I was born selfish — and so were you. Yet selfishness and a me-first attitude are the very opposite of what God’s kingdom is about. So, what are we as believers going to do about our inborn selfishness?
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
In the Greek “selfish ambition” is eritheia, which combines the idea of being ambitious for selfish ends with pursuing those ambitions with strife or contention.
How easy it is to fall into selfish ambition! We naturally see things from the perspective of how we ourselves are affected, and of course we desire the best for ourselves. From there it can be a pretty short step to putting a priority on what would seem to gratify our own desires. And woe to the person who gets in the way of us getting what we consider to be our just due! The resulting contention and strife are obviously entirely the result of their ignorance, stubbornness, and selfishness.
This verse is a warning that Christians must be vigilant about the selfishness that is inherent in fallen human nature. For many of us, I think the issue is not so much that we intend to act out of ambition or conceit, but that they are so much a part of the way we’ve always thought about things, we don’t even recognize them for what they are when they get us in their grip.
How often has it seemed that when I’ve been perfectly fair and just in my dealings with someone, I ended up feeling that their response was insufficiently considerate toward me? And vice versa. In other words, if I act on the basis of what I think is an even balance of my interests with the other person’s, I’m likely to tilt unconsciously toward myself. The same applies to them. So, now we have a “consideration gap” that neither wanted, but both resent. That’s where strife can arise.
So, Paul doesn’t stop with “do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit.” He knows that to overcome the inherent bias we have toward ourselves, we must consciously and deliberately put the other person first. It’s not about being fair; it’s about being deliberately unfair, but to the other person’s benefit.
So, when George and I arrive simultaneously at the desert table during a church fellowship, and there’s only one piece of that wonderful lemon meringue pie left, who gets it? Actually, while I’m insisting that George take it, and he’s insisting that I should have it, Mary comes up and grabs it!
Wait a minute – that’s not fair! Right. But think about it: now three people, and not just one, will enjoy that piece of pie. I think that’s a great outcome.
So, let’s overcome our natural selfishness by being deliberately unfair to ourselves in order to bless someone else.