In Humility Hold Others Above Yourself

When it comes to humility I think a lot of Christians tend to work with the wrong idea.

The idea that many seem to have is that humility involves thinking less about yourself, to have a negative or even morbid self-concept. Justification for this sort of thing comes from texts like Philippians 2.3:
Philippians 2.3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Humility, it seems, is considering others as "better" than yourself. And if others are better than you it stands to reason that you are "worse." Humility, in this view, is having that sort of morbid self-concept: Others are "better" than me.

But is that what Philippians 2.3 is saying?

The word translated as "better" in this text is hyperechontas from the root hyperechō. The word (in various forms) occurs only four other times in the NT:
Romans 13:1
Every person must be subject to the governing (hyperechousais) authorities because there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and those that presently exist have been instituted by God.

Philippians 3:8
More than that, I regard all things as loss because of the surpassing (hyperechon) worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and regard them as rubbish, in order to gain Christ

Philippians 4:7
And the peace of God, which surpasses (hyperechousa) all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 2:13
Submit to every human authority on account of the Lord, whether to the king as supreme (hyperechonti) authority.
As can be seen in these texts hyperechō means, broadly, "to hold above." In Romans 13.1 and 1 Peter 2.13 the context is explicitly political, with a political power being "held above" other powers. In Philippians 3.8 the value of knowing Christ is "held above" all other things. In Philippians 4.7 the peace of God is "held above" our ability to understand.

Which brings us back to Philippians 2.3. Translating hyperechontas as "better" doesn't really get at the root meaning of the word. Some translations to compare how well they do getting at the root meaning of "to hold above":
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves.

The Kingdom New Testament (N.T. Wright)
Never act our of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everyone else as your superior.
The NRSV goes with "better than." Which I think is the worst translation. The NASV and CEV go with "more important" and the ESV goes with "more significant." I don't think those are much better.

The NIV isn't bad with "value others above yourself." We hear a bit of hyperechō's "to hold above" in this translation, but the word "value" might muddy the waters. Finally, N.T. Wright does an interesting thing in going with the hierarchical/political meanings we observed above in Romans 13.1 and 1 Peter 2.13: "regard everyone else as your superior."

To be honest, I really don't like any of these. I sort of like staying with the basic meaning of hyperechō, "to hold above." Alternative phrases might be to "lift up," "elevate," or "place." For example:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility hold others up above yourselves.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility lift others up above yourselves.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility elevate others above yourselves.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility place others above yourselves.
To be sure, when we hold up, elevate, and lift up others this is being done over against the self. But I don't think that has to mean that the other is "better" or more "important." It simply means that the other is honored (elevated, help up, lifted up) and put first. And I think the context of the passage supports that reading. Here's the NIV with my tweak for hyperechō:
Philippians 2.3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility lift others up above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 
I think that works. Humility is less about thinking other people are "better" or "more important" than you are. Humility isn't about a morbid ego or a low self-esteem. Humility is, rather, a form of honoring and care-taking.

Humility is lifting up (hyperechō) the concerns of others, placing them above and ahead of your own.

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20 thoughts on “In Humility Hold Others Above Yourself”

  1. This is an excellent post, Richard, and perfectly timed as I'm in an ongoing discussion about humility and church authoritarianism. I had just found the post about Humility as Hierarchy a couple of days ago, and this post provides a great follow-up on the spirit of a servant. Lots of fodder for me to chew on as I look at my own interactions. Thanks for sharing your insights here, they're an invaluable resource for us.

    I still get surprised when people tell me that their psychology doesn't affect their theology, though.

  2. Thanks, Richard. I really enjoy these exegetical excursions which link my evangelical (bible study group vibe) past with my less-tethered present. At the current rate, I think you'll arrive at a systematic theology in about 112 years. @-;¦

    I like, too, your exploration of hyperechō - I guess one slightly literal translation of this word might be 'to promote the voice of another'. Would this sense of the word fit into your reading?

  3. Thanks for this. I'd use some form of the word "priority." I've been noticing that in most interactions, some people get the priority. Others, sadly, don't. And it's a rare person who can prioritize others above themselves.

  4. This is wonderfully liberating.

    Empire was never threatened by tearing down the emperor and replacing him with another. It is threatened even less by people feeling worthless. But it can't survive the inbreaking of the Kingdom that happens when we elevate the poorest and the lowest.

  5. It is very rare. And I do think "priority" is an elegant translation. Thanks!

  6. Drawing heavily on a recent conversation on, Is this idea not similar to some interpretations of Perichoresis?

    That being, the participants make room for the other, vacating the (social, hierarchical) space in the "center". As each participant does this, it creates a kind of dance where the center becomes a sacred place, vacated by all participants.

    It's a nice framework for helping to understanding divine relationship (if you like to apply the term "trinity") as well as explaining humility in a beautiful way that is not demeaning to any of the individuals involved.

  7. I missed that conversation at Homebrewed Christianity. Regardless, I was unfamiliar (or just missed completely in my reading) how perichoresis is being used to describe human relationality and not just the life of the Trinity. But that the two should be connected is obvious. So to your question, yes, there is connection here. You've opened up a whole new vista for me.

  8. Richard, the post in particular is this one:

    Podcast is here: - they start talking Perichoresis at 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

  9. Richard: thought you might find this fun, we added your post here as a suggestion for an addition to an Open Source, copyright free modern English Bible translation a number of us are contributing's called the Open English Bible.

    Info on the Open English Bible Translation effort here:

    And posting about your specific suggestion here:

    Your suggested translation was well received thus far and I suspect will make it into the next version of the New Testament translation....

  10. That's so very cool. I'm honored. And I'm exited to have discovered the OEB because of this!

  11. BTW Richard, this is what made it into the latest development source of the Open English Bible because of this post:

    \v 3 Nothing should be done
    out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility lift others
    up above yourselves, \v 4 considering not only your own interests but
    also the interests of others.

  12. Thanks for writing this. I thourougly enjoyed it. I've been struggling with consider others better than myself. It has showed up in my relationship with others: thoughts, actions, etc. I consider mysel better than others. And have been fighting to demolish that conceit. I've been doing a treasure hunt in the bible in hopes to kill the pride at be root. This lesson has helped me pulled back some onion layers so I can really get to the bottom of why I consider myself better. Thanks so much for this.

  13. I hope I got it right, and please correct me, I think it is about Respect. Giving respect to people or authority. I just came to think how would you bridle yourself when you are enthralled by the truth of the Scripture, that you have a whole load of theology in your brain, that you have the tendency to trample other people's "wrong" beliefs, and at the same time hold your tongue and give due respect to people. Is "speech is silver, silence is gold" biblical or depending on the context? Please do enlighten me on this, pretty please. Thanks and God bless you all!

  14. Same here butterfly. I am getting sick of myself, that I, being a teacher, would like to think not to teach anymore. I feel broken and down and not knowing where to pick myself up Biblically.

  15. SInce a child I have struggled with concepts and verses that told me to 'stay' where I was (be content) and not be ambitious (regard others better than yourself). I sort of felt that any 'worldly' success i.e. wealth, a desire for freedom from money issues or a successful career were impossible to reconcile with the faith of a 'true' christian (always put others first, turn the other cheek etc). I've struggled with self sabotage; where I've 'reminded' myself to stay put and not desire more but at the same time wanting 'better' for myself and family (it is a wicked man who does not provide for his family). Your post has helped me to want more with pure motives and encouraged me to finally use the Masters Degree and intelligence God has given me, rather than continually struggle with jobs that depress me (van driver, cleaner etc.) while feeling guilty about aspiring to be more and continually seeing everyone else as 'better' and me a designated failure.

  16. This was really excellent. Thanks for sharing this. I was going through my Bible study and just got stuck at this verse and was hoping to find out. I'm someone who is rather driven in life (I guess lots of ambition to do things), so this verse really tripped me up. I think it means that I should take that ambition as an opportunity to elevate others. Perhaps with the money I make or with the confidence I receive, I can pass it on to others.

  17. Jesus did this right (as in all things) - He valued others lives above His own with LOVE. He honored others lives above His own by dying for us. He made your life more important
    than His own without making His less important - and in fact, His life became more
    important because of what He did, though that was not His intention (and not
    that that should be a motive for us - that would only refute everything being said
    Thank you Richard for your explanations of “hyperechō.”
    I was always picked on as a child, and had low self-esteem most of my life and felt unloved and unaccepted. How can one who considers themselves a failure, make it worse by lowering themselves even more by considering others as better than themselves. It just doesn’t work. So, needlesstosay, I could never get a “solid” grip on Philippians 2:3.

    But, the view of “honoring” others lives, (loving others) while at the same time, not lowering mine (demeaning mine - thank you Simon), is very liberating for me. I can love others
    without losing God’s love for myself. Andin fact, I can’t love others unless I know I am truly loved by God, because love flows down from God through me (if I allow it).

    My definition of Humility - is not thinking less of yourself, but
    thinking of yourself less (or less often). So here is another way to say Philippians 2:3:

    "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
    Rather, in humility, think of yourself less (without thinking less
    of yourself), and hold others above yourself with Love."

    Thanks so much all,

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