Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Jeannette Haley

   Those of us who live where there are four distinct seasons, such as we have in north Idaho, look forward with great expectation to that comforting “S” word—spring. This doesn’t mean, though, that the weather takes note of the official day in March that announces its beginning. There are times when you feel like spring is still far off into the future. But, eventually spring does arrive bringing with it a refreshing upsurge of renewal, new life, and that wonderfully strange, illusive inner rush of “spring fever,” that stirs within the hearts of even the older folks. When “S” stands for spring, (and sunshine) it is a happy letter indeed.

     Sadly, not all “S” words bring cheer to the weary in heart. Consider such words as self, sin, suffering, sorrow, separation (from God), and Satan which all begin with “s.” Thankfully, there is an “S” word that overrules and overcomes these “s” words, bringing great joy and relief—that word is Savior.

      There is one “s” word in particular that either embodies, influences, or gives impetus to the afore-mentioned “s” words of self, sin, suffering, sorrow, separation, and Satan, and that word is selfishness. What is the essence of selfishness, and how does one discern it in his or her own life? This may seem like a no brainer until you begin to realize how deceptive, deep rooted, and destructive selfishness really is. It is deceptive because it is so easy to see in others, but almost impossible to detect in ourselves due to the fact that the roots of selfishness are intertwined with a personal pride that can be devastatingly destructive to others if threatened. The Apostle John called it the “pride of life.” “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” 1 John 2:16.

   Pride is generally accompanied with fear, anger, and often slothfulness. It is devilish, or of the devil, whereas self-respect is an acknowledgment borne out of gratitude, and humility for the uniqueness, and high calling of humanity in light of Jesus Christ, who created man in His image, and who will live forever, either with God, or in outer darkness of eternal damnation and torment. True self-respect in a Christian reflects humility, sobriety, calm assurance, gratitude, faith, good-will, benevolence, strength, endurance, uprightness, and the fruit of the Spirit. The Christian with self-respect is secure in his or her life in Christ, and place in the Body of Christ, and is void of competitiveness, jealousy, envy, and strife. But, “He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife” Proverbs 28:25a.

      The prideful soul, on the other hand, loves him or herself with an obsessive type of ungodly, independent, rebellious, devilish, selfish, and self-centered introspection. Such a person is consumed with self, and exhibits the wicked and insidious mannerisms, reflections, reactions, and attitudes of self-gratification, self-survival, self-satisfaction, self-interest, and self-exaltation. Selfishness must be first, it must always give the appearance of being the best, it must come out the winner, it must always be right, and it must get in the last word. Since selfishness and pride go hand in hand, both are as insatiable in their fleshly and emotional lusts, and cravings as is bottomless quicksand, which sucks its victims ever deeper into self-pity, anger, bitterness, and vindictiveness. The Bible says, “The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined” Psalm 10:2. Such “devices” may well include the wicked games people play—games that are subtly deceptive, cunningly crafted, and polished to perfection. When self is reigning, such games become a point of great personal pride, and mockery. “Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment” Psalm 73:6. As a nation, we are being conditioned to accept such deception, delusion, and destructive policies from our godless, immoral, demon-possessed politicians, but to accept, tolerate, encourage, and uphold such wicked games and hypocrisy in our churches, and among any people who profess to be “Christians” is unthinkable!

      What do such individuals do when they go before God to pray? How many are like the Pharisee who “stood and prayed this with himself, ‘God , I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican’” Luke 18:11? Oh! The depth of the insidious roots of pride, especially religious pride, intertwined with gross selfishness, where Satan dwells in the darkness of the wicked soul that will sell itself for a bowl of pea soup as did Esau, or Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ with a kiss. Who can know the depths of the darkness of selfishness, and sin that cruelly manifests in the wicked betrayal of the innocent, while justifying itself with the lies of hell. For “The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him” Psalm 37:32. God declares, “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” Proverbs 10:12. There is an oft quoted saying that sadly sums it up, “Christian soldiers are the only ones who shoot their own wounded.”

      Just to be clear, let me say this: There is a big difference between a wounded, hurt, or offended soldier and a person who is in rebellion, and decides to sin. To quote David Cloud of Way of Life Ministry, “Those who are disobedient commonly mistake correction for persecution and reproof for assault.” Such selfish, prideful people can easily turn biblical correction and reproof into a self-serving platform for self-pity. All too often well-meaning, but undiscerning Christians see such a person as a “poor victim” rather than a sinner badly in need of repentance, and can do much spiritual damage in their rush to lavish such a person with misdirected sympathy.

      How do you know if you are selfish or not? Jesus makes it clear that a person cannot serve two masters. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” Matthew 6:24. The principle here is you cannot serve the dictates of your flesh, satisfy your selfish desires, feed your pride, give way to your self-centered obsessions, agendas, and plans, and serve Christ at the same time. It all comes down daily to whom you are serving—God, or self. If all you think about from dawn to dusk is how to come out on top of everybody else, or how to gain notoriety, or how to get attention, or how to be a winner in this world rather than overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, then you are selfish. If everything is always about you, if all you ever talk about involves you in one way or the other, if all you care about is what concerns you, if everything you plan is for your benefit, if morning, noon and night everything is about how you look, how you feel (emotionally), how others respond, or act towards you, what others think about you, how you can prove you are the best and the brightest, then you are selfish, and will more than likely sacrifice others in your quest to satisfy this selfish pride—and to come out looking good with fake nobility in the process.

      To repeat, how do you know if you are selfish? How about the love test? Let’s look at the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 and put it in a church setting. Beginning with verse one, here is the talk test. You know what they say, “Talk is cheap.” Here is how God puts it, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Oh Christian! Do you stand up in church and speak in the tongues of men, or even in the wonderful tongues of angels, but lack love? Are your religious gifts of more value and importance to you than genuine, unfeigned love of the brethren? If so, you are nothing but a self-centered, irritating noise. The “talk test” applies to every Christian from the pulpit to the pew.

      Moving on to verse 2, here we are confronted with the “power test.” “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” This is a biggie. What Christian wouldn’t want the gift of prophecy, and to be able to understand all mysteries, and have all knowledge? What Christian wouldn’t want to have all faith, and faith so great as to work miracles? Yet Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that even though a person is gifted with all this, and does not have love, he or she is nothing! Did you get that? NOTHING! Just so much hot air, and that is all. Nothing is nothing. Nothing doesn’t amount to anything—not in this world, or in the next. Rather shocking when you think about it, isn’t it? Even if you have all this power, Paul says without love, it is nothing. We see “big” names in ministry today, and “big” churches and “big” movements with so-called “big” miracles, yet almost all of it is for nothing but selfish and self-serving agendas (big money) that are totally lacking love. It is all worthless and good for nothing. In the near future, when we stand before the just Judge of the entire world, and give an account of our lives, all these so-called “great works” that are done from a selfish and prideful heart will be as the chaff which the wind blows away. (See Matthew 7:21-23.)

      1 Corinthians 13:3 gives us the “good works test.” “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” As Christians, we know that we are to do good works, because love manifests itself in good works, and because faith without works is dead. What Paul is saying in this verse is even if we give everything we have, and offer our body to be burned (which benefits no one), but have not love, it profits us nothing. The reason for that is, the whole show is for selfish, and self-aggrandizing reasons. The only way there can be any eternal value in good works of any kind is when such works come out of a genuine heart of unfeigned love. And, the only way to have such a heart is to have a new heart. “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” Ezekiel 11:19. When selfishness reigns, the heart is a stony heart. Jesus said, “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it: Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” Matthew 13:20, 21. Again we see that selfishness and pride is easily offended. How many people are there who are sitting in churches while lacking “root in themselves,” and are offended by the Word? I suppose in this day and age of growing apostasy and departure from the truth of the Word of God the question is, how many churches consistently actually preach, and practice the Word? After all, if those entrusted with the care of God’s sheep truly love Him, they will be faithful to feed the flock of God with the truth whether it offends people or not. Oh, that God would send men and women into the harvest field of the world who are filled with His Spirit, His love, and His truth rather than filled to the brim with their own selfish agendas, and “politically correct,” self-serving causes!

      Concerning offenses, make no mistake, there is a big difference between forgiving a person and trusting and respecting him or her. Trust and respect must be earned. Many people assume that if you forgive a person, then you must carry on with things as they were. Not only is this untrue, it is often unwise. There are always consequences for our sins. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” Galatians 6:7, 8. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

      On the subject of trust, “Jesus did not commit himself unto them [people], because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” John 2:24, 25. Jesus knew that the hearts of men could not be trusted. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” Jeremiah 17:9? Before the betrayal of Christ, at the feast of unleavened bread, Jesus told His disciples as they ate, “Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” Matthew 26:21b. Even Jesus’ disciples knew that they could not trust in their own hearts and motivations for they “were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I” Matthew 26:22. After this, we know that the Son of God was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, and denied by Peter. The Apostle Paul admitted, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing….” Romans 7:18.

       Continuing on in 1 Corinthians 13:4 we see the “attitude test.” Here we read that love is long suffering, and kind. Love is not jealous and envious, nor does love exalt itself, neither is it prideful. The selfish soul is generally impatient, and anxious to get on with its own agendas and plans, even if it means running roughshod over others. It may be longsuffering to a point, and even display some kindness based on emotions, but as selfishness begins to kick in, patience grows thin and eventually dissipates altogether. This is when going the second mile can become a real source of irritation, and even anger, especially if there is no fanfare, applause, recognition, or praise offered.

      The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned” 2 Corinthians 6:3-6. [Emphasis added.] Genuine love never envies the talents, successes, promotions, or possessions of others, but rather rejoices when others are blessed with such things. In the Song of Solomon, 8:6b we read, “jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”

      The opposite of “vaunting” yourself up, and being “puffed up” with arrogance is self-abasement. There can be no unfeigned love for others if you are constantly exalting yourself. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” Romans 12:3. And, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” Philippians 2:3-8. What a difference the Church of Jesus could make in this world if only God’s people would, without hypocrisy, choose to obey God’s Word, and let the light of His love shine!

      To continue our “attitude in action love test” we read in verses 5-7, “Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil: Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth: Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” True love does not misbehave in an inappropriate manner such as exhibiting rude, obnoxious, crude, or unmannerly outbursts, and out-of-order attitudes and actions. “Seeking not her own” tells us that love does not demand its own way, or play wicked games in order to further its own agenda at the expense of others. Furthermore, love is not touchy, or easily provoked; but, the self-love of a prideful, selfish person can be like a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off at the slightest provocation, or imagined insult.

       The selfish person has a challenge behaving in a mature and wise manner, especially when the focus and attention is on others, which goes hand in hand with evil imaginations. A good example is Judas Iscariot as recorded in John 12:5, 6, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag and bare what was put therein.” It makes one wonder how many people, then and now, have considered and rightfully concluded that the nature of his humanistic religious outburst was not only inappropriate and unreasonable, but downright wicked. After all, humanism with its weak religious sugar coating is a counterfeit replacement of what real Christianity is all about—Jesus Christ!

      Concerning iniquity (moral deviation), how can a Christian with the love of God in his or her heart possibly rejoice in sinful behavior such as fornication, or any form of perversion, including perversion of the truth? A selfish heart is likely to rejoice in the perversions of its choice while resenting the truth, because the truth exposes and brings to light such evil imaginations and deeds.

      Finally, in verses 7, and 8a we read concerning charity, “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.” This is a tough “truth test” for the selfish and proud person. Trying to fake these aspects of love and godly character would be like trying to rock climb up a sheer granite cliff face with no desire whatsoever to suffer hardship, or truly have faith that it can be done, while feeling too hopeless to care. Such a person hasn’t the heart to endure, or the necessary dedication to “pay the price.”

      For most of my life I thought that love was made up of strong emotional feelings, attractions, and attachments. God in His mercy brought Rayola into my life, who in time got it through my hard head, by teaching and example, that real love is a commitment—a commitment to do right by the other person. This is what Jesus meant when He taught that His followers should do unto others as they would have others do unto them. It’s not all about feelings, and thrills and chills, and all those strange, awesome, and wonderful sensations that often accompany springtime! That may be a tiny part of it, but real love is a steadfast, loyal, faithful, dependable, honorable, selfless commitment to always do right by the other person. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13. Come to think of it, perhaps we could all learn a great deal about unfeigned love from the average family dog!

      In conclusion, there is another “S” word that separates the selfish sinner from the saint, and that word is servant. Jesus calls those who belong to Him servants. He taught them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him” John 13:16.     We are told in 1 Peter 4:1, 2 “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” We all need to ask the Lord to show us His perspective on self, sin, slothfulness, suffering, sorrow, separation, and Satan. When He shows you how prideful selfishness, and sin, breaks His heart—how it destroys our lives, separating us from communion and fellowship with Him—then hopefully true brokenness, and genuine repentance will take place at the foot of the cross upon which the most selfless act of love the world has ever seen, or ever will see, took place.