“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The world, in business, the media and even religion, tell us that we should think highly of ourselves “because [we are] worth it!” The majority are trying to be the brightest star in the sky, or at least pretend they are. Everybody is in search of the new ‘holy grail’ that is going to change their lives for ever, the ‘X-Factor’ that will elevate them to stardom. The Bible on the other hand is more down to earth in its estimation of man’s worth. “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (1 Peter 1:24) and “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased” (Luke 14:11). Whose nature is the world following anyway? Certainly not God’s! Satan once said, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:13-14), but he only got as high as “the sides of the pit” (Isaiah 14:15). That is where self-esteem lands people eventually.
The church has long been plagued by glory-seekers. This is probably the major problem with the televangelism, which promotes the man and his ministry rather than Christ. The local church can be hindered by those who crave attention, recognition and position. They remain pleasant only as long as they are being flattered, but woe betide us once the praise and honour stops being poured on them! Such people have no understanding of what humility is. “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD” (Obadiah :4). They know nothing of being servants to Christ or His church.
“Vainglory” is empty pride or being full of self-esteem. It is worthless boasting about oneself. The boaster thinks that he is better than everyone else, so we see there can be snobs in the church as well as in the world, but the spiritual kind are far the worse of the two. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Such self-promotion is one of the main causes of disunity in the Body of Christ. It may not always be on a spiritual level though, for some believers try to impress others with their finery and fashion, and so hope to be held in high regard. Paul exhorts us not to “be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26) … “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2) … “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12). The world does not value humility anymore, instead self-centredness and self-promotion are held up as the ideal. True humility involves being conscious of our weaknesses and being disposed to ascribe credit to God. The world finds such a notion distasteful.
Now Paul offers us the remedy for self-pride. Humility is the best option for us at all times. In fact, even after we have done something we think is worthy of praise from God, we should instead say, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10). Therefore we do not make a song and dance about it, put it in the church newsletter, or even hope to be noticed. The world may blow its own trumpet, but we calmly and quietly continue to seek and serve the Lord. Such meekness is not a sign of weakness, for there is nothing weak about humility. The world might not regard lowliness as a virtue, but Christ does. If we aim to walk in humility then we will know true unity, but if we walk in pride then disunity, divisiveness and defeat must follow. We will see in our next few studies that Christ chose the path of humility, so we who are His disciples are expected to imitate Him. Unity cannot exist where there is selfishness, vanity, haughtiness and self-interest.
All believers must live in humility towards God and others, even to the point of esteeming other people more important than themselves. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). God’s presence is with those who are humble. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15) … “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).
“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). The humble (lowly minded) will always be blessed with the grace of God, because they are keen to promote others rather than themselves. They do not draw attention to themselves but seek to bring honour and respect to other believers. They see others as better (more useful) than themselves. The word “others” is the key to this passage of Scripture. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Romans 12:10). This “affection” can only be shared if we obey God’s rule here. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
This is foreign to the human nature, so it can only be made possible through the power of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. As believers we must devote ourselves to serving others. “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35) … “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:44). It is this great grace that will dispel selfishness and strife in the church. A note of caution is needed here, for we ought not think that we must literally spend our days putting ourselves down or doing things to appear to be humble, for we will still be thinking about self and as a result our humility is really pride. Instead of this we must lay aside any desire to be noticed and simply serve people as though we were serving the Lord Himself.
The word of God is very clear regarding the need of humility in the church. We are only deceiving ourselves if we think that we can survive without it. “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). Let us not be like Diotrephes, who was so full of himself and proud of his ministry, that he missed out on the blessing. “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not” (3 John :9).