The Centrality of Self

You are so selfish!” Most of us would interpret this comment as an insult. Selfishness is considered a stain on our moral character, and to fall under the accusation of being selfish is an affront in the highest degree, even if it is true. Yet, when we compare our lives to the teaching of the New Testament, it will cause us to reconsider this accusation, not as an insult, but more as a fact.

When the Lord Jesus walked this earth He gave us clear instructions by saying, “If any man come to Me, and hate not … his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). The Lord made it abundantly clear that to be one of His followers would require complete self-sacrifice and every interest and desire of our heart being made subordinate to His will. It is abundantly clear that the Lord desired complete and utter surrender of ourselves to Him and His will for His work.

The present message that believers are getting from society and the media is the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches. We are told that to live a happy and fulfilling life, we need to take control, follow our dreams, do all the things that we want to do, and not to let anything stand in our way. After all, “You’re worth it!” This way of thinking naturally resonates in the hearts of everyone. But there is an underlying flaw resulting from this type of thinking that is used by Satan, not to necessarily destroy believers, but to distract them. If a believer focuses on his own desires and the passions of his own heart, he ultimately then rejects the Lordship of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He has placed himself at the helm of his life rather than the Lord. The implication of this is that he feels he can do a better job of managing the affairs of his life than can be done by the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The true test of examining our own heart in this matter is not to ask whether or not we have been selfish, for the answer will likely come back a solid “no,” and our conscience will be eased. The true test is to examine our actions. Examine our leisure time and compare it with the time we have given to the Lord. Examine the resources we have spent on vacations, home improvements, and new vehicles, and compare it to what we have given to the Lord for the furtherance of His work. In many cases the conclusion will be drawn that we have put ourselves at the center of our lives and our own comforts have taken undue priority above the will of the Lord. The words of the Lord still ring clear: “he cannot be My disciple.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with comfort as long as we don’t place its priority above the things of the Lord. Examples of this are: the couple who fails to follow the Lord’s call to evangelize a new area because they are afraid of the discomfort or loneliness a new lifestyle may bring, or believers who turn down an opportunity to run a Friday evening youth program in a less privileged part of town because they will find it difficult dealing with the social problems in that area.

One of the most damaging results of selfishness is the strain it puts on a marriage. By its very nature marriage requires that the husband and wife place each other as a higher priority than themselves. When one partner begins to stand for “his rights” and puts his own interests first, difficulties will soon follow. There are many other circumstances and situations that create trouble within a marriage, but one of the contributing factors is always selfishness of one or both partners. Certainly a re-examination of Ephesians 5:33 would be in order: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (ESV). And love “does not insist on its own way” (1Cor 13:5 ESV).

When we see selfishness in unbelievers we are quick to condemn it. We preach about the parable of the wedding feast in Luke 14, and the men who were invited who made selfish excuses as to why they could not come. One bought a field, another oxen, and the third married a wife. By making these excuses they were manifesting that they placed more value on themselves than the man who invited them. We also preach that the man of Luke 12, who was intent on tearing down his barns to build bigger, was of the same selfish mind-set. Their self-centeredness caused them to have a blind view of the future, death, and eternity. But if we apply these parables to believers we see that the temptation of living a selfish life is a real danger for Christians as well. We are often guilty of making the same excuses as the guests who rejected an invitation. For the believer this means lost opportunities for time spent with the Lord and for the Lord.

Satan’s interest in promoting selfishness seems to be twofold. Firstly, a self-centered Christian life blunts true Christian testimony. Instead of being known for our philanthropy, good works, kindness, and love we may be seen just as churchgoers or Bible-thumpers. This blunted testimony has obvious negative effects on gospel witness since it fails to provide an evidence of the joy, peace, and integrity that should be manifest among the Lord’s people. Secondly, selfish believers, who are part of the body of Christ, will ultimately bring dishonor to the Lord Jesus, Who is the Head of the body. By their lack of Christian testimony and their desire to follow the selfish patterns of the world, an honest onlooker would question if the Lord is indeed able to affect real change in the hearts and lives of His people. Such conclusions are serious and need to be examined with an honest heart before the Lord.

Thankfully, the solution to selfishness is not hard to find. It starts with a willingness to sacrifice our own interests and wholly follow the Lord. The result is, that as we follow the Lord and are more open to His voice, we will find ourselves helping, giving, and praying for the needs of others, believers and unbelievers alike, thereby fulfilling the words of Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves”(ESV).