Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
— Philippians 2:4
As a pastor, one of the saddest realizations I’ve had to face over the years is that many people think of themselves disproportionately more than they think of anyone else. They are often self-consumed, but they don’t even realize it. They think of themselves, talk about themselves, worry about themselves, spend money on themselves, think and talk about their needs, and so on. They don’t deliberately act this way; they are simply self-absorbed. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone acting like that on purpose! To be perfectly honest, this kind of attitude and behavior is so repulsive that I find myself trying to run from such individuals because I just don’t want to get caught up in a conversation with them.
I’m not talking only about church members; some of the most self-consumed people I’ve ever met have been in the ministry. It shouldn’t be that way — but often it is the case. They want to tell you all about their ministry, their outreaches, and everything else great that they are doing. What’s so sad is that these same people often never ask a single question of the person they’re talking to in order to know more about him or her. It’s usually a one-sided conversation about what matters to them — because that is who is uppermost on their hearts and minds: themselves.
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It doesn’t take too long to figure out when you’re with that kind of person, because the person’s mouth quickly reveals the truth about what is in “the abundance of their hearts” (see Matthew 12:34). Even as I write this, specific individuals come to mind. When I see them, I immediately begin to look for an exit or a way to avoid them — because I know that once they “capture” me, I’m going to be a prisoner to their conversation. They are so self-consumed that I can’t even break into the conversation to say I need to be going for an appointment or previous engagement.
Often the conversation ends and these individuals have never asked a single question about what the Lord is doing in our lives or ministry — except to say, “Oh, I’ve talked the whole time and never let you tell me anything about what you’re doing.” And that’s all right with me because I don’t think they really cared, or they would have made room for it in the conversation.
Over the years, I’ve had to come face to face with the fact that there are just some people who are that way, and they seem to be stuck in that rut of self-absorption. I’m not being critical or judgmental; I’m simply making a sad observation that’s forthright and honest. Some people are simply all about themselves with seemingly no capacity or ability to leave room in their lives for others. Even if the other party tried to interject something about himself in the conversation with people who fit this description, they wouldn’t listen very deeply because their thoughts are too involved with themselves.
It is unfortunate that this kind of behavior should exist in the Christian community, because we, more than any other group of people on earth, should live to know more about others and how to serve others. If we are totally consumed with ourselves, we are missing the point of the Christian life in a very big way.
The apostle Paul must have faced this same disappointing experience with people, because when he wrote Philippians 2:4, he referred to this type of behavior among believers and urged them to put a stop to it. He said, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” The original Greek is very strong and should be taken as a prohibition!
The word “look” is the present active participle of the word skopeo. The word skopeo means to intensely focus on something. In this case, Paul was talking about people who were completely fixated on themselves. But he forbade them to act like this, and that’s why he used a negative prohibition in conjunction with it. It’s just not right for Christians to be so self-absorbed that they focus only on themselves and never ask a thing or pose a care about anyone else. And I’ll tell you the truth — people will generally try to avoid dealing with this particular character defect. They’ll try to run from it!
That’s why Paul continued to say, “Look not every man on his own things….” The words “every man” is the Greek word hekastos, which literally means every man — no one excluded. In other words, regardless of who you are or how much you’ve done with your life, it’s wrong to be so completely self-absorbed that all you can see is yourself and your own deeds and needs.
This applies to everyone! Thus, this verse should be taken as a rebuke to those who constantly focus on and talk only about themselves. And it serves as an encouragement to get our eyes off ourselves and to remember to think of others and to show concern about them too.
Paul continued, “…But every man also on the things of others.” Notice Paul began with “but every man also.” This is a transition that emphatically tells the reader that it is right to also focus on others — on things besides himself and his own interests.
The words “every man” is the same word hekastos, meaning every man with no one excluded. A more literal translation would read, “But let every single one of you….” Then Paul added to his inspired instruction, saying that we should focus “…also on the things of others.” Rather than focus on ourselves, every single one of us should be focused intensely on the things of others!
The words “the things” in this verse is the Greek word ta, which means the things of others — and that would include anything that the other person involved in a social setting wanted to share. However, the problem often is that the other person never gets an opportunity to talk because the one who is so self-focused absorbs all the time there is to talk and to share. Then when it’s time to part, there is no mutual caring or sharing because one person dominated the whole conversation. This is extremely selfish and often hurtful to the “captive” member who was overlooked in the conversation.
Paul was grateful for his relationships with Timothy, Luke, Epaphroditus, and other members of his team who genuinely cared for him. He listened to them, and they likewise listened to him. There was a mutual sharing and caring between them. I, too, am thankful for the people in my life who want to hear what I think and feel — and they know I genuinely want to hear what they think and feel as well.
Self-centeredness is easily detectable, because such people usually don’t maintain long-term friendships. The truth is, others can smell the odor of self-consumed focus in their every word, and it’s an invisible stench that repels.
If you’ve ever been trapped in a conversation with a person like this, you know exactly what it’s like to wish you could somehow escape! But rather than focus on the misdeeds of others, let’s all look in the mirror and make sure that we do not fall into this self-absorbed category of people that we’re talking about today.
When we leave a person and a conversation, let’s endeavor to leave the fragrance of Christ’s love in our wake. Let’s make it a goal to leave that conversation knowing that we did our best to get better acquainted with that person’s heart and to discover more of the Father’s heart for his or her life. Let’s deliberately show those we speak with the attention they deserve and leave them wondering why we never have much to say about ourselves! I think that is what Jesus would do!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Heavenly Father, how many times have my thoughts, words, and actions been focused on me, my problems, or my preferences? Whether I did this privately or even more regrettably with others, I repent for such selfishness. Father, my utmost desire is to reflect You to others, just as Jesus did when He walked on the earth. You are Love, my Father. Therefore, I ask You to help me leave the undeniable fragrance of Your goodness and love upon every life that I touch.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that the love of God is shed abroad in my heart by the Spirit of God who dwells within me. Therefore, I am not haughty, arrogant, conceited, or inflated with pride because I walk in humility, patience, and kindness that God’s own loving nature reproduces in me. I choose to walk in God’s love, and that sets me free from fear, which includes carnal craving for self- exaltation, self-protection, self-promotion, and any attitude that exalts fleshly preference above godly character and priorities. When others leave my presence, they sense that God’s love has encouraged and lifted them higher than they were before. And when I encounter people who are so self-absorbed that they cannot see beyond themselves, God’s love shines so brightly through me that their hearts are touched and stirred to seek Jesus more deeply and to be like Him.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever been trapped in a conversation you couldn’t seem to get out of — being dominated by a person who talked incessantly about himself or herself?
- When you leave a person, do you know more about that individual, or did he or she only hear about you and what you were doing in life?
- How do you think Jesus behaved when He was with people? Did He show interest in them or talk only about Himself?