By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: In Philippians 2.3, Paul states that one is to regard another better than himself. Does this mean that one is to underestimate self and overestimate others?
Reply: Paul had spoken to the saints at Philippi about proper conduct (1:27), and now in the first few verses of chapter two, he pleads for unity; that they “be of the same mind” (v.2). Paul also urged the brethren at Corinth to “be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). First of all, brethren must desire unity and work toward it. Unity can only be achieved when brethren have the proper attitude toward one another. They must always be aware that God has been compassionate and merciful to them (v. 1), and in turn, they are to manifest this same spirit toward one another.
Division within the ranks of God’s people usually results from somebody wanting to have his own way. It is a “rule or ruin” attitude, and he will often resort to unscrupulous methods to get what he wants. This kind of person is not interested in unity, but rather in satisfying his own selfish interests. Congregations have been torn asunder because of such self-seeking persons. Selfishness usually lies at the root of discord. Paul wrote, “doing nothing through faction or through vainglory” (v.3).
Christians are to be humble. They should possess a meek and lowly mind as did Christ (Matt. 11:29). This kind of attitude will readily recognize the virtues in others. The Greek word for “lowliness” in verse 2 is also translated “humility” in other places (Col.2:18,23; 3:12; 1 Pet.5:5). Such was the mind of Christ (v.5f). Humility is not undue self-depreciation, but rather demonstrates itself in serving others. Unlike Diotrephes, who loved and sought preeminence (3 Jn.9), we are to have proper regard and respect for others. When Paul wrote, “each counting other better than himself” (v.3), he did not mean for one to down himself as such, but to be humble, show respect and serve others. Paul makes it clear in verse 4: “not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” Instead of only selfish interests, the interests of others should be considered. To the contentious or factious man, there are only two sides (his side and the wrong side). No reference is made to doctrinal matters, which of course, demand conviction.
To regard another more highly than himself does not denote weakness, but contrariwise it shows strength. It takes a strong person, for instance, to say to another, “I am sorry; you were right and I was wrong.” Regarding another higher than himself is seen when an individual, for the sake of peace and harmony, is willing to forfeit his own desire in some matter of judgment and yield to another, such as choosing the color of a carpet to be installed in the church building. One who has the right attitude is willing to submit to the desires of others for the sake of unity. His choice may be different from that of others but he will not hold out for what he wants, but will concede. It is tragic, that even among those not members of the church, more courtesy is shown to others than brethren sometimes demonstrate to each other. For instance, when approaching a door, one will step back and give way to another (not as often anymore), “go ahead, after you.” Counting others better than ourselves is the antithesis of selfishness. A proper relationship among brethren requires the proper regard for one another.
To sum it up, Paul is dealing with the proper attitude that will produce the unity for which he is pleading. It is humility of heart. Instead of selfishness, it is service. This is not the downgrading of self, neither is it the overestimation of others. Counting another better than himself will create the right relationship among brethren and solve many problems. In the local church it will promote unity and thus prevent the bitter heartaches which come from division.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 23, p. 709
December 4, 1986