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When should we mind our own business?

Columbia Biblical Studies: Monday, September 1
Columbia Biblical Studies: Monday, September 1
Vojko Kalan

Today’s bible study is Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Oh, what a quandary we are in! How many times have we been told to mind our own business? How often have we been told to leave other people alone and not bother them? How often have we been cautioned not to become busybodies or gossips? And not, in the biblical letter to the Philippians, we are instructed to look out for the interests of others as well as those of ourselves. How do we know what is the right thing to do?

In order to make real sense of this short yet confounding passage, some other instructions in the bible might be helpful. We are taught to feed the hungry, help the sick and afflicted, and welcome the strangers. We are taught that all men and women are the children of God and that they are our brothers and sisters. We are taught, above all else, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Think about that a moment. If we use the Great Commandment as a guidepost, what would we have people do? Would we have our neighbor buy groceries if we couldn’t afford to? Would we have someone living down the street take us in if our house was foreclosed? How far does the goodness and giving go? Is there a point at which it becomes ridiculous?

In the city I live nearest to, there are signs cautioning people not to give money to beggars but to direct them to a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or other appropriate agency. For our own safety and security, this is undoubtedly the best possible choice. But what would Jesus have done? Would He have told the hungry to go get a free breakfast at a church a mile away? Or, would the Lord have given the beggar a bit of his own food, sharing with him as a brother? This is a real quandary and we are treading on very thin ice.

Times have changed, but the grace, the caring, the loving and the giving nature of Jesus Christ had not changed. We live in a different time and place and have to make some adjustments for our own safety and simple common sense. No, we can’t bring every stranger on the street into our homes. No, we can’t feed all the hungry and homeless. But we can, as Philippians teaches, watch out for the interests of others.

These others may be members of our own families, close friends, or the panhandler on the corner at the shopping mall. In some cases, we can take an active role in helping someone close to us with material goods, problem solving, mediation, professional help, or simply a hug and a cup of coffee. We cannot help all in need, but we can give a bit of our time and money to a homeless shelter. We can make it a habit to help serve a free meal at a local soup kitchen. We can donate nonperishable food to our local food banks and pantries. And, most of all, we can always pray.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur, Concise Bible Commentary, David S. Dockery, General Editor

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