“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Explanation and Commentary of Philippians 2:3
Is any ambition selfish? This is a difficult concept to understand. Most Christians get confused by this passage and others like it. What exactly does it mean on the level of action to “count others more significant than yourselves?” This couples in the book of Philippians with the passage in chapter 2, verse 21 that says, “For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Paul is describing Timothy as the opposite. For Paul, to put Jesus first is to put others first.
But this must be held tightly with the biblical principle of stewardship. In order to be a faithful image-bearer of God, we have to also meet our own needs by our own industry. Paul tells the Thessalonians that “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thes 3:10). He also said that “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). These verses combined with the parables of the talents and minas show us that part of being human is to sustain our own lives. This is making the most of the most basic gift of God to us, our lives. We must, when possible, take the primary responsibility for ourselves, trusting God, but doing our part. This is a form of ambition, but it is not selfish if we are mindful that we do it for God and others.
As for counting “others more significant than” ourselves, we do that by refusing to violate the rights and life of other image-bearers. We would not impose our will on others. We will not seek to gain at the expense of others. On the contrary, we will spend ourselves working for the good of others by preaching the gospel and showing them the ways of God. When given the chance to overlook an offense, or bless a persecutor, we should not hesitate to walk in the way of love as our Savior, Jesus Christ showed us (Phil 2:1-11).
Breaking Down the Key Parts of Philippians 2:3
#1 “Do nothing from selfish ambition…”
Paul had ambition. In Romans 15:20, Paul said, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” This is an example of godly ambition. It means intentionality toward a goal. If the goal is from God, then it is not selfish, unless you allow selfish motives (pride, greed, etc.), to taint it. But this is difficult even for the Christian and requires prayer and confession, but not inaction.
#2 “…or conceit,”
Conceit is the sort of pride in oneself that looks down upon others. Whenever it is discerned to be the motive of our actions, we should confess it and repent.
#3 “but in humility,”
Rick Warren said, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” This is biblical and a good way to think of humility. You don’t need to hate yourself to be humble, just look outside of yourself, first at God, and then at others.
#4 “count others more significant than yourselves.”
As Christians, we get nothing from comparing ourselves to others or being motivated by what others think of us. We have our identity rooted in the image of God in us and the Holy Spirit given to us by Christ, who took our sin and gave us his righteousness. We lose nothing by counting others more significant than ourselves.
Bible Study on Philippians 2:3
Expert Overview of Philippians
Biblical Translations of Philippians 2:3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.