The Most Difficult Command to Obey

Posted on March 26, 2022


By David Ettinger

Not As Easy as It Sounds
Following God’s commandments can be a challenge. For instance: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

How are you doing with that one? Here’s another: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). How would you “rate” your obedience to these verses? One star out of five? Maybe two on a good day?

The truth is, so long as we are mortal, these commands are impossible to obey fully; our flesh will not allow it. We can’t “be perfect” or “love one another” as Christ loves us because it contradicts our nature. Knowing this, why would Jesus give us these commands?

The answer is that though we cannot perfectly obey them, we can – through the Holy Spirit – aspire to do so. We call upon the Spirit to make up for the failings of our flesh and enable us to “be perfect” and “love one another” as best we can.

Yet, the two above commands are not the most difficult for Christians to obey; I’ve got one that’s even tougher: “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” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Do Nothing?
This command begins with a bang! “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Really Lord? Not even a teensy-weensy little act of self-serving?

The Christian walk is one of humility. In verse 2, Paul encourages believers to be “like-minded” with Christ. Okay, but in what way?

Verse 8 tells us: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” In fact, the theme of the first half of Philippians 2 is humility, with Christ setting the ultimate example. As Christ’s followers, we are to emulate Him.

“Selfish ambition” and “vain conceit” are the opposite of “humility” and the evil offspring of pride. Pride puts us first. Pride says, “Me, me, me.” Pride puts our own needs above all things and leaves nothing for others.

Therefore, Paul is emphatic on this count and will not relent: Do nothing that finds its origination in selfishness and vanity!

In Humility Consider …
Whereas pride says, “Me, me, me,” humility says, “others, others, others.” After all, isn’t this the heart of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? He didn’t die for His own sins, but for those of others.

Humility unseats us from the throne and puts others on it. Humility, joined to faith, says, “Lord, you promised to take care of all my needs (Matthew 6:25-34), and I trust you will. Therefore, please give me a heart to meet the needs of others to the best of my capabilities.”

In humility, we are “to consider others better than ourselves.” This does not mean that everyone is a better human being than we are, but that we should “esteem” them above ourselves, which contradicts human nature.

However, just like Jesus – who willingly gave His life for others – we are to willingly call upon the Holy Spirit to give us the heart and will to uplift others while taking the focus off of ourselves.

Interests: Yours vs. Others
The question now is, “How far do we go in this? How much to we elevate others at our own expense?” For example, next year I am planning for an overseas trip, something I have wanted to do for years. However, in my own city, there are many poor and needy and the money I spend on an internations trip could well feed a struggling family for a week or two. What to do?

Verse 4 begins, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests …” (italics added). Yes, of course you are to look after your own needs and do your best to meet them. What you are not to do is to meet your needs exclusively, at the expense of all others.

The remainder of verse 4 bears this out: “… but also the interests of others.” As a Christian, you should responsibly meet your own needs while also doing your “fair share” in meeting the needs of others.

This “fair share” includes your monetary giving – “tithes and offerings” – as well as your “sweat” giving – doing things for others. If you are “in Christ,” the Holy Spirit will let you know how well you are doing.

If He gives you peace that you are satisfactorily meeting the needs of others (we are not called to meet every need), you may feel free to take that overseas trip; after all, God has called us to live an “abundant life” (John 10:10).

How to Obey
To me, Philippians 2:3-4 is the most difficult command in the Bible to obey because it defies human nature. The flesh demands we direct every resource we possess to our own needs, but the Lord calls us to something far better. He calls us to esteem the needs of others above our own.

The Lord would never demand of us something that is impossible to achieve, and Philippians 2:3-4 is achievable by the Holy Spirit working through us. How do we activate the Holy Spirit? There is but one way: prayer. We must communicate to the Holy Spirit our wish to be obedient to Him and do as He would have us do.

Can we do it? Yes. Will it be difficult? Yes.

But don’t forget, the Holy Spirit who will enable you to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves,” is the same Holy Spirit who gives you the ability to say, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Yes, Philippians 2:3-4 is very difficult but, through Christ, very doable!