We would probably be surprised to discover how large a percentage of people spend a majority of their lives in a vain search for joy. The reality is that true joy is the exclusive birthright only of believers—the most an unbeliever can hope for is an altogether inferior superficial, ephemeral happiness. But though joy is reserved exclusively for believers, we do not acquire it automatically, hence the recipe given us by God through the Apostle Paul that provides us with the essential ingredients for complete joy. Today, we note the fifth ingredient in Philippians 2:3, which might be considered as two, but we will view it as the negative and positive sides of a single element.
5th Ingredient (the negative side): “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” Nothing is a big word. God speaks literally and without guile. The entire universe of our actions is encompassed in that word so that whatever command follows we are to understand that it applies without exception to all that we do. In this case, we have been issued a complete proscription against two sinful qualities that can engulf the entire realm of our existence: selfishness and empty conceit. By placing them together, Paul seems to be suggesting that “selfishness” describes primarily sins involving tangible things whereas “empty conceit” involves intangibles. When Paul commands us to reject selfishness, he is indicating the place that “stuff” should have in our lives. Our goals, ambitions, and energies are not to be devoted to acquiring the things of this world. Although we will work and purchase things, our lives are not to be dedicated to or governed by the acquisition and maintenance of houses, vehicles, clothes, financial investments, etc.; nor having obtained them are we to consider them to be our property to such an extent that we are loath to be generous and sharing with what God has so freely and abundantly bestowed on us. “Empty conceit” stresses sins involving our attitude about ourselves, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, for example, or pursuing glory, or the applause and praise of others. Some people sell their souls for a few moments in the spotlight and forfeit eternity for a moment of adulation. We are not to be characterized by such ego-centric outlooks.
5th Ingredient (the positive side): “but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves”. The verb regard means something much more substantial than the way we commonly use it. Generally, when we use the word, we are referring to the manner in which we view something; it may suggest something as insubstantial as an artificially manufactured way of looking at an object, a relationship, or an idea. And it may speak of little more than pretense, an attempt to trick our thoughts into a different direction than they are otherwise inclined to go. But Paul has in mind a genuine belief or conviction. Believers are to recognize the superior importance of others. We are to place their needs above our own, their desires before ours. No human being has ever fully achieved such a view. But Paul offers an insight into how to approach such an attitude when he speaks of “humility of mind.” With a clear understanding of the nature of our own sin, the worthlessness of our lives apart from the grace of God, and the undeserved favor that has been poured out so richly on us at the expense of Christ’s utterly selfless suffering and death, we will begin to approach this godly humility. Furthermore, growing in grace and in love for the Lord Jesus will begin fostering a spirit of self-forgetfulness and a genuine desire to be a blessing to others.
Perhaps, love is a close synonym for the idea Paul expresses in our text. Be loving. No genuine love is ever satisfied expressing itself in a way that costs little or nothing. When we love someone, we want to manifest that love in a way that demands something of us, and the greater the love, the more we wish to “pay.” Paul tells us that we should deem no price too dear. Those who begin to practice this command also discover the immeasurable joy of the Lord.
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