From the Letter to the Philippians Paul advises, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” I imagine that there were Christians in Philippi who heard those words read out at a worship meeting and said, “he can’t be serious,” or, “I wonder what he really means.”
It is clear when Paul’s using figurative language to get a point across and when he’s saying, as plainly as possible, exactly what he means. I think this is a case of plain-speak. Paul really means it when he advises that people should put the interests of others ahead of themselves. It seems like pie-in-the-sky to imagine a world in which everyone puts everyone else’s interests ahead of their own. But Paul doesn’t back down, he says that this isn’t advice from a trusted friend; this is God’s will working in us.
When we meet someone on the street we might, as a matter of courtesy ask, “How are you?” Often we are a little put out if someone says anything other than, “fine, and you?” We don’t often expect or want an actual answer to our question. My apologies to those for whom this is not true. We might even think that Paul can’t be serious when he advises putting the interests of others first.
Paul acknowledges that this just the sort of thing that made some people want to crucify Jesus the Christ. But if we are to create the world God intends it won’t begin with selfishness. We’ve got to start considering the interests of others, putting their needs ahead of our own, and meaning it when we say, how are you. Doing God’s will is about how we interact with one another and about encouraging governments and big business to put the daily needs of every human being ahead of their own interests and profits.