Some Practical Instruction On SELFISHNESS / Part One

By Alfred T. Schofield, (adapted)

In this Series we propose, with God’s help, to take up some besetting sins. These are ones that seem to tempt from all sides repeatedly, to which Christians, young and old, are liable. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” and these articles are written in the earnest hope and prayer that they may be practically used in guarding against those sins and failings. Such things often ruin a walk otherwise consistent and bring reproach upon the name of Christ. It is by our actions in small matters that the world judges us – not by the amount of our knowledge of scriptural principles, but by our application of them in daily life.

Selfishness Is Un-Christian
Let us briefly consider the obvious sin of selfishness. We call it “unchristian” because it is expressly recorded of Christ our Lord that He “pleased not Himself” (Rom. 15:3 KJV). This immediately strikes at the root of the matter, for when we read that we ought to walk as Christ (1 Jn. 2:6), remembering these are the words of God, and then turn to the Scripture just quoted, we must at once see that all selfishness is truly unchristian. If, however, example is not enough, we have the precept as well: “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth [or good]” (1 Cor. 10:24). “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4 NKJV). Most touching of all, perhaps, to the heart that has tasted the love of Christ, to whom He is precious, is 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; … He died for all, that they which live should not hence forth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (KJV).

A Sign Of The Last Times
Selfishness is shown in many and various ways. As one of the signs of the last days it is said, “Men shall be lovers of their own selves” (2 Tim. 3:2), or in other words, “selfish.” This is the root from which every variety springs. The selfish man seeks his own things, not the things which are for others or even for Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:21), as the apostle so touchingly writes to the Philippians complaining that this sin was a great and crying evil in his day.

It is found everywhere, even among believers, although it is a vice so repulsive in its nature that the man of the world outdoes the Christian in despising it when shown flagrantly. Only the Christian, however, can know what it is to be truly unselfish in spirit in all things. We feel ashamed when we consider how often the foul spot of selfishness blights our best actions.

Self The Object
Pleasing ourselves, directly condemned in Romans 15:1, is a common form of seeking our own. It is seen in great and little things – in our choice of work for the Lord, residence, companions, dress, occupation and in many petty ways in which we daily indulge – all done instead of denying ourselves. Sit and think of our dreadful self-pleasing in little things, always looking out for “number one.” So contrary are we in spirit to our beloved Lord.

Seeking Our Own
Another phase of seeking our own is in eagerly pursuing some worldly advantage, being unscrupulous in moneymaking or keen in moneysaving. All this becomes much worse, terribly worse, if in any way hypocrisy comes in to aid our selfishness. Is it not fearful to think how the name of Christ is despised by men of the world because of those who should be His “letter” selfishly seek for their own good?

Though he may be selfish enough himself, the worldly man knows very well that Christians should not be selfish. Paul was not like this – “Not seeking mine own profit” (1 Cor. 10:33). This line of conduct is powerfully described in Isaiah 56:11: “They all look to their own way, every one for his gain.” Surely it is a sign of the last times when one professing Christian is heard urging another to raise himself in the world by pushing others down. There may not be many bold enough to give such fearfully unchristian advice, but are there not hundreds following it practically?

Another form is seeking to be in a higher rank or better position than others. Such selfishness was displayed in Matthew 20:20-21 and gently rebuked by Christ. It is often seen, sadly, in spiritual as well as worldly matters, and many have been part of the bitter parties or factions that developed from this form of selfishness. Let us judge ourselves as to this, seeking neither the chief seats in synagogues nor the greetings in the markets (Mt. 23:6-7).

Not Caring For Others
Neglecting the poor (1 Jn. 3:17) is a flagrant form of selfishness strongly condemned by the Word. Often it arises simply from a habit of considering ourselves instead of others. In some cases selfishness may give to the poor to get rid of annoyance, but it can never give with true sympathy. That rare and tender plant of Christian growth cannot thrive in the same atmosphere as self: “Finally, be all of one mind, sympathizing, full of brotherly love, tender hearted, humble minded” (1 Pet. 3:8 JND).

In many cases we do not intend to be selfish. But being careless in following Christ and having naturally ourselves instead of Him as our object, this vice shows itself in little ways in almost all we do. We trust that to many of our readers a word will be enough to point out this sin, which, perhaps unknown to themselves, has been undermining their Christian life and taking away from the power of their words to others. If we look at one of the characteristics of “love” in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “seeketh not her own” (KJV), and then turn and quietly look at our own lives in the light of the Word, we can recognize the petty selfish deeds that have so spoiled the “tender grapes” of our spiritual life (See Song of Solomon 2:15).

The Remedy
What then is the remedy for selfishness? One might answer, “To think of others, as in the parable of the good Samaritan.” This is a good and Christian habit – to find a neighbor in every one whom I can serve and love as myself. It is important to acquire a habit of thinking of the comfort, convenience and wishes of others on all occasions and seeking to please my neighbor at all times for his good, including spiritually. But there is a more excellent way, and that is for Christ to become the center of my thoughts instead of myself, so all my actions naturally have reference to Him. In this way I not only become truly unselfish, but I become like Christ.

Dear fellow believer, this is the sort of Christianity which is understood among men and brings true glory to God. When a man gives up voluntarily the best place to which he has an undoubted right, when he foregoes his own advantage and to his own loss goes out of his way to show kindness to others, when he not merely gives of his abundance but becomes poor for the sake of Christ’s people whose needs he provides for, and when he not only spends but is spent for others, then he becomes a letter of Christ known and read by all men. None can pass without taking notice of such a man in whom the brand of selfishness has been obliterated by the fresh brand of Christ (Gal. 6:17).

Oh, may His love constrain us to live to His glory!

Look for more practical instruction next month.

One thing especially impressed my mind when the Lord was first opening my eyes: I never found Christ doing a single thing for Himself. This is an immense principle. There was not one act in all of Christ’s life done to serve or please Himself. An unbroken stream of blessed, perfect, unfailing love flowed from Him in spite of the contradiction of sinners. It was one amazing and unwavering testimony of love and sympathy and help. It was always others, and not Himself, that were comforted. Nothing could weary it, nothing turn it aside. The Christian is to “put on Christ.” He went about doing good all the day long; there was not a moment but He was ready as the servant in grace toward the need of others. Let us not suppose that this cost Him nothing. He had nowhere to lay His head. He hungered and was wearied; and when He sat down, where was it? It was under the scorching sun at the well while His disciples went into the city to buy bread (Jn. 4). And what then? He was as ready for the poor, vile sinner who came, just as if He was not hungry, faint and weary. He was never at ease. He was in all the trials and troubles that man finds himself under the consequences of sin. Look at how He walked: He made bread for others, but He would not touch a stone to turn it into bread for Himself!

  —John N. Darby, Christian Friend (adapted)

Author: Sebastien

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