It’s said that absolutes are a bad thing to use among married couples (especially when arguing). There’s typically just no way to make a conversation better by saying, “You always…” or “You never…” (unless the next words out of our mouth are a compliment). However, my wife and I know a couple who mainly just use this knowledge as a joke, and go around telling each other, “You always, always, never, never, …” (They still seem to get along just fine.)
In our world today, there are a lot fewer absolutes (and I’m not just talking about philosophical or moral absolutes). Athletic records that are set one year can be broken the next. We experience things that didn’t happen for millennia of history, from traveling to the moon, to talking with people on the other side of the earth in real time, and it’s difficult to say what will happen next.
However, God – being the creator of the universe – does have some absolutes. Some of these are part of His nature. Others are part of His expectations for us. While His grace covers over mistakes we make, He still tells us a lot about His ideal for our lives in the Bible.
Consider this verse, for instance:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
Philippians 2:3 NASB
It’s one thing to try not to act selfishly. We tell children this. We remind ourselves of this as we become more mature. We consider selfishness to be a generally bad thing. But, this verse doesn’t just tell us to try and be less selfish: it says to “Do nothing from selfishness…”. As in, nothing! That’s a pretty tall order.
Then, a few verses later in the same chapter, another instruction starts with an absolute:
Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
Philippians 2:14-15 NLT
We could all probably complain a little less. Arguing is a vice, but it’s so easy to get pulled into. God doesn’t just instruct us to try to limit complaining and arguing, though – this verse tells us to do everything without falling into those traps. (And they are traps – the first complaint or hostile reply usually leads to more, not just for us, but also for those around us.)
My initial reaction to challenges like this is to look for exceptions (yes, denial is an easy recourse). However, these verses stand in stark contrast to my feeble excuses. For instance, imagine these phrases that sneak into my thoughts, and compare them to what Philippians says:
- I deserve a little bit for me…“Do nothing from selfishness…”
- I really hate this part of my job…“Do everything without complaining…”
- I can’t see how you would think something so obviously wrong…“Do everything without complaining and arguing…”
In my opinion, one of the reasons that it’s so hard to live up to these goals is because they represent behavior that 1) isn’t easy, and 2) isn’t common (probably because it isn’t easy). I’m not in a position to judge, because I know that I fight all of these temptations, too.
However, God (through Paul, the author of this book in the Bible) had a reason for giving this direction to us. Look at that second passage again. If we can live like this, we’ll stand out from the crowd. By being more like what God created us to be, we can’t help but be noticed. And, if we catch others’ attention by just doing the right things (in general – we’re not yet perfect on this side of Heaven), maybe we can tell them about Jesus, who helps us live a life that honors Him.
For more reading on related topics, see also: