“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)
Following Jesus involves far more than believing; it involves belonging. Only as we belong to Christ’s Body can we become what He intends us to be. In fact, it is impossible to grow to spiritual maturity by yourself. You must be connected to the other parts of the Body. Being a member of a local church is more than merely having a church to belong to. It’s your way of committing to the work God is doing in the Body.
It was rather difficult at first for me to turn my focus from “me” to others. I know this was due, in large part, to my long history of alcoholism and drug addiction. Alcoholics and addicts are, by their very nature, self-centered. When someone is drinking alcohol or using drugs, they are usually concerned with how they feel, and not about those around them. As a result of this selfish behavior, relationships tend to suffer the most in the addict’s or alcoholic’s life. It was not until I renewed my relationship with Jesus and set my eyes upon Him and the cross that I was able to put the drink down and think of others first. Things were great in the beginning, but I drifted away from a daily conscious contact with God. I started acting outside the will of God. I quickly became self-centered once again. A relapse was waiting for me in the wings.
To be selfish is to be concerned exclusively or excessively with oneself. A person who is selfish will seek or concentrate on his or her own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. Romans 7:5 tells us that when we are self-centered, sinful passions aroused through the law are at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bare fruit for death. The NIV Bible translates being self-centered as being “in the realm of the flesh.” It is ironic that putting yourself first leads to a destruction of yourself. (See Luke 17:33) If we are focused on ourselves, we cannot love and care for our neighbors. Being self-centered is directly opposed to the clear command that we should not seek our own good, but the good of others. (See 1 Cor. 10:24)
The mindset of “he with the most toys wins” is seen for the fallacy it is. When we deny ourselves, we turn from being self-centered to being God-centered. Self is no longer in charge. God is in charge. Christ rules our hearts. We all have a tendency toward being self-centered. However, though we are still in the flesh, as believers in Christ we have God’s Spirit residing within. (See 1 John 4:13) The question is, which will we allow to have control of our lives, the flesh or the Spirit? Will we manipulate, use and hurt others for our own gain, or will we begin to practice the God kind of love spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13? Love (agape) is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful or proud. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Love is a hard thing. Often the focus is on the beautiful, warm aspects of loving another. While that’s all good and true, love has another facet that makes it much more complex. Love means that we set ourselves up, intentionally, to experience the pain that comes when those we choose to love are hurting, or when they hurt us. Good works and good intentions are nice, but many times our love falls far short of the standard expressed in 1 Corinthians 13. Our deepest obedience to God is to love when it is beautiful and good, and to love when it means walking through the dark, messy places with another. This is love the way Jesus defines it. A love that transforms us by its persistent presence. Love can hurt in our lifetime. But from the perspective of eternity, love always wins out. Love is pain’s next-door neighbor. But even in our pain, those who follow Jesus can already taste the sweetness of eternal victory.
When we focus only on ourselves, we have very little empathy, concern, patience or understanding for those who are outside of our circle, and we search for reasons to dismiss, judge and close our hearts to them. Jesus said that in order to follow God, we must become as a servant. We must serve God and serve others, not ourselves. During His time on earth, Jesus told us to do as He does. And what did He do? He set Himself aside and became a servant to all. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He forgave the unforgiven. He washed the disciples’ feet. (See John 13:1-17) He loved. He was humble and never took credit for anything, but gave all glory to God. He served the world right up to the point of His death, doing God’s will, and not His own.
We must come to understand that self-centeredness is, at its roots, about being selfish. The issue is not one merely of behavior. Self-centeredness, like all sin, is ultimately a matter of the heart. The only remedy for this type of selfishness is Jesus Christ. In 1 John 4:9-11 (NASB), John wrote, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This must not come as a chore, but as a delight, when we realize how God has loved us. The more clearly we see Christ, and God’s amazing grace at work in us through Jesus, the greater is our delight in sacrificing ourselves for the glory of God.
When we operate from a position of self-centeredness, we are unable to appreciate others for who they are. We can’t relate to their circumstances. We don’t believe they have anything we need. We are sorely lacking empathy. Our ego is the wrong size. When we’re driven by selfishness, there is no room in our spirit for God. Not only are we unable to grow spiritually, we are incapable of connecting with other members of the Body of Christ. Nine out of ten churches in America are declining or growing at a pace that is slower than that of their communities. Simply stated, churches are losing ground in their own backyards. Two thirds of those born before 1946 are Christians, but only fifteen percent of millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are believers.
This me first it’s all about me malaise that has infected all parts of our lives is poisonous to any attempts at living out a vibrant faith. It has had a direct impact on attendance at our churches. Putting ourselves at the center of our existence and at the center of our relationships never satisfies. Self-gratification cannot gratify. We were not created for this. The perfect example we have been given to follow is that of Jesus Christ. Denying ourselves, however, is not easy. Thankfully, have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We are under grace as we work out our salvation daily. As stated in Phillipians 2:3-4, we must regard one another as more important than ourselves. It is vital that we look after the interest of others.