"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4)How many churches have been destroyed through selfishness, strife, and empty conceit? How many marriages have been ruined by those same diabolical attitudes and behaviors? Strife and empty conceit not only hurt relationships but also destroys any attempt to unite people together either as a church, a marriage, or any other form of relational institution.
Other translators translate the Greek word for selfishness as "strife" (Darby) and "selfish admission" (NKJV). Thayer translates this word as "a courting distinction, a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan and factious spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness." In any organization, including the church, there will always be people who have different ideas, different views of how things ought to be done, and different ways they would use to approach a common issue or problem. The problem is not so much the dissension of ideas, plans, and means but the striving for having your own idea, plan, and means adopted as the only approach to any project, problem, or mission. We may not always agree on the direction or plan taken, but when we resort to intrigue, courting others to our side, and waging intellectual war against our opponents then we have crossed the line into something that is bound to be destructive and divisive. We must, in the midst of our differences, find a way to work together as a whole; to place ourselves under a common yolk so that we might pull together in a common direction and towards a common purpose.
The truth of conceit is that all conceit is empty. Thayer describes this Greek word as "empty self-esteem." The reason conceit and self-esteem are empty is not because there is no reason to be conceited or to have self-esteem but because the source of those things for which we might have conceit or self-esteem is not from us but from God. There are many good qualities in each of us and many reasons to be proud and confident in who we are, but those traits and qualities are not from us but God given and God honed through His work in our lives. When we let ourselves think that who and what we are is a product of our own efforts and industry then we deceive ourselves and our estimation of ourselves is empty. However, when we realize that all the good things in us are gifts from God, then we are moved to thankfulness and our desire becomes to use those gifts for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. Then our purpose will not be to put ourself forward or to strive for our own way but to find how to use our gifts, talents, and abilities for a larger purpose than ourselves.
Why should we view one another more important than ourselves? Are we not important? Are we not at least as important as they are? Why should we consider them more important? Vine defines this Greek word as "to hold or have above." In other words, the sense in which they are "better" than us is not derived from some qualitative comparison of morality, aptitude, or ability. Rather is is a choise we make to voluntarily consider them first before ourselves.
There are two keys to being able to look at others as more important than ourselves. First, we must have a humble and realistic estimation of ourselves. The truth is that we are just like everyone else; we are no better or no worst. Paul reminds us that, "for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:22-23) In the things that really matter, we are just like everyone else. We have all sinned; we are all fallen; we all need a savior. Secondly, we need to be confident that God cares for us and that He is, and will continue, to look after our needs. David said, "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me." (Psalms 138:8 NKJV) It is only when we are confident in God's care for our lives that we can turn our attention to others.
Finally, Paul tells us to not be so consumed with or own interests that we lose site of the interests of others. In this statement, Paul assumes that our fellowship as Christian brothers and sisters is part of our everyday life. So much of what we call fellowship occurs in those brief moments we spend greeting one another at church. However, five minutes on a Sunday morning does not constitute fellowship. Our life together as the Body of Christ must extend beyond Sunday and must be a part of who we are. We need more than encounters with other believers, we need vital life-giving relationships with other brothers and sisters. It is in the context of these relationships that we can look to the interest of others as others look to our interests as well.