Photographers are incredibly gifted people. They can calculate aperture, shutter speeds, f-stops, focal lengths, and exposure triangles in seconds. I have a hard time drawing out my iPhone, launching the camera app, and finding the button to capture the moment before it’s gone. I usually miss it. Fortunately for people like me, there are smart cameras that handle the settings automatically. We only need to point and shoot … and, at times, focus.
Despite the auto-focus feature, many of us like to manually focus. This way, we can determine what it is we are concentrating on and bringing clarity to. And, anyone who has a set of working eyes has a familiarity with how focus works and why it is important. As our distance to the subject changes, so our focus needs to change in order to make the subject more visually clear.
Figuratively speaking, this is true of the Christian life. As our distance to the Lord changes, our focus on the Lord needs to change. In fact, one might describe the Christian life as a perpetual adjusting to the lens of our heart and mind. We are continually fixing our vision that we may see the Lord of our faith even clearer than before. If we are diligent, we are moving closer to the Lord, but there are times when we find ourselves a little more distant than before. Whatever the distance, we constantly adjust our inner lens to be singularly focused on Christ each day.
As we continue our look at Philippians 2:19-24, we come across a verse that confronts us about our focus in life. It causes us to think about what we are continually bringing into focus. And, while this might be easy to think about, it is not always easy to maintain. This was true of the church in Philippi, just as it is for us today.
For this reason, Paul intended to send Timothy to the church in order to provide them with a practical picture of genuine humility. Humility is the key that unlocks the joy of the Lord. And, having a model of humility can be a strong motivation for us. So far, we’ve discovered that a humble person possesses a submissive attitude (Phil. 2:19) and sympathetic concern (Phil. 2:20). This time, we will see that a humble person possesses a singular focus.
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.Philippians 2:19-24
When speaking to a crowd from a mountain side, Jesus said to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). He was teaching about the kingdom of God and how citizens of this kingdom lived. And, to borrow from our opening illustration, He says that they live with the lens of their heart and mind focused on the agenda and interests of God.
This kind of singular focus is found throughout the Scriptures. But, since we are studying a letter from Paul, let’s look at how he put it. “One thing I do,” he says, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” which is “Jesus Christ” who “made me his own” (Phil. 3:12-14). Elsewhere, he said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Nothing concerned Paul more than Christ and whatever Christ desired. He thought of Christ. He talked with Christ. He walked with Christ. He lived for Christ. And, so he couldn’t help but overflow with Christ when engaging others. “For to me,” he said, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” because he would gain Christ in person (Phil. 1:21). Paul was a single-minded man, bent on having Christ. Now, returning to our verse, we learn that this singular focus, that Christ taught and Paul possessed, was also true of Timothy.
An Unrelenting Fight for Interests
Both Christ and Paul used the word “seek” which is critical for us to understand (Matt. 6:33; Phil. 2:21). It means to carefully and intentionally search in order to gain. It carries the idea of having a singular focus that is not obstructed by anything else.
The late R.C. Sproul described it as having three things: “an intensity, a perseverance that will not be denied, and a zeal to achieve the desired objective.” In other words, seeking is struggling with all your mind to lay hold of what you are most interested in. And, since both Christ and Paul use it in its present tense, it conveys a kind of perpetual struggle. To seek is to continually strive for the prize with all you possess.
Another point to consider when comparing Paul with Christ is that both of them use the word “seek” within the context of anxiety. In the sermon on the mount, Christ says “do not be anxious about your life” for God will provide “all these things to you” (Matt. 6:25-33). While speaking about the humility of Timothy, Paul says that he “will be genuinely concerned [literally, anxious] for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20). In other words, Timothy is truly anxious about the wellbeing of others. He is not singularly concerned about himself, but about the citizens of God’s kingdom, just as the Lord is (Phil. 2:4-8). This is why Timothy is such a good practical model of humility. He is singularly focused on the interests of the Lord.
An Unrelenting Focus on Christ
Sometimes, to get a point across, it helps to point to the opposite. An author once said, “I know what love is and it just don’t stop, but I can explain it better when I can say what love’s not.” Paul employs a similar tactic here in Philippians 2:21, “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” By that, he contrasts the many others, even professing believers, who singularly focus on their own interests, with the life of Timothy, who is singularly focused on the interests of Christ.
Paul doesn’t mention any names. It wasn’t important at this point. But, we know of several who were named for putting their own interests first. Many of which were very close to him. For example, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10). Demas was a co-laborer with Paul in ministry, but was unfortunately unfaithful when Paul needed him. While writing these words, Paul was in a Roman dungeon awaiting his trial that would ultimately lead to his execution. He adds, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). In fact, “all who were in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Tim. 1:15). Only “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me,” he says (2 Tim. 4:17).
Paul’s friends left him for self-interest and self-preservation. It is a temptation that we all face, and unfortunately, a sin that most fall to. In his classic sermon The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lews argues that this kind of self-interest is rooted in short-sightedness:
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink, sex, and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
He reasons that seeking Christ is a true and good self-interest. For it is in our best interest to seek the Lord, because “all these things [provisions of the kingdom of God] will be added to you,” to borrow the words of Christ (Matt. 6:33). When we seek our “own interests” and “not those of Jesus Christ,” Paul says we are seeking the interests of this world and this earthly kingdom (Phil. 2:21). We are short-sighted and short-armed. We grab for the temporal and immediate, instead of the eternal. We focus on what matters least and provides less. Instead, we ought to be like Timothy, and seek the interests of Jesus Christ.
An Unrelenting Charity for Others
In contrast to those who seek a short-sighted interest, Timothy possessed a singular focus on Christ and the things that Christ was interested in. He possessed what Paul describes as the mind of Christ:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”Philippians 2:4-8
The word “interest” is a filler word in the English translations. The original text left it open-ended. All that Paul specified was “your own” against “their own” without qualifying anything in particular. (This is also true of Philippians 2:4.) In a sense, you can grab all that Jesus mentions in Matthew 6:25-32 as well as anything in your life that you might substitute for Christ. You might say that it refers to your money, your property, your family, your health, your reputation, your education, your success, and even your happiness. All that we are prone to strategize and work toward can be substituted for the word “interests.”
To bring it all together, the interest of Christ is to put the interest of others before yourself while Christ puts your interests upon Himself. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and then, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). Putting on the mind of Christ, the mind of humility, is fleshed out by seeking the interests of others while seeking the interest of Christ, who sought the interest of others. John Piper put it this way, “Find your joy in making others joyful.” Paul said, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
This is the essence of genuine humility. Going low to bring others high. The humble person is singularly focused on the interests of Christ. He measures everything by the interests of Christ. He filters everything through the interests of Christ. He submits everything to the interests of Christ. His lens is continually adjusted to bring Christ to the clearest point, so that others might find the joy that Christ gives.
Are you singularly focused on Christ? Or, is Christ just another one of many items on your list of things? How can you know? By the extent you count others as more significant than yourself.