3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
What’s the answer to the selfish streak that runs through most of us? It’s a “lowliness of mind” that continually causes me to “esteem others better” than me. The key word here is “others.” It’s not self but “others” we think about. If it is a simple matter of preference, why shouldn’t we defer to the other person? Isn’t that a mark of spiritual maturity? Isn’t that what God would want from us? Isn’t that something that would go a long way preserving the unity Christ demands in His church?
Romans chapter 14 is all about that. It is about giving up our own personal rights for the well-being of the other person. I don’t have to have my own way if it is going to cause you to stumble. I would give up my rights in deference to you. Spiritual maturity does that - it causes us to defer to each other. This is what genuine Christian humility is all about.
As Andrew Murray said, the humble person isn’t someone who thinks poorly of himself, he doesn’t think of himself at all. Well, who then, do you think about? You think about God, and you begin to want what God wants. You decide to do what God wants you to do. You know that Jesus wants us to dwell together in unity as His body so you will do all you can to protect that unity because we are seeking His glory first and foremost.
Isaac Watts wrote one of the truly great hymns of the faith that begins:
“When I survey the wondrous crossThat truly reflects the heart of a Christian. At the foot of the cross, everything else seems meaningless and cheap. We are willing to give it all up to the Lordship of Christ. Our selfish ambition means nothing, because the Lord’s desire consumes us so we are willing to defer to one another for the glory of Christ and for the unity of His church. Our love for Christ is like the magnet that holds us all together.
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”
Listen to this analogy given by MacArthur:
“Consider a bag filled with marbles. There are many marbles of various size, color, and composition packed closely together. But they are bound together exclusively by the container. If the bag is opened or ripped, the marbles spill out in all directions because there is nothing internal that binds them to each other. In contrast, consider a magnet placed into a pile of iron shavings. By their nature, the shavings respond to the power of the magnet and are drawn together. If some outside force causes them to be pulled apart, the attractive force remains and they will reunite as soon as the separating cause is removed. In the same way, faithful Christians who are separated by circumstances beyond their control will maintain their mutual attraction through the magnetic power of the Spirit working within them. Like a close human family that is tragically divided by war or natural disaster, they will continually seek to be reunited as the spiritual family they are.”It’s our love for God that provides the unity
When we considering how Christ sacrificially loves us, that’s why we can (verse 3), “esteem others better than” ourselves. Are other people better than us? Maybe yes, maybe no. Some people are smarter, and some not so smart. Some are more talented, and some not so talented. None of us are the very best and none of us are the worst.
But that’s not the issue. This isn’t saying that someone is better. This is saying you “esteem” him better. You regard others as more important than you. This reflects a carefully thought out conclusion in which you determine to give that person your esteem knowing the perfect Son of God was willing to give all He had for you on the cross of Calvary knowing that you were an ungodly sinner set against Him, as Romans 5 described us.
But you’ve got to look out for yourself, right? Of course, you do. And this next verse agrees. But we can’t do that exclusively. Philippians 2:4 teaches, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
We are to look out for our own interests. Scripture expects us to work hard and put something away for a rainy day. Every husband and father is expected to look out for his family, to protect them and to provide for them. All this is Scriptural. Today’s passage has nothing to do with negating our responsibilities. You all know the Scripture. 1st Timothy 5:8 concludes, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” We’re required to look out for our family first.
But yet, isn’t that exactly what this verse is talking about? Isn’t it talking about giving of yourself for the benefit of another person? It’s that husband putting in 40 + hours a week at a job that he really doesn’t like so he can make the house payment and put food on the table for his family. It’s the wife changing mountains of diapers for a baby that cries and never says thank you and serving countless meals and washing endless sink loads of dishes. This is servant hood - giving of yourself for another person.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be a religious doormat that everyone uses and abuses. As Warren Wiersbe points out, “Some people try to win friends and maintain church unity by ‘giving in’ to everybody else’s whims and wishes.” That’s not Paul’s intent.
Use some God-given common sense. You don’t appease your child to get him to obey. All you’ll get is a spoiled child. This isn’t about appeasement. It isn’t about becoming a Santa Claus to anybody who makes a demand, or sacrificing your family because someone wants to make you feel guilty. It is about meeting genuine needs whenever and wherever you can.
The world is full of needy people, and you would never have time and resources to meet all those needs. But you can meet some needs, and God expects you to. But, you certainly have to take care of your own first, and the needs of your family first. The verse says: (verse 4), “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests.” So your own interests do count, “but also for the interests of others.” Your responsibility does not end with you and your needs.
As Chuck Swindall writes:
“Being unselfish in attitude strikes as the very core of our being. It means we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, our own desires for another’s benefit. And that brings us back to Christ. Perhaps you never realized that it was His attitude of unselfishness that launched Him from the splendor of heaven to a humble manger in Bethlehem . . . and later to the cross at Calvary. How did He accept all that? Willingly!”We will never be able to treat others as we should until we begin get rid of selfishness as the motivation for our actions. And until we do, we will never experience true unity. But that attitude doesn’t come from first loving others better than ourselves; it comes from first loving Christ with all our heart, soul, and mind. Only then can we start to love the things He loves, and give up our self-love that causes all the problems.
What motivates your actions? Is it selfish ambition? Or is it the love of God? Who are you serving besides yourself?