Philippians 2:3

Friday, 30 December 2016

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Philippians 2:3

Paul continues his exhortations to those at Philippi (and thus to us!) in this verse. He begins with, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” The Greek simply reads “…nothing according to selfish ambition or conceit.” He is tying these words to the previous verse which dealt with being like-minded. In being like-minded, they were not to act (thinking or doing) according to personal ambitions or conceit. Should they do this, they would not be “like-minded” at all.

The word “selfish ambition” gives the idea of a faction. They were not to divide one another into factions, but this is what a person of selfish ambition does. It is contrary to like-mindedness. The word translated as “conceit” is found only here in the NT, but it has a kindred adjective which is found in Galatians 5:26. It is comprised of two words which give the sense of “vain glory.” It indicates a person who is always elevating himself in an attempt to be the highlight of the room. Such attitudes are not becoming of followers of Christ.

Instead, the exhortation now continues with a contrast – “…but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” The term “lowliness of mind” indicates modesty or humility. It is found in one who is humble and shuns praise. This is a trait that the Lord looks favorably upon –

“Surely He scorns the scornful,
But gives grace to the humble.” Proverbs 3:24

This proverb is then quoted by both James and Peter, demonstrating that the apostles clearly understood and agreed upon this precept. Finally, to “esteem others better than” oneself is a similar quality. One who is humble will look at those around him and see their positives, not their negatives. He will seek to highlight their strengths and overlook their weaknesses. This goes so far as to comparing those strengths against their own and finding them of better quality.

In other words, if someone is an athlete that can run a race in ten seconds, he cannot esteem someone else as a better athlete if they run the same race in 2 minutes. Rather, he will overlook his strengths and accomplishments and highlight a different strength which is found in others – “Markus Paulus, you are the finest theologian I have ever known. I wish I had one-tenth of your ability to interpret and explain Scripture.” In choosing this avenue, he is overlooking the deficiencies and highlighting the strengths. This is what is good and appropriate for the believer in Christ.

Life application: By exalting others, you are showing that you care about them and that their strengths are important to you. Likewise, by not seeking your own glory, you are giving room to others to be like-minded with you. In so doing the group will be able to focus in a united way on seeking the glory of the Lord. There won’t be time for factious rivalry.

Lord God, Your word asks us to be like-minded in our devotion to you. We are not to act out of selfish ambition or conceit, both of which will destroy a like-minded attitude among Your people. Rather, you ask us to look away from our own strengths, and to exalt the strengths of others, building them up instead of ourselves. This is right and good, and so help us to follow through with this. Let us not be dividers of the flock, but people who are set on harmony and the continuance of spreading the gospel. Amen.

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