While selfish ambition and conceit can ruin unity, genuine humility can build it. Being humble involves having a true perspective about ourselves in relation to God (Romans 12:3), which in turn gives us a correct perspective on our relationships with others. Being humble does not mean that we should put ourselves down. Instead, humility is a healthy respect for who God is, and then a healthy respect for ourselves because of what God did on our behalf. Thinking of others as better than ourselves means that we are aware of our own failings and are thus willing to accept failings in others without looking down on them.
Each believer should not be completely absorbed in his or her own affairs, but should also be interested in others, noting their good points and qualities. A sure cure for selfish ambition is appreciative recognition of others’ good qualities and their walk with the Lord. It is easy to get caught up in competition, aggressive acquiring, and vying for our own rights and needs. But compared to knowing Christ, those interests seem shallow. We need Christ’s attitude of self-sacrifice to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others.
Paul gets very specific about how this foundation of encouragement and compassion towards others and the unity that results from that results in joy in our lives in this passage today. The next thing he tells us to do is not only build the right foundation but start to make the right choices that result in joy.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look out not only for his own interests but also for the interest of others.” That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? I don’t have to say much about those verses. It’s pretty clear what he’s saying there. Make the right choices. Joy is being shut out of our lives at the point of our pride. That’s what shuts it out. That’s what closes the door on joy. It’s not that I didn’t get to go to Disneyland today. It’s that my own pride keeps me from caring for other people and that shuts down joy in my life.
Joy is invited into my life at the point of my humility. That’s the key word when it comes to joy in this passage. That’s the key word when it comes to the inner attitude in my life that allows joy – incredible, amazing, powerful joy – to be released in my life. C. S. Lewis said this, “If anyone would like to acquire humility I can I think tell them the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud.”
1. I need to say No to selfish ambition. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition.”
It’s the “what’s in it for me” mentality. Personal gain. When personal gain becomes the consuming passion of our lives we build joy right out of our lives. I know that sounds strange to many of you. It seems like the more you work and the harder you work the more passion you have to get things done you would get joy because you earned it. But it doesn’t work that way. That’s not joy. Joy isn’t just thinking about me. Joy isn’t just being selfish and thinking about my own ambition.
Notice the word does say “selfish ambition”. There is a kind of “holy ambition” for doing God's will. That’s not what this verse is talking about. It’s talking about the ambition that focuses just on me. Say No to that. Do you want joy? Say no to selfish ambition.
2. Say No to vain conceit. That’s not the “what’s in it for me” attitude.
When vain conceit becomes the goal of my life, Jesus said, “You see the people out on the street corner they’re blowing their trumpets. They want to do it to be seen by men. They have their reward in full. The whole reward is that somebody noticed. There’s nothing more.” That’s pretty empty. That’s a pretty empty reward.
Say No to selfish ambition. Say No to vain conceit. He goes on and says, Here’s two things to say Yes to.
1. Say Yes to the importance of others. I really think that Philippians 2:3-4 are verses we tend to read by and pretend is not there sometimes. When you read this and it says, “In humility, consider others better than yourself.” Really? Others better? Maybe as good as or one notch below but better? This tells us what humility is really all about.
Humility according to the Bible is not considering yourself less important. A lot of people make that mistake. They think humility means I put myself down. Humility somehow means I get in this little stoop and walk lower and lower and lower and I pretend I’m some kind of a nothing. That’s not humility. That’s just not living up to the glory of who God made you to be. Humility is not considering yourself less important like some kind of a worm. Humility is not considering others somewhat important. I think once we reach that point most of us think, “Ok, I’m starting to consider that other people are a little bit important. I’m giving some attention to other people. I’m truly humble because I’ve come to that point.” I guess we should feel that way because we’ve come so far from where we are just focused on ourselves.
But the Bible challenges us clear to the next step. He does this all the time, challenges us to do something we could never do on our own. It’s like you go up to God and say, “God, I’m really willing to serve You.” And He’s got this high jump bar there. You say, “I want to do everything I can for You. Set the bar a little higher and I'll do everything I can to jump over it.” You’re able to jump to six feet and you say, set it to eight feet. Jesus says, “You want to see where I set it? I’m going to set it at two miles.” What? I can’t do that!
That’s the point. You can’t do that. You need Him to enable you to jump that high, to live that life. So when he talks about humility it’s not just considering others somewhat important which we might pull off sometime in our human effort. It’s considering others more important. Consider others more important – better – that yourself. Humility is not putting yourself down. Humility is lifting God and others up. Humility is not say, “I can’t.” Humility is saying, “God can through me.” That’s what true humility is. Letting God's power work through your life.
Joy comes when others are more important. Remember the phrase some of you may have learned in Sunday School, Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last spells JOY. It’s pretty theological. It fits in to what this passage is teaching us.
When you realize the importance of others, something incredible happens to the joy in your life. How many of you would say I had a bad week this week or a mediocre week, or a good week or a great week, the best week of my life. Listen to what happens when others become more important. If you’re the most important person then your joy is dependent on what kind of week you had. But if all of a sudden others become more important the people who had the best week of their lives can give joy to everybody.
It tells us over in Romans “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” I think this joy is found on both sides of that equation. When I can rejoice with people who are filled with joy that brings joy to my life as a believer. But I’ve found also if I can go in and cry with somebody that’s hurting and help them, there’s a certain kind of joy that comes there. It’s not the jump up and down kind of joy but it’s genuine joy knowing that God used me in another person’s life.
I guess what I’m saying is this, joy is not found in keeping up with the Jones’s. Joy is found in rejoicing with the Jones’s and what happens in their life. If they’ve bought a new car and you can rejoice in the fact that they bought a new car you don’t have to go out and spend the money and have the debt yourself. Just rejoice in what God did in their lives. Why not? That’s what joy is all about.
Joy means I say yes to the importance of others.
2. Joy means I say Yes to the interest of others. That makes it practical. Not just that they’re important but their interests are important. It’s easy to say they’re important. But it’s tough to look out for people’s interests.
Family life for instance. Is it tough sometimes to look for other people’s interest in the family? This is true for me. Most of the days I wake up I think it’s my turn to be taken care of in the family. But look out for the interest of others.
There’s an old story about a Chinese rice farmer who had a neighbor next door he was trying to express humility towards. His rice field was down from the Christian’s rice field. The other guy was an unbeliever. He’d fill his rice field with water each morning then go into town and do what he was doing each day. His neighbor would come and break the dike and let all the water flow down and fill his rice field. So the Christian guy’s rice was dying. He went to his Christian brothers and sisters and prayed and asked, “What should I do about this? How should I handle this? I want to have humility towards this guy.” He got up the next morning. He first filled his neighbor’s rice field and then he went up and filled his own field. He looked out for the interest of others, even somebody who was an enemy. Eventually that neighbor came to Christ. Out of that humble action of that man.
That is an example of looking out for the interests of others even in a difficult situation. I fear that in American, in our culture, we wouldn’t serve our neighbor. We would sue our neighbor. That’s the culture that we live in. I’m not saying it’s always wrong to take legal action. I think there are times when that needs to be done. But it shouldn’t always be our first thought. Our first thought as Christians should be “Is there a way to serve in this situation so this situation can be changed? Is there a way to serve? Look out for the interests of others.
I like the way that Chuck Swindoll made this practical when talking about this passage. He said, “That means that sometimes you’re going to give other people the choice traffic and parking spot. That means that sometimes when this plate of steaks in front of you and there’s one really juicy one you say, ‘Here, you have this one.’ That means there are times somebody else gets to hold the remote control in the family.”