Philippians 2:3 – “Esteeming others”
In Philippians 2:2,3 we read, “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” In this second chapter of Philippians we have beautiful and needful instruction as to how brethren are to conduct themselves, especially in our attitude and actions towards each other. What we wish to briefly focus our attention on is the phrase “esteem other better then themselves”. We would like to consider the meaning and ramifications of these words as well as to reflect on how this passage may be misapplied.
The key to our thoughts lies in the word “esteem”. It is from the Greek word hegeomai (hayg-eh’-om’ahee) and has two uses in the scriptures. The fist definition is “to lead” as in “to rule” or “command”, while the second definition and the one that fits the context of the passage under consideration is “to consider, deem, account, think”. So as it applies in Philippians 2:3 (and in nineteen other passages) we see it in the context as in reference to our view or opinion of something or someone.
Considering similar applications of the word hegeomai we read in Heb. 11: 26 of how Moses viewed the influences of this world as “esteeming (hegeomai) the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” Concerning an unworthy walk in the Truth, we read in Heb. 10:29, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted (hegeomai) the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified, an unholy thing”. In Acts 26:2 the Apostle Paul states, “I think (hegeomai) myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews.”
Based upon the use of the word hegeomai, we find that the meaning of the passage can be summed up in the following paraphrase, “let us view, consider, or regard each other more highly then our own selves”. The lesson is fairly simple, though often difficult for the flesh to submit to. In order for the ecclesia to operate in a peaceful and healthy manner brethren are not to look down upon each other with feelings of intellectual superiority or to entertain desires of control or preeminence over others. This creates a prideful, competitive atmosphere, which results in contention and disunity. “Only by pride cometh contention.” (Prov. 13:10) The scriptural model teaches that we are to be spiritual servants of one another. Considering the lesson that is being taught in the first portion of Philippians 2 we see that only a few versus later we are given the illustration of our Master who as our example embodied this humble characteristic in his own ministry. Starting in verse five we read, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Who, being in the form of God, thought (hegeomai) it not robbery, to be equal with God: (rendered by Adam Clarke – “did not think it a matter to be earnestly desired”) but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” It we look over to the Gospel of Luke we see evidence of Christ’s own expressions on this matter. When contention arose between the Apostles as to who would be the greatest of them in the Kingdom, Christ weighed in with these words; “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Luke 10: 42-45)
Also in John 13 after Jesus washed the feet of the apostles he stated, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given unto you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14,15) The lesson is obviously not of literal feet washing, but the message is one of servitude to the spiritual needs of each other. If such a lesson is faithfully practiced, though no doubt challenging to our natural inclinations, pride is not given the opportunity to disrupt our collective efforts to serve our Heavenly Father “in spirit and truth”. Though we are instructed to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12) it is our function as servants of Christ to spiritually strengthen our brethren through humble and scripturally sound servitude to each other rather then positioning ourselves to see whom we can manipulate to serve our own selfish needs or goals.
But, are we to esteem others better then our own selves to the point that we are willing to doubt our own convictions and follow an erring brother or brethren down the path of error? Unfortunately we have read and heard brethren use Philippians 2:3 when faced with a degree of opposition to their views or agenda in such a way, as if to say, “If you really esteemed me better then yourself you would abandon your own view and reservations and would trust me enough to go along with my ideas”. This is an unfortunate application of a very beautiful and important scriptural principle. Though we should hold our fellow brethren in high esteem, our convictions to God’s commands and principles should be so sure that though we are not to have feelings of superiority, none the less our obedience and confidence in God’s Word does not allow us to submit ourselves to thinking or actions that are incompatible with Divine Testimony – “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The scriptures also do not command us to have a blind trust of our brethren. In I John 4:1 we are instructed to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God”. Trust has to be built between brethren through the demonstration of sound doctrine and reliable actions. Only in this way may the application of Philippians 2:3 have the desired effect. If we use the phrase as a tool of persuasion on brethren in order to have them bend to our objectives then we are not applying the lesson properly and may be ourselves demonstrating the very behavior that the phrase under consideration is trying to counteract. We see here a lesson, which is to be applied to our own selves and not used as a guilt trip upon others.
Heeding the spiritual health giving advice of the Spirit Word, let us then properly apply the teaching to “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves”.