Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
But that is the rub, I think. It is ingrained in us—it is part of our very nature—to do what we do, to say what we say, to desire what we desire, to pursue what we pursue, to respond/react how we respond/react to others based upon “selfish ambition and conceit.” And at every step along the way, especially when we are faced with real-life dilemmas and real-life interactions with others, that same nature desperately wants to raise its ugly head and take charge.
“Nothing for self-interest, nor for vainglory,” wrote one commentator about Paul’s intent in this passage. To be sure, Paul is not advocating a complete rejection of self-need. To do so would be anathema to the understanding that we are certainly to take care of the life that God has given us. At the same time, however, we are to develop an appropriate perspective on who we are in relation to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Paul’s entire argument on this matter, in fact, hinges upon the humble sacrifice that Jesus Christ willingly made for the sake of all of us. It is only in light of what Jesus has done that we may truly come to grips with who and what we are in this world. When we begin to come to grips with that, we also begin to understand that, although we are saved (and that makes a difference!), we are no better and no worse than those around us. We begin to see that each of us in this world is made in the image of God, even though that image may be tainted and broken. We begin to see others, whoever they may be, through the eyes of Christ.