“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”- Philippians 2:3–4
Due to the fallen nature that we inherit by virtue of being born in Adam, achieving unity with other people is no easy task. This is true even in the Christian church, for while the power of sin to force us to violate God’s law has been broken, the presence of sin remains, and we are continually tempted to go back to the worldly way of doing things (Rom. 7:7–25). Therefore, we need guidance on how to achieve the love and unity to which Paul calls us in Philippians 2:1–2.
Thankfully, the Apostle gives us this instruction in verses 3–4 when he calls us both to avoid rivalry and conceit, and to practice humility in our dealings with others. We shall have much to say on this subject over the next few days, especially as we look at how Christ models godly lowliness for His people (vv. 5–11). Today we will begin our study by noting that the rivalry and conceit that Paul forbids in Philippians 2:3 is the same kind of envy and rivalry the Apostle describes in 1:15. Instead of jockeying for position or attempting to make a name for ourselves, our motivation for ministry must be love for God and His people, a desire to see our brothers and sisters in Christ flourish.
Such requires that we, in an attitude of humility, “count others more significant” than ourselves (v. 3). What Paul has in view here is not a negative estimation of our own self-worth or a refusal to be honest about our own abilities, for elsewhere he demands that we think of ourselves soberly and properly, recognizing our own dignity without thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought (Rom. 12:3). We are not, as it were, to see other people as inherently better than we are because of their talents or position; rather, we are to count others as more significant than ourselves insofar as we consider their needs before our own.
Simply put, within the body of Christ we seek greatness by serving others (Mark 10:35–45). It is not as if there is no place for our own interests — Paul assumes in Philippians 2:4 that we will take our own needs and also the needs of others into account. The point is that our direction must be fundamentally other-centered. We must consider the needs and interests of others with the utmost attention, with an eye to denying our own desires if it means benefitting another.
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage, explaining that we can put others before ourselves more easily when we are “severe with our own faults and charitable in our judgment of others.” If we assume the best of other people in the church, we will find ourselves more readily surrendering our own rights in order to serve them. If we assume the worst, we will find it nearly impossible to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Passages for Further Study
Proverbs 15:33; 18:12