How would you finish the following sentence? The primary purpose of a local assembly is: a)To help me grow spiritually and receive my spiritual fulfillment; b) To allow me to exercise my gift to the “building up” of others; or c) That it be a place where Christ is given His rightful place, to the glory of God.
While each of these responses has a place in assembly life, the ultimate purpose of every local testimony unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is the glory of God. Clarity is essential in evaluating what your purposes, and mine, add to the local assembly.
The spirit of self-satisfaction and pride in self-accomplishment is accepted and even rewarded all around us. It is the “me first” way of thinking that has infiltrated almost every part of society. The sports world is full of it; the entertainment world overflows with it; the corporate boardroom has it aplenty. It’s the spirit of entitlement that says “It’s all about me; I’ve earned it.” It comes in many shapes and sizes; sometimes it seems to be simple common sense. After all, if you don’t “look out for number one,” who will? The attitude is so prevalent that those who don’t share the view are often labeled as easy targets, not adequately motivated to succeed in this life.
Do you ever feel the world pressing you into this “mold”? Sometimes it may be hardly noticeable, but if we give it place the consequences will ruin our assembly life and limit our usefulness for God. Do you ever feel as if the assembly that you are a part of just isn’t “with it,” and doesn’t recognize you as the important gift that you are? Don’t they recognize that you are probably the most intelligent person in the assembly, and though you’re not looking to take advantage of it, you’re a notch above most? Don’t they notice how spiritually minded you are … and humble? These examples may sound extreme but it is possible that they exist in any one of us. None of us would desire the consequences of self-satisfaction within the assembly, and we must all honestly examine ourselves (not others) for even the slightest hint of it.
The moment we trusted Christ and became the children of God, did we draw automatic immunity from the spirit of pride that is all around us? No! But God hates pride (Prov 6:17) and so must we. Each of us has the flesh within that will align itself with the “me first” mind-set, and must be brought into subjection to God daily (1Cor 9:27).
We see many instances of the damaging effects of a self-satisfied spirit within a New Testament Church. We see it in the aspiring Diotrephes who loved to “have the preeminence” and whose arrogant ambition was destroying the church. In Philippi it showed showed itself in believers who were becoming rivals due to selfish interests. The same spirit is what would characterize the perilous destroyers of the church of whom Paul warned Timothy (2Tim 3:2) they would be “lovers of their own selves.”
But perhaps the wide-spread effects of the spirit of self-satisfaction are seen in the Corinthian church. Their standing was solid as saints (holy and pure), but they were behaving as mere humans (1Cor 3:3). An attitude of complacency and self-sufficiency had set in. Paul’s assessment in the fourth chapter was simple but pointed; “now ye are full.” They were completely satisfied with what they were in themselves, and were boasting in what God had given them, as if they were “self-made” individuals. The effects were undeniable: a sad example of what James wrote “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice (ESV James 3:16).
Let us now briefly look at a few of the evident implications of self-satisfaction in the early church, and learn why Satan would seek to promote such a spirit in you and me today.
Diversity brings Division
If unity within assembly life were automatic, exhortations to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind” (1Cor 1:10) or to be “of one accord, of one mind” (Phil 2:2) would not be necessary. But it is the farthest thing from automatic! Unity in diversity is unnatural and will never be achieved in our own strength. So when it exists in Christian life, God gets the glory.
The Corinthian assembly had plenty of diversity. There were the evident diversities of background and culture, and more subtle diversities of opinions and preferences. Different ones had their favorite “preachers” (1:12-13) and those preferences were held tightly. Preferences gave rise to cliques, and cliques gave way to divisions. It was not a matter of doctrine that divided them; they had allowed matters of personal preference to do it. But that is the way it goes when the spirit of self-satisfaction is in play. Pride says that my preference is the only one worth having, and anyone who doesn’t see it my way must certainly be looking to cause trouble. Do you recognize that?
But why is unity so important? Our Lord’s intercessory prayer in John 17 gives intimate insight into our Savior’s desire for unity. His prayer was that His followers be marked by it, in direct contrast to unbelievers. There is a purpose to this unnatural unity (v 23); that the world, so full of animosities against Christ, might see that Christianity is real and understand that He truly is the Son of God. Is He worthy of our rejection of selfish interests to strive for unity? Absolutely!
It is important to make a distinction between unity and uniformity. Simple differences of opinion and preference (not matters of doctrine) may break uniformity but should never break unity. Our flesh would desire to equate the two terms, and let petty differences divide us. Let each one of us resolve to put pride and selfish interest down every day, and strive for unity in the assembly.
Dulling of Sensitivity to Sin
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ warned of being so focused on the faults of others that we can miss much bigger issues in ourselves (Matt 7:3-5). We see this in 1 Corinthians 5. The divisions that had arisen had them so preoccupied with the quarrels, that they allowed gross sin within the church. It was a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the house of God. Their reaction was one of arrogance instead of mourning. They were so focused on seeking their own interests that they had become dull to the offensiveness of sin to God.
What about you and me? Are we so preoccupied with some other issue that we allow sin to go unchecked in ourselves?
Dimming of Spiritual Vision
In 1 Corinthians 6, the attitude of pride and entitlement shows itself in a spirit of litigation and covetousness. Here, fellow believers had a difference in regard to property and rights. The matter was not one of criminal offense. It is interesting that the condemnation is toward the spirit with which the difference was dealt with, not the difference itself. One man’s insistence to vindicate self led him to discount the authority of the assembly and use his “rights” as a citizen of Corinth to get the matter resolved before the pagan magistrates in the Corinthian courtroom. The action was logical, but wrong. Have you ever acted logically, but wrongly, toward a fellow believer?
Was there such short sightedness that they had forgotten that saints would judge the world? Even if the matter had been judged wrongly within the assembly and the wronged brother had suffered loss in this life, it would have been better than to allow self-interest to overstep assembly order. Sadly, they were fitting the mold noted by Peter in his first epistle, of one lacking in fundamental Christian virtues, “so nearsighted that he is blind” (2 Peter 1:9 ESV).
The sad reality was that in their attempt to win for self, they were defeated (1Cor 6:7). Their spiritual eyesight had been so dimmed that true defeat, in an eternal sense, was mistaken as victory.
How is our spiritual eyesight? Can we, in faith, leave things with our Lord to make right or must we insist on taking matters into our own hands for immediate vindication?
Disregard for the Conscience of the Weak
Self-satisfaction never has a positive effect on others. Some in Corinth were intent on flaunting their knowledge of Christian liberty, turning a blind eye to the impact it would have on other saints. They preferred puffing up self to building up others (1Cor 8:1) and their actions were causing others to stumble (note – to stumble is not mere annoyance). Knowledge of divine things without loving consideration of others is not true knowledge at all (v 2). Christian freedom must never be used as a mask for malicious license (1 Peter 2:16).
The conversation within the ranks of the “knowledge” Christians may have gone something like this: “I’m not going to change what I do because of them … I’ll eat what I want to eat … if they stumble, they stumble … that’s their problem not mine … it’s my right and they’ll just have to deal with it.” Have you ever found yourself with an attitude like that?
But think about this for a moment. When it causes a fellow Christian to stumble and to lose his or her usefulness for God, it goes far beyond inconsideration; it is actually sinning against Christ (1Cor 8:12). This would remind us of the words of our Lord Jesus in a coming day. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me” (Matt 25:40).
Can you or I think of one right that we have that is more important than a loving consideration of fellow believers, and merits sinning against Christ?
Dysfunction in Gift and Dishonor to Christ
The Corinthians had no lack of spiritual gift (1Cor 1:7), and yet their insistence on using gift to exalt self had defeated the very purpose of the gifts themselves. Exercise of spiritual gift had become nothing more than a guise to become prominent in the church. To some, the illusion of spirituality was fine; it was a way for them to “look the part,” while fulfilling their own desires to exalt self. Self-satisfaction says “as long as I get fulfillment from the assembly, that’s all that matters; never mind the ultimate purpose.”
What was the result of pushing selfish interests? Some were not even speaking in the Spirit at all (12:3), and the result was a defaming of the worthy name of Christ. It is sobering that in insisting on self-satisfaction, the ultimate purpose of the assembly can be defeated, and the worthy name of our Lord Jesus Christ be dishonored.
We would all do well to evaluate and align our own purposes to the ultimate purpose of the assembly, and do all to the glory of God. He alone is worthy!