Abounding Love // Self-Denial

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Dr. Wendell Cantrell

As we head into the holiday season, we are continuing to look at practical ways that our annual theme of abounding love can be lived out as we interact daily with others who, like us, are often prone to give in to selfish desires. As we consider the need for a self-denying type of love, I want you to consider this amazing story told by a pastor named Bryan Chapell as he described this type of sacrificial love in a sermon:

Two brothers were playing on the sandbanks by the river. One ran after another up a large mound of sand. Unfortunately, the mound was not solid, and their weight caused them to sink in quickly. When the boys did not return home for dinner, the family and neighbors organized a search. They found the younger brother unconscious, with his head and shoulders sticking out above the sand. When they cleared the sand to his waist, he awakened . The searchers asked, “Where is your brother?” The child replied, “I’m standing on his shoulders!” With the sacrifice of his own life, the older brother lifted the younger to safety. The tangible and sacrificial love of the older brother literally served as a foundation for the younger brother’s life.

What are some attitudes that steer us away from the humble, self-denying love of our Savior? We each struggle with a heart that loves to deify itself, putting humble servanthood on the back burner. We will look at two of these attitudes that Paul addresses in the chapter following his prayer for abounding love (Phil 1:9, our theme verse this year). Paul addresses what is fueling conflict in the church at Philippi in Phil. 2:3, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Let’s look first at selfish ambition. Our flesh produces this selfishness and we can become consumed with our own little enterprise, which may in itself be a good one, but it can easily lead to jealousy. This can literally put us at war with anyone who opposes our agenda. How does this affect our ministry? Many of you reading this are zealous and passionate for your particular cause, the writer certainly is. We can easily get consumed by our own agenda, goals, and objectives. One of the most difficult challenges of ministry leadership is trying to juggle all the causes about which so many people are so passionate. Paul is telling us, for the sake of unity, we must eliminate this motive from our life. We see Jesus’ own disciples jockeying for top positions in the kingdom (Mark 10:37). The question of who was the greatest continued to be a debate among the disciples and was concerning to Jesus.

The next toxic attitude Paul addresses is vain conceit. Whereas the first attitude (selfish ambition) linked the person with an enterprise, this one seems to be purely about personal glory.   So, with this attitude, we are more self-centered, focusing purely on personal glory. We see this lived out as we have a ministry partner assertively and arrogantly claiming to have the right opinion. He is seeking self- promotion and self-glory. He is fighting to prove himself supreme. This type of personal advancement agenda sows serious discord in the family. We are basically discussing pride here. Satan knows that there is hardly a better way to divide and conquer than through pride in doctrinal correctness, giftedness, or success. Proverbs 16:18 tells us, Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Vain conceit tends to give us a distorted view of reality. It deceives us into thinking that we are brighter and more gifted than we actually are. Sadly, it keeps us from listening to wise correction, thus from learning or changing. The great author, C. S. Lewis, describes pride as, “a spiritual cancer that destroys the very possibility of love, contentment, or even common sense.”

Now we need to look at the corrective for these two toxic attitudes. Instead of being pridefully ambitious and vain, we need to focus on maintaining humility of mind, in humility value others above yourselves. That’s where true unity begins, having been born out of humility. John Stott tells us that, “In every aspect of life, pride is our greatest foe and humility is our greatest ally. Humility is the oil that allows ministries to run smoothly and lovingly. Another of our forefathers, Andrew Murray, calls humility the root of our spiritual lives. Without this root, we lack the vitality of the Christian life that God intends for us. I have been doing a Saturday morning study in Psalms with a group of men for the last two years. The Psalms regularly reveal God’s eagerness to reach out to the humble: God saves the humble, guides the humble, sustains the humble, and even crowns the humble. Our adversary, through our pride, seeks to reverse this. With him, it is all about self-dependence and self- reliance.

We all struggle at times with the second part of that phrase, value others above yourselves. This has been called “social humility”. At the heart of this attitude is self-forgetfulness. This is the realization that the world doesn’t revolve around us AND demanding that it should creates constant frustration. This mindset enables us to serve others at the Lord’s direction, rather than trying to impress them. We see the ultimate picture of this in Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.      

What does humble love look like in real life? Let’s look at two examples. If I am a humble parent, I can clap enthusiastically for the friend’s son who wins a great scholarship, while my boy was barely able to graduate. Then if a colleague of mine rejoices in opening his third clinic, I can rejoice with him, even though I am practicing at a small, one person clinic. To embrace this lifestyle liberates us from the insatiable search of self-significance that causes so much disunity and enables us to love others as Christ loves us!

Stay tuned next month as we look at how abounding love forbears. As we consider looking at how this type of love minimizes our daily conflict, I want to end with a humorous little poem:

To live above with the saints we love,

Oh, won’t that be glory?

To live below with the saints we know,

Now that’s another story.


*Ideas for this devotion taken from:

  • If You Bite and Devour One Another, by Alexander Strauch
  • Means to Spiritual Unity, sermon by John MacArthur
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