Paul said in Philippians 2:3, “do nothing from selfish or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” While love is not specifically mentioned here, it is easy to see that this is what Paul is talking about. Love is the very essence of the Christian life and love is one of the hardest virtues to practice. It is hard because we tend to think of ourselves more than others. So how do we fix that? How can I regard my brother or sister more than myself?
Not from Selfish or Empty Conceit
Paul begins this verse with “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” This is the beginning of regarding my brother and sister as more important than myself. Paul starts off this instruction this way because we often think of ourselves more than others.
Because we think of ourselves more than others there is the temptation to always do so. This was the attitude of Paul’s opponents as Paul pointed out earlier in the letter. He said that “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from even from envy and strife… [they] proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Philippians 1:15, 17). They were putting themselves first to the detriment of others. Their pursuit of “selfish ambition” or “empty conceit” (lit. vain glory) of Philippians 2:3, carried with it the secondary goal of causing Paul distress. But this is what happens when we are motivated by self. We inevitably seek our betterment at the expense of someone else.
Such attitudes are contrary to the will of Christ. We read in Philippians 2:1-2 that since in Jesus we have encouragement, love, fellowship with the Spirit, affection, and compassion for each other (Philippians 2:1). We therefore are to be united in mind, love, attitude, and focused on the goal (Philippians 2:2). And I cannot be focused on the goal and be in unity with my brethren if I am thinking of myself more that I am of them.
With Humility of Mind
So, what then is the solution? Paul gives us the answer in the latter half of v.3, but he qualifies it with this phrase, “with humility of mind.” If I am to act not from a place of self, then I need that one virtue that we all struggle with: humility.
Paul said in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” That means I need to judge myself rightly. To see myself in relation to the work God has given me (that is what is mean by the last phrase of the verse), and as God sees me. This takes a healthy dose of humility. And this humility, true humility, can only come through knowledge. Here we get the “of mind” part of this verse. So, what humbling words has God given us so that we may judge ourselves rightly? I want to offer three scriptures for us to consider:
- “… you are not your own. For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).
- “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… (Galatians 2:20).
- “and having been freed from sin, you became salves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
This means that my aims, my goals, my ambitions, ME! Died the day I became a Christian. They are all secondary to Christ. This is what I believe Christ meant when He said in Matthew 10:39 that those who lose their lives will find them. They find themselves in Christ. Not the old person of sin motivated only by me, myself, and I but a blood bought, redeemed, resurrected, self that seeks the will of God and the betterment of their fellow man.
Regard One Another as More Important
Paul concludes the verse with the solution to selfish ambition. He says, “regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). But what does that mean? I like how one writer explained this. He said to the effect that this does not mean going around counting everyone better than you in skill or morality. So, if you have a PhD in mathematics don’t go around regarding a first grader as more skilled than you are. Rather it means regard each other as ones to be served. To “regard one another as more important than yourself” is to put into practice love.
We see in the next verse Paul shows us how we can do this. He said, “do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also the interest of others” (Philippians 2:4). “Look” carries the idea of taking aim at, it is in the present active, so it is something that is always on our minds. We are actively thinking about how I can serve my brethren best. This is seen in what the Hebrew writer said in Hebrews 10:24-25 where he said that we should consider (take thought) of how to stimulate each other to love and good deeds.
Have This Attitude
This is however not the only place where this attitude is seen. Paul next in Philippians 2:5-8 points to Jesus as the ultimate example of perfect humility and service for the betterment of others. It is this attitude that Paul said was “also in Christ Jesus” (v.5). How did Christ demonstrate this attitude?
- Jesus did not assert His “rights” as deity so as to be in opposition within the Godhead (v.6).
- He laid aside His privileges (i.e., emptied) to take the station of a servant (v.7) Consider His example when He washed the disciple’s feet. He took the station of the lowest servant in the household to teach us a lesson (John 13:5-20).
- He humbled Himself to the point of death (v.8).
So, making application from this we may make the following points:
- I do not get to assert any of my rights, privileges, freedoms, etc. if it puts me in opposition with the will of God.
- I should be willing to give up any of my rights to serve my brethren. Consider Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
- This should all be done with an attitude of humble love for my brethren and fellow man. See Galatians 5:13-15.
If Christ did not assert His own privileges, rights, so that He could serve us. The question then is, do I have any right asserting mine to the disservice of my brethren? If Jesus served His brethren in all humility from a pure heart as our example, we have an obligation to go and do likewise.