A Cure for Self-centeredness
"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)
Imagine what a place this world would be if every human being alive adopted this one simple principle! Conflict would disappear; strife would be banished; enmity and jealousy would cease to exist. Think how the workplace environment would be altered. Backstabbing and gossiping would become things of the past. Office politics would become a throwback to a bygone era. The need for litigation and lawsuits would all but vanish. Alas, we know that this will never be in this fallen world of corrupt and sinful humanity who live for themselves but this is indeed the norm for those of us who inhabit the kingdom of God in Christ.
When the apostle Paul penned these words so long ago he struck directly at the root of the sinful nature in all men: self-centeredness. Consider for a moment the person eaten up with jealousy. What is dominating their thought processes? Themselves! They are looking at the abundance of another and then pining away because their focus is squarely on themselves and their own interests. If they truly regarded the other as more important than themselves, they would be rejoicing at their prosperity rather than fretting at their own perceived shortfall.
Or consider the case of the one who has an angry temper and is not a bit hesitant to let it be known. Do you think they are looking out for the interests of others? Of course not! Once again, their focus is squarely on themselves. They could care less what their cruel words do to the other person who is on the receiving end of them. All they are thinking of is themselves and the perceived injustice done to them. How many men have thoughtlessly and selfishly damaged their wivesí tender spirits by their cutting remarks? Imagine the difference that would take place in the household if both spouses would think of each otherís feeling before their open their mouths to do verbal battle.
Or take the case of the man who is eaten up with lust and has given himself over to pornography. Do you think that he is looking out for the interests of the women he is lusting over? Of course not! Once again his focus is squarely on himself. All he is interested in doing is satisfying his cravings. He could care less what the other women think about his filthy glarings. If he is a married man, do you think he is thinking about the effect of his sin on his poor wife who sits next to him as his head turns so fast as to give him whiplash as his eyes follow another woman? Do you think he is concerned about how he has just degraded and insulted the woman whom God has given him as a companion and friend? Of course not! Imagine what the difference might be were he to consider his wifeís feelings first.
The list could go on and on. Bitterness (look what they did to ME); unforgiveness (you have no idea how wronged I have been); greed (I must have more, I donít care who I have to hurt or what I have to do to get it); gossip (who cares what damage I do to them); slander (I hope I hurt them, they deserve it). These are sins against others and all of them have their root in the self-centeredness of our fallen nature. But it doesnít stop here. Even in our sins directly against God Himself, where others are not involved, the same principle applies. The language of the human heart is, "I donít care what I do to God or how I might grieve Him".
I think the point is made. Now the solution to all this is what Paul writes next:
"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil 2: 5-11).
Paul points us to Christ as the supreme example of Someone who did not look out for His own interests but rather for the interests of others. Consider if you will for a moment the glory that the Son of God shared with His Father before His incarnation. It is this which He speaks of in the gospel of John:
"And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." (John 17:5).
It is not possible for any mere mortal this side of the grave to be able to comprehend the splendor and glory which the Lord Christ possessed before the foundation of the world. Imagine where we would be had the Lord Jesus only looked out for His own interests. He would not have assumed human nature. He would not have come and been spit upon, mocked, laughed to scorn, slandered, abused, falsely accused, beaten, ridiculed, and then suffered perhaps the most excruciating kind of death known to men. No one who looked out solely for their own interests would ever consider exposing him or herself to such pain and heartache and agony. But not the Lord Jesus; His heart was completely and utterly unselfish. He cared more for His Fatherís glory and the eternal welfare of His elect sheep than His own comfort and well-being. This is not to say that as a man He did not have to overcome the fierce temptation to look out for His own interests. His agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:
"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt." (Matt 26:39),
shows how real the temptation to consider His own interests as a man was.
The point in all this is simple yet profound. The cure for our native self-centeredness is in the example of our Lord and Master. We are to imitate Him (Eph 5:1). Was our Lord selfless? Then we who claim to follow Him should be so as well. Whenever we insist on having "our own way", we are acting completely antithetically to the revealed character of the Son of God. A self-centered "christian" therefore is an anomaly, a gross abnormality, a monstrous perversion, something completely incompatible with a genuine follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. How could it be otherwise? One who claims to follow Him must bear His image else his or her profession of faith is a farce. It is essential to remember the admonition of Paul in his letter to Timothy:
"in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of selfÖrather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power" (2 Tim 3:1-5).
We must then learn to view all that we do and say in the light of how they affect others. In short, we must learn to put otherís first and there is no better place to start than in our own homes and among our own families. This is one of the ways in which we follow our Lordís command to "deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him". You might be tempted to say, "This is not easy". You are absolutely correct. It is not "natural" for fallen humanity to think this way. Only those who have been recipients of the divine nature by way of the new birth possess the desire and the ability to do this. Still, because of the remnants of the sin nature in all of Godís sons and daughters, we will be constantly opposed in so doing. We will therefore have to mount an unceasing war upon this sinful tendency that lurks in all of us. We must "put to death the deeds of the flesh". By constantly relying on our risen Lordís power and strength, we will be given the grace to do so.
Let us examine our hearts and our motives in the sight of our Lord. Let us pray for His Spirit to search us and reveal to us areas in our lives where we might be sinfully self-centered. After all, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. He can readily discover all that is not in conformity to His own nature and character. Let us not forget that it is for this very purpose that He saved us. We are predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. One day our mighty King will completely and forever remove all vestiges of this self-centered nature of ours. Until then let us be found in Him striving ever the more to please and honor Him.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
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