God commands us as Christians to do so! What does it mean? And how can we fulfill this instruction?
Can you imagine the president of a large corporation esteeming a lowly, production-line laborer better than himself? Or a professional baseball player considering an insignificant bat boy of greater importance? How about a top-ranking government official being more concerned with the comfort and happiness of his constituents than his own? In this age of vanity, competition and greed, it's hard to imagine any of these situations taking place. Satan has so bombarded this society with a spirit of hardness, indifference and self-importance that we automatically think of our own interests first and others' second. We want the chief seat, the top honors and the best advantages, without concern for anyone else. Yet God requires all true Christians to esteem others above themselves.
Esteeming others better
Notice Paul's inspired command to the Philippians: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3). Did Paul mean that he as an apostle should look on the members of the Church as being above his office, or that a pastor should consider his position less important than that of an usher? Did he mean that a husband should think of his responsibility as being less than that of his wife and children? Are we required to have feelings of inferiority about ourselves? Should we feign humility over our abilities when we are better skilled or more qualified than others to do a task or hold an office? Of course not! To understand, let's first notice several other translations of this verse. The Williams translation says, "Practice treating one another as your superiors." The 20th century New Testament states it, "Each of you should... regard others of more account than himself." The New American Standard Bible has it, "Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself." This verse, then, has to do with being lowly in mind — abasing and humbling oneself in preference to others. It means putting the interests, cares and comforts of our fellowman above our own — forgetting ourselves in sacrifice and service. Paul further admonished: "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another... Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits" (Rom. 12:10, 16). Moreover, we as Christians should extend this attitude of honor to the unconverted of the world. God doesn't want His people to totally isolate themselves from non-Christians, but rather to be an example of His love, kindness and good works. Christ said, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). And again, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Esteeming others above ourselves, then, describes the attitude God wants Christians to develop as a basic approach to life - whether toward each other or toward the world. It can only come through dying to one's self, taking on God's nature and being filled with His mighty love.
Christ set the example
Jesus Christ set a perfect example, throughout His life, of obeying this principle. Notice that just after commanding Christians to esteem others better than themselves, Paul said, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). This verse shows that Jesus Christ practiced the very admonition that Paul enjoined. Christ did not strive to please Himself, but to put the needs and feelings of others above His own. "Let everyone of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom. 15:2-3). Paul wrote, "Christ... being in the form of God... took upon him the form of a servant... humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Time and again Christ exemplified an attitude of service toward all within His reach. He expressed a special love and compassion for the poor and uneducated — the down-and-outers. He was a friend of publicans and sinners. He took a personal interest in little children, thus showing that His concern reached out to all classes and age groups. Jesus stooped to heal and console the sick and afflicted. He called and dealt with the weak of the world, including His own disciples — He considered them friends, prayed for them and expressed a keen desire for their success. Our Savior even had concern for the thief on the cross while He Himself was dying. He humbled Himself at every turn and became a lowly servant. And He did so not only because He loved people, but also to set an example for us to follow! In order to develop this attitude we must first realize that God has called us out of the world not only to repent of our sins, but also to repent of what we are — greedy, grasping, selfish people. He wants us to turn to Him with all our hearts so that He can infuse in us the very mind and nature of His Son Jesus Christ. The new disposition that God wants us to acquire is a complete reversal of our former motivation. God wants us to empty ourselves of vanity and self-centeredness so that the happiness and well-being of others becomes uppermost in our minds. God's desire is for us to lose our sense of self-consciousness and replace it with an attitude of outgoing concern for all — an attitude of wanting to see them grow, advance and prosper. As we yield to God and His Holy Spirit, a miraculous change will occur in our lives. We will take on a new heart, nature and outlook. We will become kinder, more thoughtful and compassionate. We'll find that serving others will become a sheer joy and delight. Moreover, this new disposition will become a daily habit — a spontaneous way of life (Gal. 5:22-23).
What we can do
Here are some practical ways for each of us to fulfill God's command to esteem others better than ourselves. • Care for the fatherless and the widows. James wrote, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Jas. 1:27). A major test of how converted we are is how we respond to the needs of people less fortunate than ourselves. • Invite into your home for dinner and fellowship fellow Christians who can't repay you. Notice Christ's instructions about how we are to share the resources with which God blesses us: "Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:12-14). • Donate food and clothing to the poor and destitute. God has blessed many of us with tremendous material abundance, and He wants to see how we use it: "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:17- 18). • Pitch in to help friends and neighbors caught in desperate straits. Do we refuse to or, by neglect, fail to respond when we are aware of others in need? Pitching in might involve helping a farmer gather his crops before they are damaged by inclement weather, assisting a family with household chores when either father or mother is sick or cutting firewood for a widow before winter sets in. • Encourage those who are downcast or heavily burdened. As Solomon wrote, "Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad" (Prov. 12:25). Radiate enthusiasm — it's contagious. Be sincerely cheerful. Try to pick up the spirits of those around you. "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (Rom. 12:10). • Befriend children and teenagers. Today's society is, literally, an obstacle course for young people. Problems, temptations and wrong influences can overwhelm youths. Whether by example or by direct involvement, where possible and where wise, help steer young people in the right direction (Prov. 22:6). • Don't be ashamed or embarrassed to do the most menial tasks in serving your brethren in God's Church. Christ, the supreme servant, set the example for us to follow (John 13:2-5). Is it too much to ask for us to clean the home of someone who is sick, bathe or provide transportation for an invalid or clean up after a church social? • Be grateful. Say "Thank you" for even the smallest things that others do for you. A note of appreciation or a phone call to someone who renders you a service shows that you recognize and esteem his generosity. Paul wrote that we should give thanks for everything (I Thess. 5:18). • Help a fellow employee succeed. Has a fellow worker fallen ill? Perhaps you could offer to handle some of his responsibilities. It may prevent him from losing his job. • If you're a boss, treat your employees with fairness, honesty and concern for their welfare. Notice Paul's admonition: "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven" (Col. 4:1).
A "now" command
Esteeming others better than ourselves is simply a matter of expressing love and humility and thinking of them first. It is putting their lives, comforts and interests above our own. It is the essence of true Christianity and sums up the meaning of genuine godly love. Every command of God is a "now" command — not a suggestion to be put off until tomorrow or next week. Now is the time to humble ourselves and get down to business. Let's strive to become holy vessels in which God can live and manifest His way of life to all mankind. Why not start right now?