“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
By nature, most of us tend to have an inflated sense of our own importance. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways. So I might take offence if I feel that work colleagues aren’t taking proper account of my opinion, or if the boss overlooks me for a promotion. Or I may get upset if a friend wants me to celebrate their marriage, but fails to invite me to the main wedding supper. Sometimes apparently trivial matters can burst our self-importance bubble. The driver who cuts me up on the motorway – ‘how dare they!’ – or the person who demands to jump the supermarket queue because they’re in a hurry and only have two items compared to my three.
Even in church, of course, Christians can sometimes jostle for prominence, pre-eminence or preference. Whether it’s the person who believes that no-one is recognising their leadership qualities, or the one who serves tirelessly ‘behind the scenes’ in apparent humility while secretly harbouring a grudge because they feel undervalued, or the couple who believe that their voice must be heard in key decisions because they’re financial ‘big hitters.’
We can’t be sure if self-importance was a root cause of the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche in the Church at Philippi. What we know for sure is that there’s been a falling out of some kind between these two prominent women, who have laboured side by side with Paul in the gospel (Philippians 4:3). They’ve had a dispute about something; perhaps a matter of significance, perhaps not. But whatever the cause of the conflict, Paul entreats them “to agree in the Lord” (verse 2).
There are a number of hints in the rest of Paul’s letter, which suggest that self-importance was likely a key factor in what’s gone wrong between Euodia and Syntche. In particular, Paul highlights the example of Christ’s humility in Chapter 2:1-10. Developing a similar attitude to Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (verse 6) is one of the keys to maintaining harmonious relationships with other Christians.
Unlike Christ, of course, you and I are not ‘in the form of God’ even though that ancient Genesis 3:5 temptation to want to “be like God” is never far away. But one way in which we are to imitate Christ is by regularly and consistently humbling ourselves and counting others as more significant than ourselves. I’m to break out of my natural pre-occupation with personal self-interest and to actively consider the interests of other people. To ask myself, ‘what might be the decision or course of action that most benefits other people?’
This goes against the grain, of course. And it won’t come naturally. Later in Chapter 2, Paul cites the example of Timothy who “who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” in contrast to all who “seek their own interests” (verses 20-21). It seems that, even in Paul’s day, Christians who willingly and readily count others as more important than themselves were not easy to come by. No wonder, then, that Paul declares “I have no one like him.” How about you? Both the church and the world are desperately in need of more Timothies, those whose motto for life is this: Other people are more important.