“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
The two negatives in the first part of this verse are followed by a positive. The thesis of promoting self for self-glory has an antithesis—to esteem others better than self.
“but in lowliness of mind”
A spirit of pride before other Christians is an indication of a lack of humility before God and others.
“Lowliness of mind” is the opposite of selfish ambition and conceit. The word “mind” is an attitude. The last citadel to capitulate before God is our attitude. An attitude is more than just thinking. An attitude is a habit of thinking, a frame of reference by which we make value judgments. So we are to lay low our attitudes so that we do not feel the need for self-assertiveness and selfish approbation.
The antidote to pride is humility or deference to others. Might does not make right. That is the rule of the bully and braggart. Ruthless riding over the rights of others is the opposite of “lowliness of mind.”
This is not self-effacement, however. Lowliness of mind thinks that everything we are is from God. We can never earn the right to hold ourselves above others. Everything we are is from the grace of God.
“let each esteem others better than himself”
The word “esteem” means to lead out before the mind, to regard or count it to be true. We are to count it to be true that others are better than us.
When we read this, there is a temptation to whittle this down. In an age in which self-esteem is so central to our values, the thought of attributing esteem to others is foreign to our thinking.
Notice that this does not say, “Look for the good qualities in others that may be greater than ours, yet we still may be superior to them in many ways.” With that thinking, we could go unmolested in our skyscraper of self-orientation.
“Others” means to embrace an entirely new attitude toward our fellow. That is why we call it “humility.” We place ourselves under others. There is no qualification to “the other.” We are not to place them above self only if they are more intelligent or more handsome.
The word “other” is a reciprocal pronoun. This speaks of a community where everyone is considering the other person. I consider you above me, and you consider me above you. What a fellowship where everyone looks up to everyone else!
Paul was not asking us to do something untrue. He did not ask us to believe that someone has more brains or abilities than we have, and we know it is not true. This is talking about attitude, not the capacity of personhood. We put others first in consideration rather than self.
When we truly see the other’s point of view, we truly give them respect. Self-assertiveness and self-pride end when we give others respect. God expects my neighbor to possess the claim of respect by me. This has nothing to do with any illusion we may have about them; it is the grace of God in them that demands our respect.
Lowliness of mind is humility.
It is from humility that we are to relate to others. Our attitude should be one of deference toward others. We often have an exaggerated estimation of ourselves. However, we are to elevate our estimation of others.