In our travels in Paraguay a few weeks ago, Benny & Esther Goertzen drove us from Asuncion to the Chaco and then to East Paraguay. On the way, we stopped in the town of Rio Verde to meet with a group who were interested in starting a radio station. That night we stayed at the guest house which was on the yard of the church where we had the meeting. The guest house had 3 rooms but only one with air conditioning. As we walked into the building, we noted this and someone asked, “Who wants the room with the air conditioning?” I quickly responded, “I’ll take it.”
Immediately I regretted that I had done so and offered it to Benny & Esther, realizing that if they took it at least two people would benefit and also remembering that Benny had driven all day. But they refused the offer and it was really too late anyway. The selfishness in my heart had been revealed.
Isn't that how we often are? We want to make sure that we get the best for ourselves. We want to make sure that we are looked after and we try to put ourselves into a position to gain an advantage for ourselves. I have seen it in myself and others when driving – speeding up to get ahead of someone else. I have seen it at church banquets when we look for the best piece of pie for ourselves. I have seen it in much worse examples.
I. The Problem
A. A. Where does this come from?
Where does this problem come from?
The Bible tells us that such self centered grasping comes from Satan. We believe that the reason Satan was expelled from heaven is because he wanted to be like God, he wanted to have the position of God. Although there is not a lot of Scripture which teaches this, we do have a very clear indication of it in Luke 4:5-7, which tells the story of when the devil tempted Jesus. In the second temptation, Satan invited Jesus to worship him. Worship is appropriate only for God and when he tempted Jesus to worship him; he manifested his true desire to receive the glory which belongs only to God.
When Adam and Eve were tempted, Satan appealed to the same temptation. In Genesis 3:5 he said to Eve, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Eve yielded to the temptation, in part, because, as Genesis 3:6, says, she saw that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom.”
In the rest of Scripture, there are many statements and examples of times when people expressed self centeredness.
Isaiah 14:12 – 14 accuses Babylon and her leader. What was their sin? God says, “You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Notice the “I” centered statements in this verse which show their self centeredness which opposes God.
In Isaiah 56:11, God accuses the leaders of Israel with self centered motivations when it says, “…all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain.” They were not caring for the people, but were making sure that they got the best.
We may also remember the story of the sons of Eli who were so selfish that when people brought their offerings to the temple, they took the best cuts of meat for themselves, in violation of their role as priests.
The New Testament illustrates how even the disciples were self seeking. In Matthew 20:20-28, we have the story of the two disciples whose mother asked Jesus for positions of honor for her sons.
Ephesians 2:3 describes the attitude of those who are without Christ when it says, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” II Timothy 3:2 talks about how “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves...” But in Philippians 2:21, Paul reflects on how even among those who are followers of Christ there are situations in which “everyone looks out for his own interests.”
What began with the desire of Satan was passed on to Adam and Eve and has continued throughout the history of human beings. And indeed, we have all inherited the same self centered, grasping nature. We want to please ourselves, to make sure we get things our way.
B. The Result is trouble
What are the consequences of such self centeredness? The result is shown almost immediately after Adam and Eve had sinned. The first story after the fall is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain manifested his self centeredness with the question which he put to God in Genesis 4:9 when he asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said this to deflect from the self centered way in which he had just killed his brother. As a result, Cain experienced the judgment of God.
Self centeredness not only receives God’s judgment, but also has many serious consequences. If we are self centered in our marriage our spouse may put up with us and live with us, but we will forfeit the joy of two hearts that are united as one. If our own selfish desires dominate in our marriage, adultery may be an expression of that self centeredness and the result will be broken trust and often also a broken marriage.
When churches are marked by self centered leaders who pursue their own agenda and who don’t listen to others and when church members insist on their own way, conflict in churches is the consequence which often leads to church splits.
In general human relationships, we see the consequences of selfishness in expressions of jealousy, anger, theft and hatred.
Even among nations we know that self centeredness is the cause of a growing divide between rich and poor.
II. The Call To Selflessness
And so it has always been. We live with self centeredness, we almost even expect that this is how people will behave and make allowances for it.
We attended a concert a while ago. It was rush seating and although most seats were pretty good there were some which were better. The only way to get one of the better seats was to go to the concert early and that is what people did. In many cases, one person from a group of friends would go and save a whole bunch of seats, even though there was a sign that asked people not to save seats. We don’t find this kind of behavior at all surprising because we expect such self centeredness and we allow for it by manipulating the situation to our advantage.
This has always been normal behavior until Jesus came along. In Jesus, we see a completely different way of living. Instead of self seeking, we see self sacrifice. Instead of self centeredness, we see other centeredness. There is so much Scripture which describes what Jesus was like.
Matthew 20:28 tells us that, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
II Corinthians 8:9 reminds us of what Jesus has done for us, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Probably one of the best passages which speaks of the selflessness of Jesus is Philippians 2:6-7 which says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
Jesus had it all. He was God and enjoyed all the blessings of life in heaven. But look at the words in this passage which describe what Jesus did. He “…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…” He, “…made himself nothing…” He took “…the very nature of a servant…” “…He humbled Himself…”
Jesus gave up heaven to come to earth. He gave up position and power to become a servant. He gave up His life in order to die for us. His is the ultimate example of selflessness and a radical departure from who we are, from what we expect and from anything we have ever seen.
B. The Call to Selflessness
As followers of Jesus, we are called to this same selflessness. If you look at the verses preceding the passage which we just looked at, it calls us to follow the example of Jesus. Philippians 2:3-5 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…”
Paul has much to say about what such a life of selflessness means. In I Corinthians 10:33 he says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” What Paul is teaching us is that in matters of faith that are not essential matters, we ought not only to think of what we have a right to or what we consider OK, but we also need to think about how our actions will impact other people. We need to ask, “What is good for the other person?”
In Paul’s ministry, selflessness was his principle of evangelism. In I Corinthians 9:19-23 it says, in part, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible… I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” When I observed the missionaries in Paraguay and the work which has been done over the years, I saw this kind of self sacrificial living. I saw that missionaries are willing to sacrifice their own comforts, in order to win other people. We also ought to have the same attitude - being welcoming, opening our homes and offering our time in order to help others come to know Christ.
This is what it means to follow Jesus example. This is what it means to live in a radically different way.
What would be the result if we followed this call to selflessness? Can you imagine a world in which people lived like that? What would our nations look like? What would our families look like? What would our churches be like?
Instead of grasping, we would be giving, Instead of jealousy, there would be rejoicing with others, Instead of poverty there would be equality, instead of hatred there would be love.
Have you ever seen people who live like that?
Quite a number of years ago we were looking for a garden tiller, but we couldn’t afford a new one and didn’t really want to spend a lot of money for one. A couple in our church had one they wanted to get rid of and offered it to us for $60. That was an amount I was prepared to pay and so we bought it. Sometime later, I found out that a new one like the one we bought cost $900. Although it was a used one and fairly old, I realized that they had practically given it to us. That is the kind of people they were – selfless and giving, and we were not the only people who were blessed by their generosity.
III. The Way to Selflessness
How do we become like that? How do we follow the example of Jesus?
A. A Change Of Heart
Does it work if we say "I will try harder"? No! because the problem is that we have a corrupt heart. Matthew 15:19 reminds us that "…out of the heart come evil thoughts…" If we are to change our ways, if we are to become selfless instead of selfish, we need a change of heart.
The good news which God has given us, which we remembered last weekend as we celebrated Easter, is that God has provided a way for our heart to be changed.
The first step we need to take in order to receive the change God has promised is that we need to repent. We need to tell God that we are sinners. We need to admit to ourselves and to God and actually say to God, “I have a corrupt heart." That is called repentance and is a necessary first step because by taking this first step, we admit our need of God.
The second step is that we need to put our trust in Jesus. Through the death of Jesus, God has provided that all our sins can be forgiven. If we have faith in Jesus – that He is the Son of God, that He died on the cross for us and will give us eternal life – then God will forgive our sins and come into our lives and He will give us a new heart.
Without this new heart it is impossible for us to become selfless. Thank God that He is willing to give us a new heart!
B. Motivation to Change
If God has given us a new heart, does that mean we are then completely selfless? With a changed heart, it becomes possible but it still does not happen completely right away. Here I am, I have been a Christian for over 45 years and I still am sometimes selfish. What will help me? How can I change?
One way to answer is to think about what the problem is.
I believe that one of the problems is that we continue to be self centered because we really don’t believe that we are loved. We fear that "If I don't look after myself no one else will."
We bow, as Eve did, to the lie of Satan and that lie is “God doesn't love you.”
I believe that one of the most important ways in which we can learn selflessness is to become convinced that we are greatly loved by God and that is not difficult. The message of the love of God is powerfully presented in Scripture and we need to hear that message so that we can rest in His care.
Let me remind you of the many passages which teach us that we are incredibly loved by God.
Romans 8:31, 32 tells us, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” We are so loved by God that He sacrificed His own Son on the cross for our sins. If God has loved us that much, why would we doubt that He will care for us in every other aspect of life?
In Matthew 7:31, 32 we hear the promise of Jesus, “So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” God’s love for us is so great that He promises to meet our daily needs.
When we understand how much we are loved, how much God cares for us and will provide for every need, we can rest, we can trust Him, we can let go and know that even if we don't selfishly grasp for what we want, we will be well looked after.
C. Power to Change
Will it happen then? Will we become selfless when we know we are loved? The heart change is critical, the understanding of God’s love is very helpful, but we also lack the power to change.
Thankfully God has also provided the power to change through His Spirit. The promise of Galatians 5:22, 23 is that “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
So there is no excuse for selfish grasping among God’s people. God has changed our hearts. God has empowered us by His Spirit. God has shown us a love which assures us that all that we need is provided for.
May we continue to allow Him to change our hearts. May we rejoice in his amazing love for us. May we allow Him to keep on changing us by the power of His Spirit. May we become like Jesus.