Rivalry and Conceit.
I have been thinking lately about the things that trip leaders up-those attitudes or approaches that cause leaders to stumble or to lead poorly. There are a couple of attributes in Scripture that have caught my attention. They are found in Philippians 2:3. These two attributes are rivalry and conceit. They are juxtaposed with humility. Philippians 2:3 states, “Do nothing from rivalry and conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Make no mistake-this is not a leadership verse. Paul is not writing exclusively to leaders in this part of his letter. Yet, Paul does clearly address this letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
Paul not only includes those who are spiritual leaders within this body of believers, but even singles them out as special addressees. I think the reason he does so is that he knows that whatever can possibly entangle a congregant can more readily entangle a leader. Leaders have influence, and therefore have leverage. That leverage can either be for good or for bad. A leader’s blessings are always multiplied-and so are their sins. And leaders are always susceptible to the clamoring of the crowd.
Think about rivalry and conceit for a moment. Rivalry is about winning. Think of the best college football rivalries and you readily think about bragging rights for the year. When you have the attitude of rivalry you are bent on winning-often at any cost. The unstated attitude is, “I am going to beat you!” This is often born out of a feeling of resentment based on jealousy. In some translations this term is labeled “selfish ambition.” Conceit is subtly different. Rivalry says, “I will show you that I am better than you.” Conceit is the notion that you already are better than someone else. It has the connotation of cheap pride-largely because it is all in your mind.
I think where this shows up in leadership is when we compare ourselves to other leaders or other organizations. Comparison is always a dangerous activity. It can end up sounding like this: “I/we are better than you and I/we are going to show you that we are better than you.” As you can surmise, rivalry and conceit are cousins of the sin of pride. It is so easy to slip into these sins as leaders. We want to be fruitful and we want to be effective-one of the easiest ways to feel good about ourselves is by feeling better than they guy next door. It is in our flesh to feel superior as a leader. But this can come at a high cost. God tells us in 1 Peter that He opposes the proud. No spiritual leader ultimately wants to be in opposition to Almighty God.
What does Paul offer up as a solution to this leadership disease?
In the second half of the verse Paul tells us “in humility count others as more significant than ourselves.” “In humility” is a loaded phrase. Humility does not mean thinking less of ourselves. It actually is not thinking of ourselves at all. Paul gives us a beautiful application of the definition. We are to choose to count others as “more significant.” That automatically rules out rivalry and conceit. To indulge in rivalry and conceit is to think of ourselves as more significant than other leaders or other organizations. Those twin attributes are antithetical to humility. To desire superiority is to not live “in humility.” But Paul goes on to offer up a better and greater “form” of humility. In the ESV we find this word “form” three times in the passage-in v. 6, 7 and 8. The word “form” originally meant the very nature or character of something and the idea was both an internal and external transformation.
Notice what Paul says as he refers to Jesus as our example. In v.6-8 Paul states,
“(Jesus) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Don’t miss the progression. Jesus already existed in the form of God, but took on the form of a servant, and in doing so took on human form-which took him all the way to the cross. Jesus, who is God, truly became a servant, a human being, and a sacrifice. That is the idea of “form”-to morph or change from one shape or posture to another. It is not playing to the crowd. It is staying fundamentally true to the character of Christ while being willing to count others as more significant. There is a similar progression outlined for us in Matthew 20:20-28. Jesus was addressing the twelve in regards to James’ and John’s request for the right and left hands of power in the coming kingdom. Jesus lays out a form or path of leadership-that of a servant, slave and ransom. For Jesus this is a descent into greatness. Philippians 2:9 tells us that the consequence of this “forming” for Jesus was ultimately exaltation. And Paul tells us that we are to have the same mind of humility formation in ourselves.
I would suggest that this applies even more readily to spiritual leadership. The world sees a leadership form that resembles an upward ladder leading towards visible status and outward personal success.
God sees a leadership form that includes successive cellar steps towards character and servanthood that bring glory and honor to Him and empowers others.
Will your leadership reflect rivalry and conceit? Or will it create various and creative ways for others to succeed? What form you take makes all the difference.
I’d love to hear your thoughts related to the following questions:
Where are rivalry and conceit showing up in your life and ministry? How does it manifest itself?
What “form” is your leadership taking?
As a leader, how can the gospel and the exalted Jesus aid you in your journey towards counting others as more significant than yourself?
Gary Runn has served on staff with Cru for over thirty years, and holds a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Click here to follow Gary on Twitter. Click here to read his blog.