“Nothing from selfish ambition — nothing from vanity — but in humility, think of others as more significant than yourself.”
There you have it, loved ones, the heart of this section of Philippians and the core principle behind living out the Christian life. As a pastor, it is my conviction that if professing Christians would strive toward this basic principle, then 90% of the problems in the church would go away; 90% of the problems in our families would go away; and 90% of all relational challenges would vanish. These words are just that significant…and sadly, as significant as they are, they are equally ignored by people in the church. Sad, so sad, when we see members of the body bickering over things that have no eternal value and neglecting to apply the words of Paul to their own lives before they go trying to gain influence by tearing down another.
As profound as this verse is, it is equally simple. There are no major difficulties that present themselves in translation. Paul begins by speaking of selfish ambition…the Greek word here is ejriqei/a (eritheia), which refers to selfish contention or strife that gains one standing at the expense of others. Vanity, which is captured by the word kenodoxi/a (kenodoxia), which literally means, “vainglory” or “empty glory” — vanity — ambition that has no moral substance to it…these things divide the body, they do not unite the body. In contrast, tapeinofrosu/nh (tapeinophrosune), modesty or humility, gives substance to what we do and how we live. For when we do in humility, we honor and glorify someone other than ourselves.
The question then is not definition, it is application. Will you seek to live this out in all you do? Will you seek to apply this to times of disagreement in your home or in your church? If you do so, I am convinced that you will see your relationships transformed to the glory of Christ.
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
“In the event of my death, celebrate.” You know, as a pastor, I spend a lot of time with people who are sick and dying and very rarely do I come across a person who is genuinely excited about their impending death…especially when the person dying is younger, at least in a relative sense. We have become accustomed to speak about heavenly things with anticipation but when we face the reality of heavenly things, it seems that we cling to earthly things with vigor…just the opposite of our Lord who did not heaven as something to be clung to but abased himself and became man. While we affirm intellectually that heaven is a far better place for us than earth, our hearts don’t often embrace that intellectual reality.
I believe that our problem with genuinely embracing the second half of this statement stems from our problem with embracing the first half of the statement, for until you become so focused that everything you do in this life is for Christ and to His honor, then the thought of ending those labors here, where we do things imperfectly, and beginning them in glory, where we will do things perfectly, just does not resonate with us. Yet, for Paul, this mindset — that all I do is for Christ — is the only way to live…or die.
As people, particularly in the western world, we have become jaded, self-centered, prideful, narcissistic, greedy, sensualistic, and focused on personal gain. Life, we are often taught, is about what I can achieve, accumulate, and experience. Those things that do not meet our personal “needs” are cast to the side as unnecessary and irrelevant. Striving for virtue has been replaced with striving for vainglory and “Self” has become the Baal and the Ashtoreth of our generation. And, as a result, the culture is collapsing all around our ears.
The solution: Christ and Christ alone! Living for Christ in all things puts the things of this world in their eternal perspective and shows them to be the pale and fleeting things that they really are. Living for Christ and seeing His glory in all things is also the corrective to our view on death. For the believer, indeed, our death is gain, for it is being ushered into the presence of our risen Lord. Yet, we also long to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For that we must embrace a life that is lived not for self and selfish things, but for Christ and for Christ alone. Then again, for whom better can we live?