A Lesson from my Grandfather: Consider Others
May 9, 2021
“I had to follow that verse, ‘In humility consider others better than yourself’ (Philippians 2:3). The sound of my Grandfather’s voice still echoes in my mind, he would recite that verse and say the last few words slower as if reconsidering it all over, “consider others…better…than…yourself.” Painting a scene from 1982 he described his shock in picking up the phone to hear a Scandinavian accent on the other line. It was General Jarl Wahlstrom calling. The General, was appointing him to be the Territorial Commander of the Southern Territory. As these things go, there was plenty of chatter in the Army world about who would receive this appointment. Twenty years later my Grandfather, Commissioner Andy Miller, looked at me and said, “I told him, General, thank you but I think ‘so and so’ is the person for that job, he is really next in line to be a Commissioner and he’ll be hurt if you appoint me, and truth be told he will be better than me.” Shocked by his response the General gathered himself and responded, “well…thank you for your opinion.” My Grandpa said, “Ange [that’s what he called me] every time I received a promotion I always suggested someone else. I felt it was my duty. I had to follow that verse, ‘In humility consider others better than yourself.’” This goes right along with another tome of my Grandfather’s, about taking a compliment, “They’ll say all kinds of beautiful things about you, but I tell you, don’t inhale. Don’t let it become part of you.”
Every part of scripture comes with a backstory, some context that we can’t fully see or understand. In the letter to the Philippians it seems Paul is addressing internal selfishness. He chides that “some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry…and selfish ambition” (1:15-16). He reminds them to not complain (2:14), he calls out two ladies Eudia nd Syntyche saying, “agree with each other in the lord” (4:2).
There is no doubt that our world struggles with the same problems. Somehow despite the overtures of a selfish world, God calls us to be a part of something different. He invites us to be a part of another way of looking at the world. “In humility consider other better than yourself.”
This statement is prophetically and practically challenging because it leaves no room for confusion. The first words are challenging enough, “Consider others…” Maybe these two words are a place to start. In many ways, that is what The Salvation Army is saying through our fundraising endeavors, “consider others.” Consider the suffering of others, consider the experiences of others, consider the opinions of others, consider the pain of others, and consider somebody besides yourself. When we start to consider others, we might begin to see our God more clearly. We might begin to see God as the subject and ourselves as the object of his love.
More challenging detail is supplied in this verse, “consider others better than yourselves.” The connotation in the original language of the words “better than” here is that it is word of conquering. For instance this language is used in ancient literature to describe the way Greek Gods would hold power, so Zeus would “be better than/hold power” over Apollo. I have to admit this is perplexing to me. How does this happen without getting abused by other people? How can I really think that someone else is better than me? How can I really consider other people in my business? The problem with this verse is that too often I don’t consider others…and I certainly don’t consider others as better than myself. When this challenge looks like an impossible dream, Paul points us back to Christ ,
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
Jesus considered us as better than himself and gave up his life for us. He did not take advantage of his divine nature. He considered others better than himself in his incarnation. He considered others as he took time to explain and teach the hardheaded disciples about God’s kingdom. He considered others as he was mocked, beaten, spat upon, humiliated, and killed. He considered others as he was raised from the dead not for himself but to be the “first fruit of all creation” so that we too can rise. He considers others as he intercedes on our behalf at the right hand of the Father. He considered others as one day he will come again and whip the tears from our eyes.
It is too easy to be the doomsday prophet and say that this other-focused living moves against “everything in our world.” As I think of the people reading this article I know there are many who have given up of themselves for the kingdom. I am reminded that Jesus’ impact on the world is still invigorating people to look beyond themselves, still challenging people to consider Jesus’ example, still calling us to be a holy people. There is a movement in world that is inspired by the Holy Spirit that tells me I can’t say “Everything in the world moves against this.” Certainly it may feel that way at times, but there people living this out, and we can be encourage by the way we sense the gospel taking root in our lives.
The Salvation Army is a movement that our founder is attributed to defining by one word, “others.” We are a part of movement in God’s kingdom through the ministry of the Army that shouts to our world, there is another way. God wants something to happen in our world, he wants us consider what the world would look like if we took seriously the command to “consider others better than ourselves.”