Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 3 and 4)
If the first part of verse 3 gives us the roadblocks to unity (selfish ambition and vain conceit), the end of verse 3 and verse 4 give us the building blocks of unity. We might better think of selfish ambition and vain conceit as potholes, huge potholes in which the entire vehicle of the church can get plunged and from which freeing ourselves is incredibly difficult. But humility of mind, which manifests itself in valuing others above ourselves and considering their interests, is like paving material that fills in the potholes and gives the church a smooth pathway for the gospel to travel.
What is humility? The Greek word is tapeinophrosune, a mouthful of a word. It means “lowliness of thinking.” But that could mean all kinds of things. We have seen those who consider themselves worthless and when they compare themselves to others they see themselves as therefore insignificant. But that attitude is never encouraged in Scripture.
Moses, who is called the most humble man of his time (Numbers 12:3), was certainly repudiated for his self-description as unworthy of leading Israel (Exodus 3&4). In fact, he became quite an effective leader, not because he was self-deprecating, but because he longed for all to have his spirit and wisdom (Numbers 11:29), and he was concerned more for God’s glory and the protection of His people (Exodus 32; Numbers 12).
So, in fact, humility as demonstrated in Scripture, is about considering others more important than yourself without demeaning yourself, and therefore being willing to think about the needs or interests of others but not failing to think about your own needs or interests as well. And though Paul does not mention it here, he too advocates that humility means giving God glory for the good He works in us (2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 4:7; and of course, Philippians 1:11).
So the truly humble person does think about his or her own interests or needs (the Greek reads literally, “things”), but also thinks about the interests or needs of others and considers them more important than his or her own. This is always a bit of a tightrope to walk. I can’t ignore my own needs without, perhaps, suffering losses to myself that prove destructive to my meeting the needs of others. I can’t consider my own needs as so important that I don’t consider my own agenda as the one to push to the exclusion and detriment of others. I must learn to discern what is best (Philippians 1:9-11) by adding knowledge to my love and recognize that the advance of the gospel is the most important purpose for the church.
In doing so I learn to give up needs I have that will hinder the progress of the gospel. I learn to discern what is crucial to the integrity of the gospel because if that is lost there is nothing worth unifying around. I do everything for the sake of the kingdom, knowing that God will take care of me, whether in this life or the next. I give the meeting of my needs to Him, in essence, as the only one who can truly meet my needs. I am a living sacrifice, the only reasonable thing to be in light of the salvation the gospel has brought to me (Romans 12:1).
So when my Bible study group argues about Calvinism and Arminianism, I may take a side, but it does not, can not, keep me from being 100% behind my fellow believers when it comes to proclaiming the gospel. When my church gets in an argument over whether we should build or not, I must be a peacemaker, despite my personal view, and an advocate for the progress of the gospel no matter the outcome. And when I hear others disparaging another church that does not believe the way we do, I must become a defender of my brothers and sisters in Christ if they preach the true gospel, because it is only in unity that we have power against our enemies.
I must pave the way with the humility that acknowledges my own needs but sees them as secondary to the needs of others when it comes to seeing the gospel gain territory in the world and in the lives of individual believers.