Some of my favorite verses are found in Paul's letter to the Philippians. In chapter 2 verses 3 & 4 Paul writes the following:
 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition, Paul writes. Isn't that contrary to achieving success, to being the best one can be? Not at all. I think ambition is fine and God honored. Ambition drives us to achieve more and more. Ambition drives us to excel at what we do, to make the most of our opportunities. Ambition drives us to provide for our families to the best of our abilities. As a Christian ambition drives us to learn more about God so that we can serve Him better. Ambition drives us to practice our God-given talents and gifts that we might use them to their fullest extent. Ambition, in my opinion, is good.
Selfish ambition, on the other hand, is not so good. Selfish ambition drives us to achievements meant to gratify our own wants and desires regardless of the needs of others. Selfish ambition drives a man to abandon his calling, his family, and his God in order that he may satisfy his own lusts. Selfish ambition is often satisfied at the expense of others.
So we are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. When I look closely at the words "vain conceit" they seem redundant to me. I mean, if a man is vain is he not conceited also and vise versa? Don't the two words go hand in hand, when you find one the other is somewhere close by? I am not criticizing Paul's writing but am amused at the turn of words. In the first part of verse three Paul nails three big problems that affect a lot of us, selfishness, vanity, and conceit. All three are self-focused and completely exclusive of others. We have known people like this, people who are totally self-absorbed. I'd bet a months pay that at times each of us have been this person. I'll be the first to fess up that I have been guilty of being selfish, vain, and conceited. How about you?
We are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Dictionary.com defines humility as follows: the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc. In my own opinion humility comes from the awareness of who God is and who I am before Him. When I think of God, Holy and Pure, accepting one such as I, I am humbled for I know how much I deserve justice and not mercy.
So in this humble state we are to consider others better than ourselves. Better is a word that does not sit well in an egalitarian society. No one is better than another, supposedly. Jesus said in Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19 that "no one is good except God alone. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned...". So how is one better? I don't think that "better" is in the sense of meaning that they are a higher quality person than you, that they are more moral, or more right. I think better means that YOU place them in a position better than the position you hold for yourself. I think that better means that you do a better job of considering their needs than you do your own. I think you have given their needs more importance than your own. If any of this makes sense say AMEN!
If we hold others in a position of more importance than we do are we to neglect our own interests? Not at all. In verse 4 Paul clearly tells us to look to our own interests. We are to use our God-given talents and gifts to the fullest extent, exploring every avenue and going to the limit but never to the point where our interests infringe upon the interests of others. Our freedeom to pursue our interests ends where the interests of another begins.
I have been of the opinion for a long time that these two verses hold the key to harmonious living, especially in a marriage. If each person is practicing these verses their interests will never collide, there will never be any selfish ambition or vain conceit. Imagine a society where these verses are practiced. Egomania would be an abheration and not the norm as it is today.