Plain Papers for Young Believers: Selfishness

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 12
In the first series of these papers we have already considered various simple doctrinal subjects of great interest and value to the young believer, connected with his standing before God, his place in this world, his future hopes, in short, his portion, his path, and his prospect. In the present series we propose, with God’s help, to take up some of the special dangers or besetting sins to which young Christians (and old ones as well) are liable, and respecting which it may be helpful to see what Scripture has to say. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” and these papers are written in the earnest hope and prayer that they may be practically used in pointing out and guarding some against those sins and failings which so 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 Anti-Christian
Let us then now briefly consider this emphatically anti-Christian sin of selfishness. We call it antichristian because it is expressly recorded of Christ our Lord that He “pleased not Himself” (Rom. 15:33For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. (Romans 15:3)). This strikes at once at the root of the matter, for when we read (1 John 2:66He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2:6)) that we ought to walk as Christ, and remember these are the words of GOD, and then turn to the scripture just quoted, we must at once see that all selfishness is truly anti-Christian. 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. 10:2424Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth. (1 Corinthians 10:24)). “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:44Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. (Philippians 2:4)). Most touching of all, perhaps, to the heart that has tasted the love of Christ, to whom He is precious, is 2 Corinthians 5:14-1514For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:14‑15), “For the love of Christ constraineth us....He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.”
A Sign of the Last Times
Selfishness is shown in many and various ways. As one of the signs of the days it is said, “Men shall be lovers of their own selves” (2 Tim. 3:22For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, (2 Timothy 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 others, still less that are Jesus Christ’s (Phil. 2:2121For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. (Philippians 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 out vies the Christian in despising it when shown in grosser ways. The latter only, however, can know what it is to be truly unselfish in spirit in all things. How ashamed we feel when we consider how often our best actions are blighted by the foul spot of selfishness.
Self the Object
Pleasing ourselves, directly condemned in Romans 15:11We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (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, in our choice of residence, of companions, of dress, of occupation, and in many petty ways in which we daily indulge, instead of denying ourselves. Oh, how ashamed we feel when we just sit awhile 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 (Phil. 2:2121For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. (Philippians 2:21)) is in eagerly pursuing some worldly advantage, being unscrupulous in money-making, or keen in money-saving. 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 through those who should be His “epistle,” who thus seek their own? for the worldly man well knows that Christians should be unselfish, though all the time he may be selfish enough himself. Paul was not like this—”Not seeking mine own profit” (1 Cor. 10:3333Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:33)). This line of conduct is powerfully described in Isaiah 56:1111Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. (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. It may be there are not many bold enough to give such fearfully unchristian advice, but are there not hundreds who in the main practically follow it? Another form is seeking precedence of others. Such selfishness was displayed in Matthew 20:2020Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. (Matthew 20:20), and gently rebuked by Christ. It is often seen, alas, in spiritual as well as worldly matters, and many have been the bitter parties or factions that have been 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.
Not Caring for Others
Neglecting the poor (1 John 3:1717But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17)) is a flagrant form of selfishness strongly condemned by the Word. Often it is unintentional, and arises simply from a habit of considering ourselves instead of others. In some cases selfishness may give to get rid of annoyance, but it can never give with true sympathy. That rare and tender plant of Christian growth (see 1 Pet. 3:88Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: (1 Peter 3:8) JND) cannot grow in the same atmosphere as self.
In many cases we do not mean 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 un-Christ-like 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 13:55Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; (1 Corinthians 13:5), “seeketh not her own,” and then turn and quietly look at our own lives by the side of it, the light of the Word like a sunbeam in a dusty room throws out into strong relief all the “little foxes” of small petty selfish deeds that have so spoiled the “tender” grapes of our spiritual life.
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 to love him as myself. It is most important to acquire a habit of thinking of the comfort, convenience, and wishes of others on all occasions, and seeking to please my neighbor for his good unto edification at all times; but there is a more excellent way yet, and that is for Christ to become the center of my thoughts instead of myself, so that all my actions naturally have reference to Him. In this way I not only become truly unselfish, but I become (not only negatively, but) positively 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 becomes poor, and not merely gives of his abundance, for the sake of Christ’s people whose needs he provides for, and when he not only spends, but is spent for others, then indeed does he become an epistle of Christ known and read of all men. None can pass a man unobserved in whom the brand of selfishness has been obliterated by the fresh brand of Christ (Gal. 6:1717From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)).
Oh, may His love constrain us thus to live to His glory!