Question: "What does it mean to esteem others better than yourself (Philippians 2:3)?"
Answer: If we want to love others as Jesus Christ does, we will follow His example of humility. This is the message the apostle Paul shared with the Philippian church: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3–5, NKJV).
The world emphasizes the importance of self-esteem. But in God’s kingdom the followers of Christ march to the beat of a different drum. We are called to understand and embrace biblical humility. Christians are to maintain a realistic perception of who they are: “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3, NLT). It has been said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”
The genuinely humble Christian thinks of others before he thinks of himself. His focus is not on serving his own needs but on the needs of others. The word translated as “esteem” in Philippians 2:3 means “value, deem, consider, reckon.” Considering others is the key to humility. The humble believer submits himself to Christ as a servant, offering whatever He can for God’s glory and the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:24, 31; James 3:13). Paul urges Christians to “be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love,” he explains (Ephesians 4:2).
Humility and service, submission and love: these qualities are inextricably linked. Jesus illustrated this when He emptied Himself of His divine privileges, submitted Himself in obedience to God, and took on the humble position of a human slave to die a criminal’s death on the cross so that we might be saved (Philippians 2:1–11).
In one of the most moving scenes in the Bible, Jesus demonstrated how to esteem others better than yourself by humbly washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1–20). Although Christ was their sovereign Lord, He took on the role of servant to show them the full extent of His love. By performing the lowly task of foot-washing, Jesus foreshadowed His sacrificial death. He did this so that we might follow in His footsteps (1 Peter 2:21).
Jesus gave His kingdom servants a new commandment to love like He does: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34–35, NLT).
Paul taught us not to use our freedom in Christ “to indulge the flesh” but rather to “serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). Unity in the body of Christ cannot exist without humility, submission, and love (1 Peter 3:8, Colossians 3:12; Galatians 5:26; Titus 3:2; 1 Peter 5:5).
To selflessly esteem others better than yourself is genuine biblical love. It doesn’t mean we put ourselves down; instead, we lift others up. We “share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NLT). “We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord,” instructs Paul (Romans 15:2, NLT). We should “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19, ESV). Even when we come together to worship, “everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). God gives us spiritual gifts to strengthen the body for “the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7) and to edify the whole church and not just ourselves (1 Corinthians 14:3–4, 12).
In the relationship between a husband and wife, esteeming others as better than yourself means “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV), with the wife respecting her husband’s headship (verses 22–24, 33b) and the husband selflessly loving his wife (verses 25–33a). For children, it involves obeying and honoring their parents (Ephesians 6:1–3; Exodus 20:12). Believers are also called to maintain an attitude of humility and submission with their spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians 16:15–16) and “to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, ESV).
When we esteem others better than ourselves in every earthly relationship, we maintain the humble attitude God calls us to as kingdom servants (John 13:12–17; 1 Peter 5:6; James 4:7; 1 Peter 2:21).