You share some news or lament a concern. Maybe you give advice or express joy. And then in that moment enters the ‘One Upper’. You know *that person* who has to outdo. Her joy is greater. Her words are wiser. Her problem is bigger. Her news is better. Her story is sadder.
- “I am so thankful that the Lord provided me with this job. It came at just the right time.”
- “Well, my job is just the greatest blessing. I help so many people and I see how God is just doing amazing things through it.”
- “Man, my two kids are driving me crazy! All they do is fight and whine. I need a break.”
- “Oh, you have no idea. Try having 4 who bicker constantly. Not to mention I haven’t had a break in 10 years.”
It’s like trying to get the upper hand in one of those “who wore it better?” competitions.
Ok…. Maybe the corn does have the advantage there. But you get the point. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the one upper tries to outdo, it could be about the most trivial circumstance, but the desire to feel superior is her motivation. Maybe you’ve been the one upper. Or maybe you have someone in your life who always tries to get the upper hand. What does it say about us when we try to promote our joys, sorrows, concerns, and problems as greater than another?
One Uppers Reveal A Love Of Self
Elevating ourselves above another reveals a love of self. Now, I don’t mean we love everything about ourselves. Certainly we might have dislikes about our physical appearance, personality, character, etc. But our self love shows itself in what we do and what we say. Jesus made this very clear in Matthew 22. He eludes to a self love when He says, “love your neighbor as yourself” [emphasis mine]. Jesus already knew every person does what they think will be to their advantage. And Paul testifies to the same truth in Ephesians 5:29 when he writes, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it…” We all have an endemic love of self.
And this love of self is rooted in a desire to be seen as worthy. We are a people who, from the time sin entered the world, have sought to elevate our own sense of worthiness. We saw it when Eve wanted to be like God, when the Tower of Babel was constructed to reach the heavens, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and so on. But self love is not the path to worthiness. Conversely, it is our denial of self that ultimately brings exaltation. And not that we might be exalted. For what about us is truly worthy of boasting (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)? No, our willingness to deny ourselves, to seek humility, rightly exalts the name above every name, Jesus. And we come to discover that when we magnify Christ rather than ourselves, it brings greater joy. As Andrew Murray said, “True happiness is always self-forgetful: it loses itself in the object of its joy”.
And the object of our joy should always be Jesus.
So, what is the path to humility? And how can we speak to exalt Christ? And how do we find greater joy through humility?
The Mind Of Christ: The Path to Humility and Joy
Philippians 2:1-11 offers us a beacon of light leading to the path of humility and joy in Jesus. Here we find the remedy to a love of self and a proper extolment of Christ.
If we review Philippians chapter one, we notice that Paul compels the church in Philippi to let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel. It seems this was necessary to say because there was some division within the church (Philippians 1:28). They were not seeking to elevate Christ, but were instead acting out of self-interest. More specifically, fear from the opposition of the gospel message was causing them to become disunited for the faith of the gospel.
He then proceeded to tell them to be of the same mind- do nothing from selfish ambition, be in full accord, think of others as more significant than themselves- and this same mind is the mind of Christ. It was a humble, serving, self-sacrificial love that brought Jesus to the cross on behalf of sinners. Our humility is founded in having the mind of Jesus. And Jesus’ mind was not self-seeking. His mission to the cross was motivated by a servant heart, an obedience to His Father, and a joy that far surpassed the pain of death. Likewise, we too should pray that our minds might be renewed with a humility that seeks to honor Christ by thinking of others before ourselves.
Moreover, what we begin to realize is that when we humble ourselves through emulating Jesus, we find a greater joy than if we only sought to inflate our own egos. We may be satisfied in the moment as we try to one up the other person. We may gain a small sense of satisfaction in thinking we are ‘better than’. But in reality we are only achieving a lesser, expirational joy. On the other hand, when we humble ourselves, speak graciously, seeking to better serve others, we are able to experience a greater eternal joy. We keep the command of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And we reap the promise of keeping that command, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Just as Jesus, “who for the joy set that was set before him, endured the cross”, we too pursue joy as we honor Him by setting aside our own interests.
And here’s the thing – we can learn from this passage that in Christ, we are all on the same team. Remember that cheesy motto you learned playing sports, there’s no ‘I’ in team? Well, it’s true. It is not about us. It is not about our interests, but about building up others in faith. Not about our own agenda, but about promoting the good news of the gospel. Not about speaking to elevate self, but to edify one another through grace. We join hands and unite in the same mind because we want to make Jesus greater. Not ourselves. We find humility when we act towards a gospel agenda and not an I agenda. We let go of becoming a One Upper and become a Jesus Exalter.
We need to be careful that before we speak we are checking our heart’s motivation. Are we responding to promote self or to build up one another for the sake of the gospel? Are we exalting Christ or our own sense of worth? It’s sometimes painful work to look introspectively at our own hearts and put to death the deeds of the flesh. But if we want to promote unity and become like Jesus, we must reject the desire to be the One Upper. And in the process of making Jesus greater we also find greater joy. May we seek to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).