Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
This command is very difficult. I know because it presented itself to me in my own kitchen not too long ago. I made it home early one day and thought to myself, “I’m going to clean the entire kitchen and even wipe down the countertops for my wife,” (emphasis important). She had a late meeting and would not be home for a couple hours, so I got to work. I started by properly placing everything on the countertops in its appropriate cabinet location. I then moved to the dirty dishes in the sink only to realize I first had to remove all the clean dishes from inside the dishwasher so the dirty ones might find proper vacancy for a bubble bath. At this point, the kitchen by all outwards appearances looked very clean—but I knew this was my chance to shine so I went above-and-beyond and swept the floor and, with towel and cleaner in hand, wiped down all the countertops. I even shined the sink. Boy, did it sparkle. It was complete. I stood back and surveyed my spotless masterpiece and knew that she would be so pleased to find I had cleaned the entire kitchen for her (emphasis still important). I triumphantly awaited her arrival so I could hear pleasant surprise and jubilation at the service I had done… for her. (I could probably stop here. You could certainly attempt a guess at what happened.)
She arrived home after a long day’s work, walked through the door into the kitchen, and placed her purse and workbag on the freshly cleaned countertop. No comment was made. She then went to the cupboard to retrieve a clean cup (which I had placed there) so that she could draw a glass of water from our refrigerator door. Still no comment. I sat patiently, holding my words in the back of my throat, waiting for her to detox from the day and finally survey the Brent-abulous scene. She finally made a comment but not the one I expected, “Brent, is there a reason you forgot to bring the trash can in? I don’t want to sound mean, but it’s been a really long day and I almost hit it with my car when I pulled in the driveway.” WHAT?! Not the comment I was expecting! How dare she! Was she so blind that she could not see I expended 10-times the effort on the kitchen that it would have taken to simply wheel the trash can down the driveway?! Could she not take a few steps, turn around, and see that Mr. Clean made a visit to her favorite room in our house… her kitchen?!
Those words that once stuck in the back of my throat came out. I asked her to survey the scene. In a spew of wounded self-pity I recounted the blood, sweat, and toil it took for me to do that for her after a long day’s work of my own. I asked why she couldn’t just be grateful I had taken the time to try and to serve her. I told her I was happy to get the trash can even now but not until she would at least recognize that I tried to do something valiantly nice for her. And she very smoothly and gently spoke words to me that pierced my insides like a knife through hot butter: “Did you clean the kitchen for me or for you?”
Like a gong, Paul’s words reverberated in my spirit: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit…” She was right. I cleaned the kitchen for me. Not for her. I did my good deed in hopes to receive praise, reward, and accolade for me. In other words, I served myself by serving her. But that’s not love. Love serves the other simply for the sake of the other. Love is humble, self-forgetful. Too often I do things out of selfish ambition (look at me!) and conceit (praise me!). It takes the humility of sincere love to not only perform good for another but also to want good for another. This is the bedrock of love, a genuine self-forgetfulness for the good of another.
Why are you doing what you are doing for others? Survey your heart. God looks at the heart-motive before he considers the performance. And in case we forget or grow discouraged in our efforts, the next several verses of this chapter in Paul’s letter outline for us the supreme example of self-forgetfulness for the sake of love: the Lord Jesus Christ. He let go of self for the sake of love. He took the form of a servant for you and me. So, as Paul says, “Have His mind in you…” and love someone self-forgetfully because you have been self-forgetfully loved. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.