Is humility a necessity for unity? Do I really need to show any humility with my family to truly be unified? Can’t I just be the “king of the jungle” and still have unity? At work, everybody knows I’m the boss—if they want their paycheck signed they’d better be unified under me—why should I show any humility? Can’t we be unified as a church without all this humility stuff?
Last week we saw the importance of unity in the local church in our study of Philippians 2:1-2. Unity in the church is a must if we desire to truly be effective for Christ. Today we’ll be looking at Philippians 2:3-4 and we’re going to see how important humility in the church is if we truly desire unity.
Howard Hendricks shares this illustration that emphasis what humility is and what it isn’t.
“I was ministering in Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. We had a Thursday morning father-son breakfast, six-thirty. It was to be over by quarter of eight. There were many people from the military, quite a few people from various government offices, some craftsmen, laborers of various kind–really quite a mix.
After I had finished speaking and the meeting was dismissed, I looked over to my right, and there was Senator Mark Hatfield, stacking chairs and picking up napkins that had fallen on the floor. Ladies and gentlemen, if you are impressed that you are a United States senator, you don't stack chairs and pick up napkins. If you are impressed that you are God's gift to the body of Christ as the great preacher of this age, you don't stoop to serve. If you are impressed that, really, you are the greatest thing that ever happened to your local church, you do not serve. You live to be served.” 1
Let’s contrast this with our passage, Philippians 2:3-4
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
We’ll be looking at three ways we can practice humility, which in turn will promote unity in the local church. If we want to experience real joy and see unity in the church we’ll need to…
1. Reject Selfish Ambition and Conceit
2. Regard Others Higher Than Self
3. Recognize Others Interests
Reject Selfish Ambition and Conceit
In the first part of verse 3, Paul instructs the Philippians to do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit. The Greek word translated, selfish ambition refers to a desire to put one’s self forward even by unfair means. It originally referred to seeking political office by unfair means. Does it surprise you that in Greece there were politicians whose ambition to promote self, trampled unfairly on others?
You might say that sounds all too familiar. We’re in the midst of a heated election season right now. We hear all sorts of accusations thrown around, some that are very unfair and lacking in substance. Politics has turned into something rough and we often see candidates who try to advance themselves while tearing their opponent down. It can get very ugly and nasty.
John MacArthur says this about selfish ambition:
It usually carried the idea of building oneself up by tearing someone else down, as in gambling, where one person’s gain is derived from others’ losses. The word accurately describes someone who strives to advance himself by using flattery, deceit, false accusation, contentiousness, and any other tactic that seems advantageous. 2
Unfortunately we’ve grown accustomed to it and we aren’t too surprised when we see selfish ambition on display in the political world. And there is a danger of this destructive attitude finding it’s way into the church. Paul warned the Philippians not to do anything out of selfish ambition.
If I seek gain for myself at your expense, I’m guilty of selfish ambition. It’s an attitude of “I’m going do what’s best for me even if it costs you.” You can see why Paul warned against this. If selfish ambition is prevalent in a church there certainly won’t be unity. It might seem obvious, but selfishness is at the root of selfish ambition. And if we’re promoting ourselves instead of Christ we’re not going to experience unity.
Hudson Taylor said of Robert Morrison:
“When as a young man Robert Morrison had first sailed to China, he was asked, "Do you really expect to make an impression on the idolatry of the great Chinese empire?" In reply, Morrison spoke more prophetically than he knew: "No, sir, but I expect God will." 3
Robert Morrison wasn’t operating from selfish ambition. He wasn’t out to promote himself at the expense of others.
Paul made it clear that the Philippians should do nothing out of selfish ambition. And we need to examine our own lives to rid ourselves of the same destructive selfish ambitions in the church, in the home and in the workplace today.
Alan Redpath says:
The secret of every discord in Christian homes and communities and churches is that we seek our own way and our own glory. 4
We live in a “me generation” but that attitude should not exist in the church. Do nothing out of selfish ambition!
James Dobson has said:
The philosophy of "me first" has the power to blow our world to pieces, whether applied to marriage, business, or international politics.
I would add to his list the church. Get rid of your selfish ambition. It’s not all about you. There is no place for selfishness in the church, the home or any of our relationships.
We need to reject selfish ambition and we also need to reject conceit. We shouldn’t be conceited. We shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves. Have you ever been around someone who is “always right”? They think so highly of themselves that they can never admit when they’re wrong? We need to be careful that we aren’t conceited.
The words of Galatians 6:3 give us this warning,
For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
If we are marked by selfish ambition and conceit, we won’t be promoting unity in the church. We must reject selfish ambition and conceit and in it’s place we need to regard others higher than self.
Regard Others Higher Than Self
In the last half of verse 3 Paul says,
in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
Lowliness of mind refers to having a humble opinion of one's self or a deep sense of one's (moral) littleness. 5
It’s a stark contrast to selfish ambition and conceit. Lowliness of mind is translated, humility of mind in the NASB and simply humility in the NIV.
What is humility? I think what Andrew Murray said about humility is very helpful:
Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or irritated or sore or disappointed. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed or despised. It is to go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret, and be at peace as in the deep sea of calmness when all around and above is trouble.
We need this kind of humility in the church. When we have a proper sense of our own smallness, we’ll be regard others higher than self.
Look again at the end of verse 3.
let each esteem others better than himself
We see the same idea expressed in Romans 12:10.
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
Commenting on this phrase in verse 3, in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself, Matthew Henry says we must,
be severe upon our own faults and charitable in our judgments of others, be quick in observing our own defects and infirmities, but ready to overlook and make favourable allowances for the defects of others. We must esteem the good which is in others above that which is in ourselves; for we best know our own unworthiness and imperfections.
It’s too easy for us to do just the opposite. Instead of esteeming others better than ourselves, we’re quick to point fingers when others fail, while overlooking our own faults. If we regard others higher than ourselves, we’ll promote unity. We’ll seek to build others up and encourage them, instead of harping at them and criticizing and always finding fault. And what joy is ours when this attitude is ours.
If we’re going to be a church that is marked by unity then we must reject selfish ambition and conceit and regard others higher than self. We also need to recognize the interests of others.
Recognize Others Interests
Look at verse 4.
4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Are you concerned with the welfare of others? Notice the first part of the verse. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests. Taking care of ourselves and looking out for our own interests is not wrong. But if we only look out for our own interests and not the interests of others then we are wrong. We need to notice the needs of others and be ready to do what we can to help.
We must be concerned about each other in the church. We need to be looking out for the interests of others. We ought to do what we can to help a brother or sister in Christ who is in need.
I can’t help but be struck by the fact that if we are a church that is truly loving God and loving people, we’ll heed Paul’s words to the Philippians and we’ll reject selfish ambition and conceit, we’ll regard others higher than self and we’ll recognize the interests of others. We’ll be practicing humility in the church and we’ll experience the unity that God desires us to have.
Each of us needs to take a close look at our own lives this morning and ask ourselves how we are doing. Are we clothing ourselves with the kind of humility that will promote unity in the church or are we lacking in some of these important areas?
Maybe you would have to say this morning that you’ve been guilty of selfishness and selfish ambition at times. You’ve advanced your personal goals at the expense of others.
Maybe your problem is conceit. You have too high an opinion of yourself. You have trouble admitting when you’re wrong. You always have to be right in an argument. You know what’s best and others are just clueless.
Maybe you’re lacking in humility. You don’t have a proper view of yourself. Perhaps you struggle with esteeming others like you should. You have a critical spirit and try to make yourself look better by finding fault with others. Perhaps you’ve been too self-absorbed with your own interests that you’ve failed to look out for the interests of others.
I challenge you to ask the Lord to show you how you could esteem someone better than yourself this week or look out for the interest of someone else. Think of a practical way to show unity though humility this week. Maybe it will be sending a note of encouragement to someone who is discouraged. Maybe it will be inviting others into your home and honoring them with your hospitality. Ask God to open your eyes to the needs of those in your church family and be willing to do something to meet that need.
Last week we saw the importance of unity in the local church. This week we’ve seen the path to unity through humility. Lord willing, when we meet again next week we’ll see the example of humility that Jesus set for us. Let’s pray that we’ll be experiencing true joy in Christ by truly being a church that is loving God and loving people and is marked by humility and unity.
Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
1 Howard Hendricks, "The Problem of Discrimination," Preaching Today, Tape No. 76.
2 MacArthur, J. F. (.). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 2:5).
3 "Hudson Taylor and Missions to China," Christian History, no. 52.
4 Alan Redpath, Leadership, Vol. 3, no. 2.
5 Blue Letter Bible. (Strong's 5012) – www.blueletterbible.org