Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Chant it with me now… I’m #1, I’m #1. Okay now stop, because you are making a scene. It’s not attractive really, is it when people are so self-absorbed that they completely ignore the rest of the world around them. I swear that there are people out there that believe that if they ceased to exist, the world would stop spinning on its axis. In other words, the whole world revolves around them. I hope that is none of us who are reading this or you might be offended by now and quit reading. Please don’t though, continue on.
Let’s take a look at these two phrases in verse 3: selfish ambition and vain conceit. I’ll define them both.
Selfish ambition: outdoing each other for personal gain, getting ahead, running for office (I like that one)
Vain conceit: pointless, useless pride; lifting yourself up, even though it has no real value
Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul writes that we are to focus on building up. We should be focused on lifting each other up, but we tend to have this default to lift ourself up. Maybe it is our insecurity or our fear, but we do things for our own gain rather than seeing the bigger picture. And then there’s the pride that comes with that; it’s the vain conceit. I love that definition of pointless pride, pride with no value.
That’s where humility comes in. And Paul is talking about genuine humility, not that kind where someone walks around stating how humble he is. Quoting Helen Nielsen: “humility is like underwear, essential but indecent if it shows.” It is only when we are humble that we can focus on building others up. If you take a look at Ephesians 2:8-9, you will see that you were saved by the grace of God. Paul reminds us that this is not because we are so great, therefore there is no reason to boast about it. Rather humility comes when we point it all back to Christ. He is the reason I have something to boast about. He is the hero behind my success.
Now pouring yourself out for others is essential. But let’s not be a bunch of martyrs either. Verse 4 says that we should NOT ONLY look to our own interest, but to the interests of others also. That means it is okay to pay attention to our own needs. We should have our interest in mind. It’s perfectly fine, not sinful. The problem is when we do things at the cost of others. It is when we trip someone to win the race. It is when we lie about someone to ruin their reputation, thus making our reputation better. That’s selfish ambition and it has no place in the Christian soul. The answer to all this? Simply this: check our motives. Examine our heart and see where it stands. Check in with your words and actions and see if you have done anything outside of yourself. Are people around you being built up? If not, start by being a builder of others today.