For believers, the answer to the question “Who’s on first?” is “You are!”
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The Apostle Paul pleads with the Philippian church to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). And, he lays out precisely what this looks like. A few observations:
- Unity is only possible when “selfish ambition or vain conceit” is far removed from God’s people. Selfish people may share selfishness in common, but being united in the vices is hardly praiseworthy.
- Selfishness is never an ethical option for believers or anyone (contra Ayn Rand), however favorable the consequences (the double negative is as strong as the language would permit (“μηδεν … μηδε” or “Do nothing . . . never!”).
- These verses (Philippians 2:3-4) are binding on all Christians at all times. The cure for selfishness is putting others ahead of ourselves. All believers everywhere all of the time must “consider others better than yourselves,” which by definition is humility.
- In typical Greco-Roman thought “humility” (ταπεινοφροσυνη) was more a vice than a virtue and was “looked on as shameful, to be avoided and overcome by act and thought” (Esser, NIDNTT, 2:260).
- Hence, to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” necessarily entails self-denying, self-sacrificing displays of humility toward one another. The predominant trait of all believers must be humility; otherwise we not only alienate others but face God as our opponent (1 Pt. 5:5-6, note the present tense: “God [continually] graces the [continually] humble” and vice versa)!
- Paul is not condemning all self-interests, but a selfish preoccupation with them. The gist is to fix our attention upon others’ interests first, before our own. Indeed, the hallmark of biblical love is that it is “not self-seeking” (1 Cor. 13:5).