This is the time of the year that we tell our graduating seniors to go out into the world and make their mark. We tell them that the sky is the limit and that they are limited only by their dreams.
America is the land of opportunity. It is still a place where hard work, ideas, and ingenuity can take people from small towns and vault them into well-known places or even back here to make significant contributions to the world around us.
From mechanics to the medical field, from engineers to inventors, from teachers to technicians, from construction workers to computer programmers, we can all become well trained and well paid for being good at what we do.
We all want to succeed, but a little success can be intoxicating. We can become like the grubs, ants, bugs that had infested a tree, which eventually fell into a river. As it floated down the river, all the critters on the log believed they were doing the steering, when actually they were just along for the ride.
Whether we are seniors in high school, in college, moving up in our company or area of employment, or just have a diploma in life experience, our decisions obviously have a lot to do with where we are in life, but not totally. To some degree, we all ride on the shoulders of others. We all benefit from the help of others. Every day, things happen to us that we have no control over.
If we aren’t careful, when we become successful at anything, we can get a good case of ego, sometimes called the “Big I.”
Paul said to the church of Philippi: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” Philippians 2:1-2
We cannot be one in spirit and purpose if we all have a case of the Big I.
As our seniors get ready to graduate and push away from Jefferson, I want them to reflect on the encouragement they have received from family, teachers, coaches, and friends. I want them to reflect on the love and comforts they have been blessed with, the advice and compassion they have received from all of these individuals.
We raise them to be independent but today I remind them and all of us that we are always dependent on each other. If we are not united in one spirit and purpose, whether we are a family, a school, a team, a business, a nation, or a church, we have problems. Paul reminds us that our ultimate source of unity is Christ.
Paul told the church at Philippi that his joy would be complete if they would be likeminded and have this same kind of spirit and purpose. However, this is difficult to do if we make life all about me, the “Big I.”
Never mind that the ball comes from a teammate, or if a lot of teammates blocked for him, or that a coach called the play, or that the team practiced the play for three months. No, he thinks it’s all about him. There is no humility. It’s all about ego.
It’s all ego for us when we think we are steering lives and we think we are in complete control. When we have filled our lives so full of ourselves and activities that revolve around us, we fool ourselves into thinking that we control our own destiny, our own future, and the direction our lives will take each day.
Let’s use this cup as an example. It only has so much room to hold matter. When it’s full it overflows. I am going to fill this cup up with water. Tell me when it’s full.
Now you told me that this cup is full because you saw that no more water was going into the cup. However, the reality is that this cup is not full of water. It is full but it is not full of water.
This cup has some trash in it. Notice this very simple fact. When I remove the trash, guess what? There is more room for more water.
This is the way it is with us. When our lives are full of us, “ego,” the “Big I,” there is less room for God.
Many years ago I counseled with a teenager at a Christian youth event. This teenager came forward to pray and for counseling. As he began to talk to me about his needs, he said, “I don’t have enough of God in my life.”
When I asked him why he felt that way, he began to name some specific sins he had in his relationships with his friends. This teenager understood that in order to have more of God in his life, he had to empty some of the trash out of his life.
When we are too full of ourselves there is little room to love other people, for having unity with other Christians and ultimately, less room for the love of God.
The disciples were full of themselves when they were arguing about who among them was they greatest as they walked on the road –ego.
So here in Philippians, we see Paul challenging the church at Philippi to make his joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Our ego grows when we are consumed only with our agendas. As the ego grows, it leaves less room for others and less room for God.
I was taught as a child that “I” is in the middle of “sin.” Even when we are right we can still sin against one another because of our arrogance, or lack of patience, and our refusal to empathize or understand someone else’s pain.
Paul said to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 2:3
If our lives are filled only with our agendas, then we have no room left to carry out God’s agenda. We don’t have to be bad people to fill up our lives with an agenda that’s not of God. We just have to be consumed with living for ourselves.
One of the greatest basketball players ever to play the game was Pistol Pete Maravich. He is still the all-time leading NCAA Division I scorer with 3,667 points scored and an average of 44.2 points per game. This was the day before the three-point shot.
In his book, From Heir to a Dream, Pistol Pete wrote: One of the first things I realized after I had settled things with God was the difference it made to be dedicated to something other than myself. Everything I had done since childhood was for selfish reasons, such as bringing adoration to myself, finding acceptance among my peers, and gratifying my ego.
This selfishness had led to emptiness and no conventional way out of my self-centered way of life. Trying to please others had brought me frustration, a drinking habit, and a love of material possessions. I had gone to the brink of self-destruction.
After my conversion that special night in Metairie, Louisiana, I turned full circle. All the fame and fortune I had accumulated looked extremely pale when compared to the abundance of Christ in me. I was driven by a desire to please God because of the newness of life I had received from him. The fears I had once possessed were wiped away; I became much more open to people. The solemn moods that had plagued me began to disappear. Instead my life was now filled with the light and love of Christ.”
The Apostle Paul once had an ego problem. He prided himself on finding Christians and persecuting them and he was better at it than anyone else. He prided himself on this zeal, but that all changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He learned that his life was filled with all the wrong things.
Later he taught:
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
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!
Instead of filling our lives up, which is what ego is all about, Paul says, Jesus taught us that we should be about pouring our lives out.
Now there’s a different definition of success: “She poured out her life for others. He poured his life out for others.” What if people could say that about us?
Society has a standard definition of success for an individual, a business, a church, and even a country. While these definitions have merit and even are worthy of our attention and goals, we need to keep in perspective what success looks like in God’s eyes. It looks entirely different than how the world defines it.
Paul points to Jesus and says that He is our model.
He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” 7-9
Jesus had every reason to claim equality with God. He had every reason to grab the world, slam dunk it, grab his robe and say, “Look at me! Yeah, I did it. It’s all about me.”
Instead, he emptied himself of life in order to give us the life we need. The life that we need is the kind of life that will last long after all of our accomplishments are forgotten, long after our land has been sold, long after our earthly trophies have been broken or lost, long after our will has been processed, long after the company has been sold, and long after our body has decayed. The life that we need is the eternal. The life that we need is found in the everlasting life of Jesus.
Paul reminds us of this in verses 10 and 11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
These verses tell us that the question is not whether we will eventually bow our knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, it’s a matter of when.
To confess Christ is to lay our egos at the foot of the cross. To confess is to lay our egos at the foot of the cross. If our egos grow, it leaves less room for others or for the presence of Jesus.
What’s in your cup this morning? Is there trash that needs to be removed? Then confess your sins today and allow more of God’s Holy Spirit to fill the void. Is your life filled with so many good activities that there is little room and time to serve others and to worship God? Then ask God to help you prioritize your day and your week. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That’s how you find real success. That is how you fill up your cup with the goodness that lasts.