A Colossal Countercultural Challenge

By Mark D. Roberts

June 24, 2024

Life in Christ: Devotions Inspired by Philippians

Scripture — Philippians 2:3-4 (NRSV)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.


The Christians in ancient Philippi were having a hard time getting along. Yet the Apostle Paul urged them to be humble, regarding others as better than themselves. He also exhorted them to care more about the concerns of others than their own personal concerns. This was surely a tall order in the first century A.D. It can feel like an even taller order today when we live in such a polarized culture of extreme self-interest. Thus, Philippians 2:3-4 presents us with a colossal countercultural challenge.

This devotion is part of the series Life in Christ: Devotions Inspired by Philippians.


Near the end of the first chapter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul urges us to live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). In every situation, in all we do and say, we should reflect the good news of God’s love and grace in Christ.

At the beginning of the second chapter, Paul begins to spell out in detail what this means for the Christian community in Philippi. He calls them to be united in love and thoughtfulness. Then he gets even more specific, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (2:3-4).

It seems that the Philippian church, though thriving for the most part, was struggling at some points with disunity (see 4:2-3). When members of the church disagreed about some matter of common life, they were digging in, advocating for their position, and failing to appreciate the concerns of those with whom they disagreed. Apparently, some may have been motivated by “selfish ambition or conceit” (2:3), or as the CEB puts it, “selfish purposes.” So Paul exhorts them to “Do nothing” based on their selfish motivations. Rather, he writes, “in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (2:3).

Moreover, when it comes to the particular issues that were dividing the Philippian church, Paul instructs the believers to “look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (2:4). The CEB offers this translation, “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.”

I expect that Paul’s counsel in this passage was challenging for the Philippians. Basic, sinful human nature leads us to care most about ourselves, our interests, and our reputations. We are not naturally inclined to regard others as better than ourselves or to care more about the interests of others than our own interests. Furthermore, the Roman culture of Philippi encouraged self-interest and individual glory. Paul was advocating a profoundly countercultural way of being.

If the exhortations of Philippians 2:3-4 were countercultural in Paul’s day, it seems to be that they are even more profoundly countercultural for us. As I look out upon our cultural and political landscape, I rarely see anyone regarding others as better than themselves or caring more about the concerns of others than their own personal concerns. In the United States, we are increasingly divided into our preferred “tribes.” We are in relationship with those with whom we agree and we “cancel” those whose interests we do not share.

I expect you know that this happens, not only “out there” in the wider culture, but also “in here,” in work teams, families, neighborhoods, and churches. Thus, for us, Philippians 2:3-4 presents what I’m calling “a colossal countercultural challenge.” We are being asked to live in a way that is contrary, not only to our nature, but also to the dominant ways of the world in which we live. This is a tall order!

I might be inclined to say that it is a “too tall” order. It can seem almost impossible to choose in humility to regard others as better than ourselves. And we are so wired to care most of all about our own interests that prioritizing the interests of others can feel completely out of reach. But Philippians 2 shows us a way forward. It reveals how we might actually live in the countercultural way of Christ.

I’ll write about this way forward in tomorrow’s devotion. For now, you may wish to consider the following questions.


How do you respond to Philippians 2:3-4? What do you think about these verses? How do they make you feel?

Can you think of a situation in which you observed Christians actually living according to Paul’s teaching in this passage? If so, what happened? What made a difference in the lives of those people?

What helps you to put Philippians 2:3-4 into practice? What makes this difficult for you?


Talk with a good friend or with your small group about the challenges of Philippians 2:3-4.


Gracious God, as I read Philippians 2:3-4 I must confess to feeling overwhelmed. There’s a part of me that doesn’t even want to live this way. And the part of me that wants to put these verses into practice can feel as if it’s impossible. I don’t really want to consider others as better than I am. And I don’t want to care more about their interests than my own.

Yet I take your Word seriously. I want to live in a way that reflects the gospel. I want to take on the challenge of countercultural living. I want to glorify you in all that I do. So I ask for your help. Teach me, Lord. Guide me. Inspire me. Empower me. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: But I Don’t Trust My Coworkers.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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