SERMON: ‘Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others’

SERMON: ‘Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others’

A sermon preached online at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 27 September 2020

‘Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others,’ we heard Saint Paul write.

He went on to spell out why:

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.’


Paul is probably quoting a hymn from the early church. It’s possibly the oldest summary of the Christian faith that we’ve got:

‘Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient
to the point of death – even death on a cross.’

For spiritual beauty and truth this passage is up there with the prologue of Saint John’s gospel and the Beatitudes that open Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

When these passages are read they resonate deeply in our souls.

This passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians is read every year on Palm Sunday, to mark the beginning of Holy Week, and you can see why.

Holy Week begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But instead of riding on an imposing horse as the Romans would have done, Christ chooses a donkey.

The first example in Holy Week of Christ’s humility.

On Maundy Thursday the evening is spent with the disciples in an upper room. There Christ gets up from the table, ties a towel around himself and washes his disciples’ feet.

Footwashing was a normal preliminary before meals. But it was always done by slaves for guests, by children for parents, by devoted students for a teacher. Never did a teacher wash their pupil’s feet, but Christ did.

The second example in Holy Week of Christ’s humility.

But this hymn sung by our sisters and brothers in the early church invites us to go deeper, to see the whole incarnation as an act of divine humility. In Christ divinity is laid aside even to the point of death, death on a cross.

The supreme example in Holy Week of Christ’s humility.

Paul writes:

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.’

You can see why I said ‘Gosh!’

The longest chapter in the influential Rule of Saint Benedict is devoted to humility. It’s foundational to the spiritual life.

In that chapter Benedict draws on a common image of a ladder between heaven and earth, an image taken from Jacob’s dream in the Old Testament.

Benedict writes:

‘On that ladder angels of God were shown to Jacob going up and down in a constant exchange between heaven and earth.’ And he goes on to write, ‘It is just such an exchange that we need to establish in our own lives.’

And instead of seeing the rungs of the ladder as steps that we can take in our upward progress towards God, Benedict subverts that whole way of thinking!

‘Our proud attempts at upward climbing will really bring us down,’ he writes ‘whereas to step downwards in humility is the way to lift up our spirit towards God.’

Humility is the hallmark of the Christian life.

Our word ‘humility’ is from the Latin for earth or soil. It’s about being grounded – coming to a right judgement about ourselves – not exaggerating either our gifts or our faults – being free of pretence. That’s Christ’s mindset – and it’s to be our mindset too.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I last preached on humility almost exactly a year ago when we were facing political deadlock over Brexit.

Now we face a different crisis brought about by a virus that’s so small the human eye can’t see it unaided; and it’s such a marginal form of life that it can’t exist on it’s own outside the human body.

And once again humility seems such a key spiritual quality to nurture within us.

Humility towards the created order; otherwise we will be humiliated.

Humility towards each other; we have to set our own egos and agendas to one side and work for the common good.

As we heard Saint Paul write:

‘Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others’

It’s a text for our times.