The Value of Sacrifice
by Mike Guerrero | May 7, 2020
For many years, Philippians 2:3 bothered me. In a previous edition of the NIV, it read, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” The phrase “count others better than yourselves” particularly bothered me and it even offended me. Was Paul saying we are to lift others up by putting ourselves down?
My reaction may have been a reflection of our culture’s tendency to consider it a virtue to “watch out for number one” and to view self-denial as an admirable but quaint oddity. Even so, what does Paul mean with this instruction? And how do we do that in everyday life?
The next verse “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” gave me some clarity. It also helped to read Philippians 2:3-4 in the newer edition of the NIV: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Valuing others above ourselves seemed much more encouraging and motivating than counting others better than ourselves.
But I still got hung up on how to value others above myself in the practicalities of everyday life.
I had that question on my mind when my wife, Judi, and I went to the grocery store recently. While pushing a cart and browsing the vegetables, I surprisingly found one answer.
People were being protective.
But who were they trying to protect?
We are living under our governor’s “Stay home, stay safe” mandate here in the state of Washington. Most businesses are closed but grocery stores remain open. As we walked the aisles, it seemed to me that well over half the shoppers were wearing masks and almost all were earnestly trying to maintain the prescribed social distancing. People were being protective. But who were they trying to protect? Certainly many were appropriately and understandably trying to protect themselves. But wearing a mask and staying six feet apart are not only, or even primarily, about self-protection—they are also about protecting others.
For those who seek to see life through the prism of God’s word, this protection of others can be an embodiment of “valuing others above yourselves” and a practical counterpoint to our culture’s value of looking out for number one.
Do social distancing and mask-wearing rise to the level of Mother Teresa-like self-denial and sacrificial love? No, they do not. But they do rise to the level of sacrificially loving our neighbor in the practicalities of living in the time of coronavirus—by willingly and conscientiously embracing the challenges of awkward disciplines, disrupted routines, and compounding inconveniences, specifically for the good of others. And, not to be forgotten, these small sacrifices reject that self-serving claim that “No one is going to tell me what to do,” along with all its cousins.
When we see mask-wearing and social distancing as a fulfillment of Philippians 2:3-4, perhaps these behaviors can be transformed from a civic responsibility to something higher—a holy imperative.
I choose to believe that this way of understanding the protection of others, this way of valuing others above ourselves, is pleasing to God and worthy of a “well done, good and faithful servant.”