You *might* have noticed that the current state of affairs in the American Church is. . . not so great (#understatement). I am blessed to be somewhat shielded from the all the chaos in my own home church, where attendance and enthusiasm are running high and drama is low, but I sense the tension in the Church at large. Arguments, factions, in-fighting, and distrust have become commonplace, with unity giving way to partisanship and tribalism.

Satan is having a field day, and Christ’s Bride has suffered.

Reasons for our current brokenness are as numerous as the the problems themselves, but if I were to place bets on which culprit was the driving force behind the disruption within the Church body, my money would be on our cultural obsession with self. We are a society of narcissists, consumed with our own interests and desires to the point of completely rewriting our concepts of history and truth to fit our own personal narratives. Most frighteningly of all, we have become so immersed in our self-involvement that we’ve grown blind to its presence; but we are hardly immune to its destruction.

I have never lived in a time outside of my own, but from where I stand—gazing back over the course of history—it seems like contemporary self-obsession has reached its peek in our current generation. But if Scripture is a reliable gauge (and I’ve found that usually to be the case *wink wink*), this isn’t a new problem.

In his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul addressed the tendency towards selfishness and ambition. Paul encouraged his readers to set aside self-preservative tendencies and pride, calling them out of their individualism and into a spirit of humility and others-centeredness. Paul reminded this body of Christians that they each were to step down from their personal pedestals and allow others to step up in their place.

I love the Message version of Philippians 2:4 that says, “Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” One commentary elaborates on this, saying, “be severe upon our own faults and charitable in our judgments of others, be quick in observing our own defects and infirmities, but ready to overlook and make favourable allowances for the defects of others. We must esteem the good which is in others above that which is in ourselves.”

I can’t know how this message would have landed with Paul’s original audience, but for us in the twenty-first century it challenges nearly all of our cultural sensibilities. We have been taught that we must look out for ourselves because nobody else will. We are a culture who prides ourselves on rugged individualism and hard-earned success. This self focus, though, is entirely antithetical to the message of Paul and the way of Christ. The early church was called to prioritize community over self, elevating the needs of all over the desires of one. Believers today continue to need this message—perhaps now more than ever before.

Please know that I am not pointing fingers on this! I’m talking to myself here, because community and cooperation are not my strong suits. I never played a team sport as a kid, never belonged to one particular “crowd”, avoided group projects at all costs. To this day the thought of asking for a favor gives me hives: I am notoriously reluctant to seek assistance from anyone beyond the innermost circle (and as a result those very closest to me—namely my parents and husband—have been forced to carry burdens I had no right foisting upon them, burdens that should rightly have been distributed among a tribe and not a small trio). I’m great at looking out for my own interests and downright lousy at putting others’ interests ahead of my own.

But this forging of my own path is not what the Lord wants for me, or for any of His children. He created us for community and inter-dependence, and this is impossible if we are so busy gazing inward that we forget to look up and out.

The call for unity among believers is about more than just “agreeing to disagree.” It’s not a message of “you do your thing and let me do mine.” It is a call to the complete and total commitment to the well being of others for the purpose of furthering God’s Kingdom. Our love for each other as fellow Christians is a witness to the watching world, a reflection of God’s love for us and His own sacrificial spirit.

I cannot pretend to know how this will always look. How are we to remain unified as a church body when we observe parts of the body distorting the truth and straying from the Gospel message? How can we stay in community with fellow believers whose Biblical or political or cultural understandings are antithetical to our own? How do we stand united when we can’t even agree on the definition of unity? These are questions I’m still asking as I sit in this tension of knowing what we are called to, and not always knowing how to live it out.

What I DO know is that the Lord would not ask something of the Church that was not possible or purposeful. I will continue to trust His guidance in this as I move forward in the one area I know is right: with my own heart; with my own attitude; with my own estimation of others above myself.

Heavenly Father, I repent of my selfishness, my stubborn self-reliance, and my self-absorption. Forgive my failures to lay aside my own desires for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Please open my eyes to the needs of others and give me a heart that reflects yours. Fill me with a sense of holy humility that is rooted in love and that serves to give You glory.

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