Off and on throughout my childhood, my mom would institute various Bible memory challenges. Often she would pick verses specifically for each child to memorize or allow us to pick our own verses, but there were a few standard verses every one of us had to memorize at some point.
One of them was Philippians 2:3-4.
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I can still say this verse from memory today. As a child, I knew my mother wanted us to memorize this verse as a reminder for how we should view family life, as a reminder for how eight people living together could have a happy, peaceful life.
Now as an adult I see it’s application in every area of life, but most particularly, I still come face to face with my own selfishness most often in my own marriage.
There is a quote that, although perhaps slightly overused, always confronts my sense of entitlement and fairness within my marriage…
"Marriage is not 50-50. Divorce is 50-50. Marriage has to be 100-100. It isn't dividing everything in half, but giving everything you've got!”
Most of the struggles I experience within my marriage come from me trying to compare myself to my husband. I’ve found that this, without fail, leads to one of two places: feeling superior to my husband and bitter toward him for not helping more, or feeling completely inferior to him and desperately striving to “make it up to him” or “be better for him”.
A closer look, reveals that both of these things are warned against in Philippians 2:3-4. When I feel superior to my husband, I am walking in “conceit”, and when I and striving to make up for my lacking, to impress him, and to be as capable, hardworking, or sacrificial as he is, I find myself working from “selfish ambition”. This is selfishness, because the root of my striving is a desire to measure up. I don’t want to be outdone or humbled.
To be honest, my pride usually blinds me to my husbands work and sacrifice for our family and drops me into the first category. However, neither of these outcomes leaves me, or our marriage, in a healthy, happy place.
So what does Philippians tell me to do instead?
“...in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Rather than measuring myself against my husband or measuring him against me, both selfish in nature, I am to look at him and his needs as more significant that mine. I am called to lay aside my needs and instead focus on the needs of others.
Just writing those words is painful to my sense of self and all sorts of caveats are instantly flying through my mind. While yes, we cannot serve others well if we do not also take care of our own spiritual and physical needs, the fact still remains that God has called us to put others ahead of ourselves.
(Keep in mind that this verse is for all Christians and I’m simply applying it to my role as a wife.)
As if we need further convincing, Paul goes on in the next few verses to play the ultimate trump card.
"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 a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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.”
Paul tells us that we should live humbly, putting others before ourselves, because that is what Jesus did.
Ephesians 5:1-2 emphasizes this point again.
"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
We are called to imitate God, and one part of imitating Him that we so often overlook is humility. Jesus humbled Himself in so many ways through coming to this earth to rescue us from our sin. He laid aside all the glory of God in order to identify with us, to serve us, and to die for us.
The sense of righteous pride and indignation that I so often harbor in marriage feels completely foolish when compared to all that Jesus has given for me.
These verses from Philippians orient us to a new way of living, to a new way of walking through life with our spouse. This kind of marriage is focused on loving, serving and sacrificing for our spouse without keeping any list or tally for comparison. This kind of marriage serves our spouse from a place of love and humility, not give-and-take expectation. This kind of marriage doesn’t stop to worry about how our spouse feels about us or if they think we are doing enough, giving enough, or being enough. This kind of marriage doesn’t stop to wonder if our spouse is doing, being or giving enough to us either.
This kind of marriage is only found and sustained by repeatedly coming to the foot of the cross and reminding ourselves of all that Jesus first did for us, and letting His Spirit move us to greater humility and service from love.
When a couple walks together in this kind of humility and service toward one another, it is a beautiful thing. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some sort of marriage level to be achieved. This way of living, that is so contrary to both our culture and our fallen nature, is something we will have to work toward every day of our lives.
This Philippians 2:3-4 way of living is only possible when we are continually seeking Jesus and humbling ourselves first before Him. It is never a state of being that we will perfectly arrive at, but rather a path to continually walk on and reorient ourselves to. It is a path of continual communion with and surrender to Jesus. A marriage built on this foundation it will be filled with all the blessings, joy, love, and holiness that God intended.