It should be eye-opening that Paul’s discourse to the church at Philippi on establishing and maintaining unity in the local church never touches on biblical doctrine or church practices. Without doubt, both are important, but more churches are fractured by sinful behavior and attitudes than by either of the foregoing causes. Let individual believers take to heart Paul’s exhortations concerning the exercise of godly character, and the incidence of church explosions—or implosions—will greatly subside. It has been said that life is ten-percent what happens to you and ninety-percent how you respond to it. Paul offers biblical insights into how to respond victoriously to the circumstances we face as a body of believers and also how to fashion our lives so that others are provoked to respond graciously. A key element in that regard, Paul writes, is that believers are to “do nothing from . . . empty conceit” (Phil. 2:3).
Even today, we might hear someone observe, “So-and-So is conceited.” That statement captures pretty well the idea Paul had in mind. Few human characteristics are so offensive as someone who is full of himself. The person who believes himself to be God’s gift to humanity will raise the hackles on all but the godliest of saints. Pride, ambition, and selfishness are all at work in the heart of a conceited person. He never met one of his own ideas that he didn’t love, and he is astounded that everyone else fails to admire him, his opinions, and his abilities as much as he does.
Paul gives us a wonderful piece of advice in his Epistle to the Romans: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (12:3). The moment our focus becomes the promotion of our will, opinions, or abilities, we have forsaken sound judgment. When my objective is to impress others with my talents I am demonstrating that I am carnal—my heart isn’t right and neither is my mind.
A strong case could be made for the idea that Paul is the greatest human figure presented in the New Testament. If anyone had occasion to be conceited, to seek acclaim, to promote his own will, it would have been the Apostle Paul. But using the strongest language imaginable, Paul wrote, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Paul appreciated, perhaps better than almost anyone else, that anything of worth in him had come from the Lord. And even more to the point, only the One who had died to save him and had gifted him through the Spirit is worthy of praise.
Only a person who has a skewed view of reality can be filled with conceit. Such a person has arrived at his mistaken view of reality by comparing himself to other believers while simultaneously augmenting his own abilities and diminishing those of others. Warning another contentious church, Paul said, “we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). The person filled with empty conceit demonstrates that his eyes are not on the Lord Jesus Christ and that he has “forgotten what kind of person he was” (Jam. 1:24).
There is no place in the body of Christ for egotists. The Creator of the universe and the only One worthy of all worship washed the feet of the disciples. What room does that act on the part of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us leave for self-aggrandizement? What a unifying factor is self-forgetfulness. How the church is strengthened and encouraged in love by examples of selfless service. It is essential to yield to the Lord—"not my will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42)—but unless that testimony expands to include a spirit of humility toward the brethren, fissures will continue to grow and develop into chasms. May we cultivate a Christ-like spirit of humility.
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