Charles Simeon Commentary - Philippians 2:3 - 2:3

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Philippians 2:3 - 2:3

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Php_2:3. In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

IT is a common and universally approved saying, that the tree may be known by its fruit. Now we would have the Gospel brought to this test: and we are willing that it should be accepted or rejected, according to the issue of this trial. That good things have been spoken by uninspired men on the subject of humility, we readily admit: for modesty, and a deference to the sentiments of others, necessarily commend themselves to the judgment of every considerate mind. But we apprehend that the precept before us is peculiar to Christianity; and, as a maxim in morals, it stands unrivalled in the whole world. In support of this injunction, I will endeavour to shew,

I.       Its import—

Certainly it must be understood with some kind of qualification and exception: for it can never be meant, that a philosopher is to esteem an illiterate peasant wiser than himself; or that a man of strict morals is to regard a notorious drunkard or libertine as more holy than himself. We can never be required to entertain sentiments so entirely repugnant to truth and fact. We must suppose some kind of parity between the persons so compared; namely, that both of them profess a regard for God, and both maintain a measure of consistency in their outward conduct. But where there is nothing outward and visible to contradict the sentiment, there it should be entertained; and we each should conceive of others as better than ourselves:

1.       As more pure in their principle—

[We should give persona credit for sincerity in what they profess; and not, without the strongest evidence, accuse them of hypocrisy. But every man that is acquainted with his own heart has seen in himself a sad mixture of motive, which he cannot but acknowledge before the heart-searching God; and, consequently, he will do well to regard himself as inferior to those whom he cannot convict of any guile, in comparison of what he knows to have existed and operated within his own bosom.]

2.       As more consistent in their practice—

[Of his own inconsistencies, who amongst us has not reason to complain? Who, for one deviation which he sees in others, may not discern a great many in himself? We are not at liberty to indulge all manner of evil surmises, in order to reduce others to a level with ourselves; but should put ourselves below others, in proportion as we appear to have fallen short of the measure of their attainments.]

3.       As more advanced in proportion to the advantages they have enjoyed—

[We all are responsible for the advantages that have been vouchsafed unto us: “To whom much has been given, of them will the more be required.” Now, of the opportunities with which we have been favoured, we must be conscious; and respecting the length of time that we have professed to seek after God, we must be sensible: but, in reference to others, we must be comparatively ignorant: and therefore, even if, in point of attainment, we appear to stand on a par with them, we ought to take a lower place than they, because, from the superiority of our advantages, we ought to have been advanced far beyond them.]

Though, in explaining the import of this injunction, I have in some measure anticipated my second head, yet I will proceed more fully to point out,

II.      Its reasonableness—

The reasonableness of it appears from this, that we know incomparably more concerning ourselves, than we do, or can do, respecting others. We know more of our own,

1.       Motives—

[There are workings of mind, of which even we ourselves are scarcely sensible; and which, whilst they appear good at the time, we find afterwards to have been evil. The two Apostles who would have called fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village gave themselves credit for a holy and becoming zeal; whilst, in fact, they were actuated by pride and revenge: our blessed Lord told them, that “they knew not what spirit they were of.” In examining our own hearts, we shall find, that, on different occasions, there has been much amiss in relation to our motives, where our actions have appeared most excellent and praiseworthy: but of the motives of others we could judge only by the actions themselves: and therefore it is but reasonable that we should account others, of whom we know no evil, better than ourselves, who have been conscious of much that has been contrary to the mind of God. The mixtures which we have discovered in ourselves of pride and vain-glory, of self-seeking and self-complacency, and of many other hidden abominations, should make us ever to lie low both before God and man.]

2.       Exertions—

[We cannot but blush and be ashamed when we look back upon the sloth and indolence which we have indulged, especially when engaged in holy exercises. How slight has been our application, when reading the word of God! How languid our frame, when drawing nigh to him at the throne of grace; our confessions being destitute of all contrition; our prayers, of fervour; our thanksgivings, of gratitude! In the house of God, how have our minds wandered to the very ends of the earth; yes, and sometimes too, perhaps, been filled with all evil, when we have professed to have been engaged in the service of our God! In short, we cannot but be conscious, that we have but too often trifled with God and our own souls, when we should have been running as in a race, and striving, as in a contest, for our very lives. But in reference to others, we know not these things: and therefore it is in the highest degree reasonable that we should “prefer them in honour before ourselves [Note: Rom_12:10.]”]

3.       Advantages—

[We have been conscious of the strivings of God’s Spirit within our own souls; whilst respecting the experience of others we know nothing. The inward fears that have been excited in us, and the hopes we have cherished, and the consolations that have been imparted to us; the assistances, too, that we have received from Almighty God for the subjugation of our lusts, and the renovation of our souls; the discoveries, also, which have been given us of Christ, and of the great mystery of redemption; these, and a thousand other blessings which have been vouchsafed to us for the furthering of our spiritual welfare, should have been productive of a suitable and correspondent advancement in the divine life. But how little have we availed ourselves of them, and profited by them! The knowledge of this may well humble us in the dust. But, respecting other persons, we are altogether in the dark, as to their advantages, or their improvement of them: and therefore we should take the lowest place, as that which properly belongs to us, on account of our great unprofitableness.]

4.       Defects—

[What know we respecting the corruptions of others, in comparison of our own? Who does not blush at the recollection of much which has passed within him, which, if known to man as it is known to God, would render him an object of pity or contempt? Who does not see, in his own temper, and spirit, and conduct, there has been abundant occasion for shame and contrition before God? But we know but little of these things in relation to others, and therefore in reason are bound to esteem them better than ourselves.]

Not to dwell any longer on the reasonableness of this injunction, I will pass on to mark,

III.     Its excellency—

Suppose it to be obeyed; and then behold its influence,

1.       On societies—

[It cannot have escaped our notice, how much evil arises, in the world, and in the Church, from a proud, envious, self-exalting spirit. “Whence come wars between nations, and strife and contentions between neighbours, but from the lusts that war in our members,” even from a desire to advance ourselves at the expense of others? “Strife and vain-glory” are, in my text, put in immediate contrast with “the lowliness of mind” which is there recommended. Suppose that all were actuated by the spirit of which we have been speaking; the little offences which occur would be scarcely noticed as worthy of a thought: a charitable construction would be put upon the motives of others, and the wounds inflicted by them would be healed in a moment. Verily, there would be nothing but love and harmony, where now exists nothing but animosity and discord [Note: Eph_4:2-3.].”]

2.       On our own soul—

[O! if pride were mortified, and self-love were put away, and charity were exercised, and the soul were humbled under a sense of its own unworthiness; how many sources of pain would be cut off! how many fountains of holy pleasure would be opened to us! The trials of life, whether from God or man, would be as nothing to us; because they would appear infinitely less than our desert, and would be regarded as medicines to heal the sickness of our souls. On the other hand, our mercies, how unmerited would they appear; and what admiring and adoring gratitude would they excite within us! Every little attention from man, instead of operating to foster our vanity, would abase us rather as unworthy of such love, and stimulate us to make to him every return in our power. The whole of our frame would resemble that of the Lord Jesus Christ, “whose meekness and lowliness” were alike conspicuous, amidst the acclamations of friends, and the assaults of the most envenomed enemies.]

3.       On the interest of religion in the world—

[The world are eagle-eyed in spying out the faults of those who profess religion: and when they see a vain, conceited, talkative, obtrusive, uncharitable professor, they despise him in their very souls. And truly he deserves to be despised; for “he stinks in the nostrils of God” himself [Note: Isa_65:5.]. But the world do wrong in identifying these dispositions with religion: for religion disclaims them utterly, and altogether condemns them. On the other hand, they cannot but admire in their hearts the man who is of a meek and humble mind. True, they will not love him, because “they hate the light” which such a character reflects: but they have an inward conviction that he is right; and a wish, that, though they live not his life, they may “die his death.” They know, in their souls, that God approves such characters, and that he will distinguish them with his favour, both here [Note: 1Pe_5:5.], and in the eternal world [Note: Luk_18:14.]. They see in such characters religion adorned and honoured [Note: 1Pe_3:4.]. Would you then, brethren, recommend religion, cultivate this spirit, and account yourselves the lowest of all and the least of all [Note: 1Co_15:9.].]