it happened that in the American church we seem to have taken for granted that people ought to look out for themselves and their own physical families first above all else, and before doing anything for anyone else? Everyone else gets the leftovers. What has led to this is the effect of individualism on the church, which in turn has led the church to see itself as an organization set up to nurture nuclear families rather than to be a family. And behind this is the complete failure to heed the call of Jesus to see the family of faith as the primary family and the physical family as secondary. Put another way, the physical family should be serving the family of faith, all brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than the reverse. Of course it is true that church needs to nurture all its members including its physical families. Of course it should do that. That is not the point. The point is that that should not be the priority. The priority should be creating a community of faith where both families and individuals see themselves as part of a larger and more important forever family– the family of faith. The only forever family we are part of, which will survive death and the eschaton is the family of faith. Put another way, Christians ought to get on with loving one another now, since we will be together forever as the family of faith in the Kingdom.
So it turns out that ‘looking out for number one, and one’s family’ is not exactly a Christian dictum and the church should not be a facilitator of that dictum. The Gospel calls us to self-sacrifice, to serving other self-sacrificially, and to consciously and intentionally deprogram ourselves from our narcissism, hence ‘look not to your own interests, but rather to the interests of others…’ Now that is a counter-cultural Gospel in America.