Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
— Philippians 2:3
When I was a young university student, I attended a small church where many college students worshiped. One day while attending a leaders’ meeting where several issues were being discussed, I began to express my views about the subject under discussion. I didn’t realize how long I had been talking until a fellow leader, who was older than I was, stopped me and said, “Rick, would you please be quiet? No one else can get a word into this conversation because you have been talking nonstop. It may be hard for you to believe, but you are not the only person who has an opinion and who knows something. We all have ideas and opinions that are just as valuable as yours, and we’d like to express them.”
In my eagerness to provide input in the conversation, I didn’t realize that I had inadvertently dominated the entire meeting. Finally, this leader had heard enough of me and kindly spoke up, telling me to be quiet so other people could express themselves. When I looked around the room at the other leaders, I realized they were all breathing a sigh of relief that someone had finally told me to be quiet. I was so embarrassed!
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
In retrospect, I realize that because I was the youngest in the group, I was unconsciously trying to prove I had something to contribute that was as important as what everyone else had to say. But in my efforts to prove my worth in the sight of those other leaders, I nearly took over the discussion, making it appear as if I wanted to “hog” the whole conversation. Of course, this was not the greatest way to show that I had respect for other people! I didn’t intend to give this impression, but that was the impression I gave to the others in that group.
After that incident, I remember turning to Philippians 2:3 and reading the words of the apostle Paul. It says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
When I saw this verse in light of the stern rebuke I had just received, I decided I wanted to understand clearly what it meant to “esteem” others better than myself. But first I decided to study those words “strife” and “vainglory” so I could completely comprehend what Paul was referring to in this verse.
When Paul writes about “strife” and “vainglory,” he uses two very strategic Greek words. The word “strife” is the Greek word eritheia, which is the picture of a person who is jockeying for some kind of position. This is a person who is trying to make himself look powerful, insightful, or significant in the sight of other people. But Paul then mentions “vainglory,” which is the Greek word kenodoxia. This is an interesting Greek mixture of concepts that describes the utter futility of such jockeying and positioning. The word kenodoxia is a compound of the words kenos and doxas. Kenos describes something that is hollow or empty, and the word doxas is the word for glory. But when these two words are compounded together into one word as in this verse, it portrays a hollow or empty boasting — a kind of self-glory that echoes of self-promotion.
These words could thus be interpreted to mean:
“Do not jockey for position or try to prove your importance to others with a lot of hollow, empty boasting and self-promotion.…”
Paul says that instead of acting in this manner that is so wrong in God’s sight, we are to act in “lowliness of mind.” This phrase comes from the Greek word tapeinoprosune. The first part of the word is the Greek word tapeinos, which describes something that is lowly, humble, or base. It pictures the attitude of someone who is unassuming and not self-promoting. It suggests a person who is modest, unpretentious, and “without airs” about himself, even if he knows that he is more intelligent, gifted, or talented than others. The second part of the word is phronos, which means to think. When these two words are compounded together, the new word means to think lowly; to think in an unpretentious way about oneself; or to think modestly of oneself.
A person who fits this description doesn’t jockey for a position of importance, “hogging” every conversation and trying to prove how great he is. Instead, he has learned to “esteem others better than himself.” The word “esteem” comes from the Greek word hegeomai, which means to lead or to consider. This word and its related forms referred to outstanding and resplendent leaders who were worthy to be recognized and honored. These leaders held a noteworthy and superior position in the eyes of others, commanding people’s respect, honor, and silence when in their presence.
If you add these Greek word meanings to the interpretive translation above, the entire verse could be interpreted to mean:
“Do not jockey for position or try to prove your importance to others with a lot of hollow, empty boasting and self-promotion. Instead, have a modest opinion of yourself, and learn to recognize the outstanding contributions that others have to impart.”
By using this word, Paul is telling us that we must learn to quit promoting ourselves and learn to respect the outstanding, resplendent gifts and ideas God has given to others. Rather than incessantly talk and “hog” every conversation, we must learn to make room for the gifts that lie resident in other people. Their talents and ideas are just as important as ours are. However, if we constantly demand everyone’s attention and never allow others to have an opportunity to express themselves or to use their gifts, we create a situation in which others go unrecognized and are thus dishonored.
When I was a university student, on fire for God and eager to fulfill God’s call on my life, I didn’t realize how self-consumed I was with my own vision and calling — so consumed that I ignored the outstanding gifts God had placed in the people around me. Although it was right for me to be completely committed to my calling, I had to be taught that it was wrong to be so self-projecting and negligent to recognize the gifts, callings, and dreams of others. In my youthful attempts to prove I had something valuable to contribute, I dishonored those who also had insights just as worthy as my own. I had to learn to think lowly of myself, to keep my mouth shut, and to recognize that I wasn’t the only one in any given setting who had something to say.
If you’ve inadvertently fallen into the habit of constantly talking and promoting yourself with a lot of vainglorious self-talk, it’s time for you to let the Holy Spirit teach you to respect and make room for the contributions of others in the group. If you’ll sincerely ask the Holy Spirit to help you, He will begin to teach you how to esteem others better than yourself!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, forgive me for the times I was so engrossed in my own ideas and convictions that I “hogged” entire conversations and didn’t give others an opportunity to express what was on their hearts. I am truly repentant for giving people the impression that I thought I was the only one in the group with something worthy to say. Forgive me for being so self-absorbed and for not recognizing the other outstanding people with gifts, talents, and ideas that were just as valuable as my own. Please help me learn to think more highly of others, to keep my mouth shut more often, and to genuinely appreciate the gifts, talents, and ideas You have placed in other people.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I am very respectful of other people and that I recognize the gifts, talents, and ideas God has given them. I need the insights and gifts that God has put in other people. Because they are just as important as I am, I always give them time to express themselves and to let their gifts function as God intends. I am a part of a God-gifted group, and every member is filled with gifts and ideas that I need. Therefore, I make room for them to let those gifts and ideas flow!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Do you esteem others better than yourself? Do you treat people like they are valuable, unique creations of God who deserve the highest respect? Or have you inadvertently focused only on yourself, giving others the impression that you think you are the only one who has something to contribute?
2. Have you ever had to work with someone who “hogged” every conversation and didn’t give anyone else an opportunity to express himself? How did it make you feel toward that person?
3. What can you do to show others that you value them and their opinions? What visible actions can you take to demonstrate your appreciation for others in the group you belong to?