The story is told of General William Booth of the Salvation Army who was scheduled to speak at a meeting but whose appearance was prevented because of illness. But being resourceful, the general arranged that an assistant make an appearance in his stead and read the speech to the assembly.
The audience will not have forgotten that speech easily.
It consisted of just one word, “OTHERS”.
And there will not have been any doubt as to the general’s intention.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians had that in mind. “Each of you should look not only to his own interest, but also to the interest of others.” (2:4)
Paul firmed up the meaning of those words in the following verse: “Who being in the very nature of God…humbled himself and became obedient to death…” (2:5)
Most of us who read these lines are church members. A lot has been written about the implications of church-membership. Suppose someone becomes a believer and joins a congregation. And then he/she would come and attend church-services. If I were that person, I know what I would expect and hope for. I would hope for some kindness, some understanding, some attention, some interest, some assurance, everything that goes into feeling welcomed.
Paul may have had that in mind when he told the Philippians not to think of themselves first but look after the interest of others. Everyone new in a community knows what that means to be “the other”. It is not a comfortable feeling. But now, being among Paul’s people who know the art of looking after each other, the new member gains in self-confidence, and begins to feel at home.
“Looking after others …” cannot easily be programmed. It has to do with attitude, what we are inside. One cannot take a course in it. But one can ponder on it. One can pray for it. It stems from sanctification. It is a facet of thoughtful godliness. Members notice, they remember, they inquire, they understand each other, they sense each other’s needs, and they depend on each other. That kind of spiritual reality creates an atmosphere of well-being.
True, a church needs ministry programs. That takes study, planning and organization, and ongoing service. But all that must be bathed in a setting of love, kindness, thoughtfulness, concern, sympathy, and helpfulness. It is done by the extension of one’s person. Not just me . . . “others”.