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 during my first year of marriage. 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 the 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 storage 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.
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 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-tastic 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?! How dare she! Was she so blind that she could not see I expended 10x the effort on the kitchen that it would have taken to 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?! I couldn’t hold it in any longer. In a spew of wounded self-pity I recounted the blood, sweat and toil it took for me to clean the kitchen 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 serve her. I told her I would not get the trashcan until she would at least recognize that I tried to do something 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 mind: “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. I was trying to climb the husband-ladder. I was serving myself by serving her. That’s not love. Love serves the other for the sake of the other. Love isn’t selfish. Love is humble. Love is self-forgetful, even self-sacrificing. How do I know?
It’s how Christ loved us. It’s the next several verses of this same chapter. He is the supreme example of self-forgetfulness for the sake of love. He took the form of a servant for you and me. He bore our cross and carried our curse for us. And Paul tells us to have His mind as we go about our doings for others—to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility to count others as more significant that ourselves.