Are you self-centered? Are you frustrated by the self-seeking behavior of others? Selfishness can take many forms, but in essence, it is an absence of love–a concern for self and what pleases or benefits self above all else, characterized by a corresponding lack of concern for how the choices I make affect others. Because we live in a fallen world, it should not surprise us when we encounter selfishness; rather we must look to what God says.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
I recently ran across a video of a little child (in China, perhaps?) being accidentally run over and no one stopping to help, even though many people paused long enough to understand what had happened. Perhaps the child was already dead; not that this would relieve anyone of their moral responsibility, but perhaps there are grave official repercussions for an individual bringing a child in such a condition in. Yet this appalls us in the Western world because here–even in the worst of neighborhoods under the worst of circumstances–we cannot imagine this happening because some kind soul would offer assistance. But why is this? Why is it that in some busy oriental metropolis driver after driver passes by, not unlike the passers-by of Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable, while we in the US cringe at the thought? The answer to this question boils down to Jesus.
If you delve back through history, you will see that our nation was founded by a deeply religious Christian group fleeing persecution for their faith from England. Their writings leave the witness of a people dependent upon God for their very survival in a seriously hostile environment, and the legacy they have left us is a nation founded with deep roots of godly values. It was Christ who said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34, 35) Love, the antithesis–the opposite–of selfishness, is what distinguishes the people of God from everyone else. And even though our nation frequently disavows its Creator these days through the various sins it so blatantly embraces, He still remembers us because of our fathers–“Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” (Deuteronomy 7:9) There is still a cultural undercurrent in our nation that retains, to a great degree, the teachings of Christianity.
China, on the other hand, has historically and politically been more reluctant to embrace Christ. According to ancient records (Keung in Ching Feng, p. 235), a monk reported to the Patriarch of the Eastern Church in 986, that because of persecution, “Christianity is extinct in China; the native Christians have perished in one way or another; the church has been destroyed and there is only one Christian left in the land.” At various times throughout their history since there have been persecutions and purges, and more recently, the communist government banned the expression of religious life during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. God says that “…He repays those who hate Him to their face…He will not be slack with him who hates Him…” (Deuteronomy 7:10) The bright star on the horizon is that the Church is currently growing by leaps and bounds in China, yet this legacy of official persecution of Christianity has left its mark. So what does God say? How should WE live our lives?
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3 NIV)
It is our sinful human nature that wants to always show ourselves better than others, that wants to get the best for me and mine. Where we live, what we drive, what we wear, where and at what we work, where we eat, where our children go to school, whether they get to go to college, whether, where, or how frequently we go on vacation, and a myriad of other distinctions are all fodder for selfish ambition and vain conceit. It is the opposite of love.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” (I Corinthians 13:4-6)
Love, on the other hand, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not seek its own. Our identity–who we are–must be rooted in Christ, in who He is and what He has done and continues to do for us, not in things that He of His great mercy allows us to have and enjoy in this life.
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
Do you care about the lives of others besides your own–besides even those of your immediate family? How many times do you forgo the opportunity to do something good for someone else totally unrelated which no one besides God will ever know about and for which you will get no praise whatsoever? How often are you upset to go out of your way because an opportunity to do a good deed presents itself at an inopportune moment when you weren’t expecting to have to do so? God wants us to be, “…ready in season and out of season,” (II Timothy 4:2a) not just when we feel like it.
Most of all, we shouldn’t be surprised when those who don’t know Christ–in this country or elsewhere–exhibit unloving, even grossly selfish, behavior because they are just doing what comes naturally to the sinful human mind. Goodness is not the norm; badness is. Love isn’t what comes naturally; self-centeredness and hostility to God and man are. God tells us:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
We need to be careful not to accept paraphrases as literal translations of the Word of God because they aren’t, but I think The Message gives a good general image in this case of a person lost without God:
“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Galatians 5:19-21 MSG)
Contrast that, now, with what happens when Christ’s Holy Spirit works in you:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
God is beautiful, and loving, and kind, and good, and where His people are, there will also these qualities be present!
Impress upon us how important it is that the Gospel be spread throughout the world to all people just as You commanded, not simply because You commanded it–although that would be reason enough–but because You are so incredibly good, and because Yours is the real Midas touch in the best and truest sense. Everyone that is touched by the power of Your Spirit is redeemed and made good and beautiful and right. They are redeemed from the power of sin and death and evil–“…delivered…from the power of darkness and conveyed…into the kingdom of the Son of…[Your] love,” Christ. (Colossians 1:13) May we, each and every one of us, be part of that kingdom! Amen.