“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When was the last time you came across someone who was truly humble? That’s not a virtue we see very often nowadays, especially from people who spend their lives in the spotlight. More than that, it’s not a virtue that’s taught as something worth striving for in the first place. Instead, the message we have preached at us from every direction is that we need to look out for ourselves. We need to work to advance our own interests. We need to toot our own horn because if we don’t, no one else is going to do it for us. We are told that we are the most important person in the world and should behave accordingly. This trend was all sold to us as something positive. So…what have the results been?
Well, we have a whole lot of selfish people running around who are looking out for their interests before and even at the expense of the interests of others. We are less patient and angrier than we used to be. Finding truly considerate people is a rarer thing than it should be. We don’t know how to productively argue with each other anymore and seem shocked when someone takes a position opposite ours and has the gall to actually defend it. In other words, the whole thing has been a bit of a mess. And it seems to be getting messier all the time.
What can we do about it? What new wisdom can we apply that will help us move in a different direction than the one we’re rushing headlong in at the current moment? Well, I don’t know about new wisdom, but there is some ancient wisdom that stands a chance of having a pretty positive impact on the current state of things.
In his letter to the believers in ancient Philippi, the apostle Paul, writing from prison and near the end of his life, had this to say to them: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit.” Those are simple words, but they are revolutionary when put into practice. Think about it. Do nothing…that is, nothing…out of selfish ambition or conceit. In other words, if your aim is primarily to advance your own interests somehow, don’t do it. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to ignore your interests entirely. You brush your teeth in the morning, for instance, both for the sake of the people around you not having to smell your terrible breath, but also so you maintain good oral hygiene. But if your first goal is the advancement of self, stop and reevaluate.
Think about the number of things you wouldn’t do or the ways in which you wouldn’t pursue them if you really sought to do that. Think about how much simpler interacting with other people would be if you knew they were doing what they did with you in mind. Think about how much less stressful rush hour would be in the mornings and evenings. Just that one thing has the potential to completely revolutionize our culture.
But Paul doesn’t stop there.
He doesn’t simply say what we should stop doing, he goes on to tell us what we should be doing instead: “But in humility, consider others as more important than yourselves.” I’ll wait while the reality of that statement settles on your heart and mind.
Think for a minute about the last time you were around someone you considered more important than yourself. If you haven’t ever experienced that you’re either the king or queen of the world or else you need to spend some time working on bringing your ego back down to earth. How did you behave when you were around that person? You were deferential to their desires, weren’t you? You didn’t worry so much about what you were getting as making sure they got what they wanted. You put them first and yourself second. What if you treated everyone like that? What if we all treated everyone like that?
Crime would disappear for one. Completely. You aren’t going to steal from someone you think is more important than you. You aren’t going to cut them off in traffic. You aren’t going to try to offend them. You won’t do anything to hurt them if you can help it. You’ll protect them from other people as well. There is an ugly movement to defund the police nowadays. If everyone put this into practice, we wouldn’t need them in the first place. Police officers exist because injustice exists. If there was no injustice, there would be no need for police. If we considered others as more important than ourselves, there wouldn’t be anymore injustice.
But wait, I thought we were all of equal value in the eyes of God. How are we going to live consistently with that and treat others as more important than ourselves? Paul doesn’t say other people are in fact more important than you, but merely that you are to consider them as more important. Treat them as if they are. And you can do this because you are so confident of your own value in God’s eyes that treating them as if they were more important doesn’t pose any threat to your standing before Him. If anything, it actually advances it.
But what about getting what we want out of life? Is it not okay to pursue things we want? Things we need? Of course it is. Nothing Paul says here precludes that. In fact, in the next verse, he makes that explicit. “Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” See what he does there? You should look out for your own interests. But those should not be your only goal. Instead, you should look actively to advance the interests of the people around you.
Okay, but what if those interests are contrary to yours? Well, that’s something we’ll talk a bit more about tomorrow. Stay tuned for that. For now, I’ll tell you this much: When we really understand what is in our best interest, that becomes not nearly the challenge it seems like it should be. See you tomorrow.