We live in a world today that is focused a great deal of gratifying the self. It has become an essential motivating force on the world scene and in American culture. We see this in the media, through advertising, and even in the politics of our times. The focus tends to be doing what’s best for me regardless of how it may affect others. Often, this attitude undermines many marital relationships, where selfishness may erode the intimate caring relationship God had intended for a husband and wife to have towards one another. Today’s politicians often appear more concerned about getting re-elected or holding to the party philosophy than they are what’s best for the country.
There’s an over-emphasis on personal appearance and beautification of self, indulging oneself and entertaining oneself. The ever growing number of people who are becoming addicted to chemicals such as drugs and alcohol or behavioral addictions such as pornography, gambling, food, and sex demonstrates how our society has become focused on pleasing the self. Could this ever growing self-centeredness lead to what Christ was referring to when he said in the latter days: “The love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12)? When we are so focused on ourselves and what pleases us, are we really able to have the outgoing love and concern for others that God our Father and Jesus Christ want us to have?
What does God have to say about esteem and where our focus needs to be in this regard? Philippians 2:3 is very clear in this point where it states: “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves.”
There are two conditions or attitudes that are contrary to what God wants us to have in our relationships with one another. The first is strife, so let’s examine what is meant here. Adam Clark’s Commentary has an excellent interpretation of the type of strife indicated and what would be contrary to this position. “Never be opposed to each other, never act from separate interests; ye are all brethren, and of one body; therefore let every member feel and labor for the welfare of the whole. And, in the exercise of your different functions, and in the use of your various gifts, do nothing so as to promote your own reputation, separately considered from the comfort, honor, and advantage of all.” Our actions should always be done with consideration of how it will affect others.
The words “vain glory” mean empty pride. In other words, we shouldn’t do things to promote ourselves which doesn’t benefit anyone. The behaviors and actions that we do take should be designed to uplift another and for the common good of the body.
Lowliness of mind further depicts our attitude towards others and refers to humility. This humility comes from the knowledge of our own defects. We do not know the defects of others, so we should never assume that theirs are worse than ours. This understanding leads us to an attitude that others are more worthy than we are, worthy of honor and worthy of service. By viewing ourselves as we are, sinners, defective, and prone to self-serving actions, we can begin to see the truth of who we are in relation to God and our fellow man. This truth should lead us “to perform lowly and humble offices that we may benefit others” (Barnes Notes).
The other aspect of lowliness of mind is our relationship with and comparison with God Almighty and Jesus Christ. They are so above us in every aspect. How can we ever think of ourselves too highly? One way we can express this understanding is in our relationships with one another. When we esteem others better than ourselves, we are manifesting this understanding. Humility can be viewed as insight into one’s insignificance as it relates to God and others.
One way to esteem others better than ourselves is to look for and focus on the gifts and strengths of others, rather than trying to get others to praise our gifts and strengths or promoting them and ourselves. A natural outgrowth of humility is to esteem others better than ourselves. One of Satan’s defects of character is pride and his belief that he is more important than he is. When we look at the defects and shortcomings of others, it is an attempt to overlook our own shortcomings and to elevate ourselves in the sight of others and God. This prevents us from getting the log out of our own eyes (Matthew 7:1-5).
When we esteem others better than ourselves, we take a sincere interest in them and how we might serve them. It may be in relation to praying for them about a trial they may be going through or helping them in a concrete way if they have a specific need due to a physical limitation. When we take the focus off ourselves through a compassionate and serving attitude, we actually reduce the stress and worry of our own problems. This produces a double benefit for the served and the one serving. This becomes a blessing to both. The Matthew Henry Commentary puts it this way: “We must be concerned not only for our own credit and ease, and safety, but for those of others also; and rejoice in the prosperity of others also as truly as in our own. We must love our neighbor as ourselves and make their case our own.” This is how Christ lived His life on earth. If we are truly to become like Him, we must live our lives in like manner.
Philippians 2:4 further emphasizes the attitude we should have when it states the following: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others.” As a body of believers, we should promote the interest of others to edify the whole body. When we do this in the proper manner, Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6: 2-4 how our Heavenly Father will respond to us: “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, and that your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” UN
Roy Fouch is a member who lives with his wife Barb in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a licensed Christian family counselor.