This is Ben's dilemma. Certain co-workers lie, cheat, and steal from the company. When confronted, they just joke about it. He wants to do God’s will, and he just read:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
Considering what he’s seeing, this seems like an unreasonable request. “These guys are shiftless and lazy, always on the take.” Does God expect him to feel respect for people who don’t even try to be upright? “Or am I supposed to just especially loath myself?” he wonders. “Is that the point of this verse?”
First of all, this letter is written to “the saints in Philippi,” and the verse is addressing believers in fellowship. I’m assuming that people who are lying, cheating and stealing are not regenerate. Not that we should think of ourselves as better than unbelievers; just that we are looking to different sources altogether. But suppose you have trouble with even a fellow believer, and you come to this verse.
It’s probably the word “better” here, that’s throwing Ben off. So let’s start with that word. What does the word “better” here, go with? I mean, is it an adjective or an adverb? It is important to know. The Greek word here is “hupercho” and according to the scholars at studylight.org, it means “important.” But unlike English’s “important,” here it is a “verb:”
1. “to have or hold over one
2. to stand out, rise above, overtop
a. to be above, be superior in rank, authority, power
1. the prominent men, rulers
b. to excel, to be superior, better than, to surpass
Only down by definition 2-b is “better” mentioned as a possible definition. Usually in English, “considering better” indicates one's personal opinion. That’s what is upsetting Ben. Is God requiring him to change his opinion? That’s an oppressive thought!
Some translations, instead of using “better,” in the English, use “more important.” The word "more" shows the whole phrase to be adverbial. Phew! If it were an adjective, then the word “better” in Ben’s Bible, would be linked with “others.” That would mean that we must consider that even the weasels in our lives are better people than we, however ignoble their intent, or noble our aspirations.
But if the word “better” here is indeed used as an adverb, then “better” attaches with the verb “to consider.” This "considering" is definitely doable! It doesn’t require our personal opinions or estimation of “others.” Consider kings for instance. Whether noble or ignoble, protocol requires kings be treated as kings. We can treat weasel kings like kings, without changing our opinion of their behavior.
Note: Practice, Perseverance, and then Producing.
We “better consider” others, by treating them as if they are more important to us, than we are even, to ourselves. To non-believers this seems absurd, but for disciples it is doable, even in considering the weasel-like. And as with other faith-requiring practices, we need perseverance and practice, in order to produce spiritually.
Just as Jesus tells us to “love” our enemies, with His divine “Agape” love, Paul is exhorting us to be humble ourselves, and to esteem God’s opinion of "others," whom He no doubt sees more value in, than we may be seeing in them at the moment. To Jesus they are worth dying for. He’s not saying we are not important. But we appreciate His estimation of these “others.” Then as we practice showing this preferential “Agape” love to others, we will find we can do so even to those we find difficult to love. If we’ll practice better considering them, more than we focus consideration on our selves, blessings will follow.
If we persevere in this, we’ll also wind up liking a lot more people than we expect. Are you annoyed? Start with prayer. Is there someone in your life who steams your toast? Pray for that person consistently. Pray for God's grace and mercy and blessings, specifically for them. Then do so for any "others" who tend to upset your mug. (Okay, okay, I'll stop!)
The Spirit will point out ways you need to change too. Repent. Enjoy being changed! Praying for them will change you! And your love for them will grow.
If who you are praying for is in Christ, be watchful, and you’ll even start seeing God-imparted qualities in them. They can't be total weasels! God works Christ-likeness into all His children! Ask Him to point out things He’s doing in them. Soon you’ll be rooting for them, as He is.
I’ve not only experienced this attitude change towards "others" through prayer myself, I have heard many Christians testify to this. This sometimes even leads to friendships. It isn’t necessary of course. But it happens. I remember once someone pulling me aside to “testify” to me, how their opinion of me changed after they'd spent much time in prayer for me. They "felt led" to tell me that I no longer annoyed them nearly so much. What a relief! To this day, I can’t begin to thank them!
One translation of Philippians 3:2 reads, “consider others as more important than yourself.” God is not asking us to do anything that He doesn’t do for us all the time. But will we practice it? According to Jesus, practicing is so important!
Along with practice, it’s important to listen to the Lord well. We must esteem His words! Recently some of us were reading in Luke 8, where Jesus explains “the parable of the sower.” I’ve read or heard this parable hundreds of times over the past 28 years. But this reading, words were jumping out at me! Don't you love when God does that for you?!
The seed being sown is God’s word. The soils represent the hearts of those who hear. But here God started getting my attention! After the first three types of soil produced no crop, Jesus says,
“But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, receive it,
And then in vs. 18:
“. . .therefore consider carefully how you listen.”
How we listen to God is vital! I may turn off a sales pitch, empty schpiel, someone’s ranting, or a speech with obvious agenda. We can’t just indiscriminately take in everything we hear with undivided attention. But despite the world's chatter, absolutely anything that God says, we can esteem as the most important words we are hearing today. Others may not esteem His words, but we must. Whenever biblical teaching goes against our cultural grain, like this whole “better considering” exhortation, be prepared to gulp, repent, and be changed.
That day as we read Luke 8, I knew I wasn’t esteeming God's word. Not consistently anyway. Not enough apparently. So I repent.
And then picking back up at Luke 8:15, God comforted me almost immediately! Thank you Lord! I had my answer when we read these words:
“. . . those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop…”
We mistakenly measure “producing” as getting things perfect. Some of us lose heart, thinking we'll never produce until we "get it together." But the soil that produces, does so because it perseveres.
Producing is about practicing what God says; not losing trust in Him. There’s no mention of any success rate while doing the persevering. While I have proven that I can fail, God sees me still hanging on. How about you? Will you “carefully consider how you listen” to God? Will you continue to practice what you hear and persevere? Doing so, will make you good soil. You’ll produce.
I was glad for this correction from my Lord. I do need to listen better, and to obey with a will to persevere in it. God can tell me that I lack character; while simultaneously boosting my hope.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
I don’t warmly welcome folk in for tea, who are critical of me. But God’s voice is so full of love, that a rebuke from Him is better than the praise of "others." He rebukes without shaming His children. Let Him speak! And "carefully consider how you listen."
Back in Luke 8, Jesus’ mother and brothers came to get Him. Not understanding Him yet, they thought He’d gone “out of his mind.” So when Jesus was told, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside wanting to see you,” He looked around at those who were listening and said, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s words and put them into practice.”
So let's consider carefully how we listen. Listening carefully, let's consider God’s words to be of utmost importance, and practice doing what He says. And in light of Ben's situation, if you practice treating others as “overtop important” to Him, you’ll be blessed. That is, if you persevere.