It has been said that all sin is really just an expression of pride. That is, sin is us elevating ourselves above our proper station. It is also said that pride is the most difficult sin to overcome, because our efforts to overcome pride can become an exercise in pride (such as showing humility so that others will recognize that we are showing humility). Nonetheless, pride can keep us from serving God fully because it leads us to put our own motives over those of God’s. Even if we do the things that God asks of us, our efforts are in vain if we have done them for our own glory, rather than God’s.

How do we break free from pride so that we can put God first in our lives? In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul takes on the subject of pride. He does so first by laying down principles that lead us away from pride, then by giving practical steps to avoid the temptation of pride. While he’s doing all this, he presents three examples of people who acted out of humility in their service of God.

  1. Principle: The Need to Remove Pride (2.1–4)
    1. Verse one is a listing of four things that are hindered by pride:
      1. Encouragement in Christ. When we act out of pride, we are looking to self, rather than Christ. We encourage ourselves, rather than relying on Christ, His example and His promises to provide encouragement and hope.
      2. Comfort from love. We often mention that Christianity is a social religion that relies on disciples encouraging and building up one another. What happens when one person, because of pride and an inflated idea of one’s importance, becomes a black hole for comfort and love: receiving but never bestowing?
      3. Participation in the Spirit. Jesus sent us the comforter to guide and support us after He ascended to heaven. The purpose of the Spirit’s work as the comforter is to lead us to God, but if we are self-focused, what part can we have in that?
      4. Affection and sympathy. “Sympathy” literally means feeling with someone. Other translations use “compassion,” suffer with, or similar. As the KJV indicates, the word rendered “affection” literally refers to one’s bowels and internal organs, regarded as the source of one’s emotions and passions. We aren’t going to “feel with” anyone if we are consumed by ourselves.
    2. Four things which allow for these others
      1. Be of the same mind. We need to be on the same page as far as our goal and mindset. That common mindset, of course, should be the glory of God. This is why beasts of burden are yoked together, so that they have to go the same direction. When we are all focused on God, we aren’t focused on self.
      2. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. As we’ve already said, we can do the right thing with the wrong motive. Many engage in acts of service for the recognition that comes from it. We might not even realize it, but what about the times that we do something and don’t get recognized for it? How does that make us feel, and how long does that feeling last?
      3. Esteem others better than self. There are a couple of ways that this verse can be rendered, each with its own merits, but I think this rendering from the KJV and NKJV get to the contextual idea better. We frequently assign motives to the actions of others without knowing those motives, and often assign poor motives. The admonition here is to think more of what others do (assign better motives) than what we think of our own actions.
      4. Look out for the interests of others. Do we only think of how something impacts us, or do we consider the impact on those around us?
  2. Example #1: Christ Jesus (2.5–11)
    1. Paul tells the brethren to have the same mind as Christ. Jesus exhibited all of the qualities he is calling on the Philippians to have.
    2. He did not act out of His own will, but did that of His Father.
    3. He didn’t cling to the splendor of heaven and the position that was rightfully His as God (selfish ambition), but instead came in the form of a servant.
    4. He looked out for our interest—the salvation of our souls—as well as God’s (looking out for our interest is God’s interest).
    5. Though Jesus humbled Himself in this way, God exalted Him. We must humble ourselves under God and allow Him to exalt us (1 Pet 5.6).
  3. Our Response to Christ’s Example (2.12–18)
    1. Work out our own salvation. When we realize that salvation is not something we are owed or that we accomplish for ourselves, but that God had to send His own Son for us, we are less likely to think very highly of ourselves. Indeed, the idea that God sacrificed Himself for us should cause some “fear and trembling.”
    2. Do without grumbling and disputing. Grumbling and disputing is usually a sign of pride. Rather, we should be “blameless and innocent,” in contrast to the world.
    3. Hold fast to the word of life. Don’t go off into our own “think-sos.” Otherwise, the work of the apostles and others is for nothing.
  4. Example #s 2 and 3: Timothy and Epaphroditus (2.19–30)
    1. Paul planned to send Timothy because he knew Timothy would look after Christ’s interests, rather than his own.
    2. Timothy had a track record of this, in his service with Paul in preaching the gospel.
    3. Epaphroditus—one of the Philippians—had devoted himself to serving Paul in the Lord’s work, even while he was ill.
    4. Some might look down upon him because he had to come back home, but Paul makes a point about his being willing to risk and sacrifice his own life for the work.