Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, and being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!
Isn't it wonderful how Christ is our perfect example? And how 'all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work'. 2 Timothy 3:16. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us and continue to teach us, and are reminded that 'His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by His own glory and goodness' 2 Peter 1:3.
I have been thinking much about this over the past few days. As well as being a Christian mother sharing the home education of our children with my husband, I am also a medical academic. I do a mixture of clinical work, research projects, clinical trials of medicines and teaching of students and colleagues. Through this work, I believe there are many opportunities to serve 'the orphan and the widow', and show compassion to those who are in real need. As we are reminded in Micah Chapter 6 verse 8, 'He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God'. As Christians in most walks of life we have opportunity to do that.
The other evening we hosted some colleagues who are not Christians, who do not share the 'hope that we have'. They are hardworking, kind and funny, but the thing that really stood out to me was the clear and almost aggressive ambition to succeed professionally. It made me feel uneasy. It made me question whether I had missed something, or was doing something wrong in some way. You see, I do the work I believe I am called to do, to it to the best of my ability, but I never really consider 'my career'. 'Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men. It is the Lord Christ you are serving' Colossians 3:23. I don't aim to become a professor within a certain period of time; I acknowledge that this might be something that happens if the work continues well and the opportunities continue to arise, but to me that would be a by-product of doing what I believe to be right. Similarly, at work there are currently some colleagues who are involved in a bitter argument regarding who should get the most credit for a piece of collaborative work. I don't understand such arguments; to me, the important thing is that high quality work is done that improves patient care. There are times when I am ridiculed and called naive for such a stance! I have had to stop and reflect, and to remind myself of what truly matters. For me, if the work that I do required aggressive selfish ambition, it might be time for me to leave.
Similarly, these are often the people who complain most about terms and conditions, about hours worked, about external recognition and so forth. But Paul reminded the Philippians, 'Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation'. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.' (Philippians 2:14-16)
Sometimes, when we spend much time with those who share our worldview, it can become easy to forget the way those who do not know the love and grace of God tend to think. It can be easy to assume that everybody shares our hope and motivation. It can be quite uncomfortable to be confronted or challenged by a conflicting perspective, but on the other hand, is this not a wonderful opportunity to show a difference? And is it not important for junior colleagues to see that you really do not need to have that attitude? Is it not important to tell a different story, to show that it is possible to do vocational work to the best of your ability without it becoming an idol? We have many wonderful examples through history - in our home we often read Christian biographies and learn about people who have stood firm in their faith in the face of challenging situations, or against a godless culture. But who is proclaiming the Truth in all areas of society today? In another hundred years time, who from our current generation will be remembered as having lived a holy life giving glory to God? As Christians, we will be misunderstood. In fact, it could be argued that if we never felt misunderstood, never felt different to the prevailing mindset that surrounds us, never felt ridiculed for having a childlike faith, that we were not truly any different to the world around us!
What is the response? For me, I must continue to pray that God keeps my heart gentle and humble before Him, and that I continue to remember that 'I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.' John 15:5-8
People around us will not understand. We will feel odd and different at times. But perhaps this should be reassuring rather than unnerving. It is my prayer that by living differently, by having a different motivation and a different perspective that my life and work can bring glory to God.