THE UNHOLY TRINITY: ME, MYSELF AND I
INTRODUCTION: Someone once said, “All the trouble in the world is due to selfishness”. At first I considered that to be too extreme of a statement but the more I thought about it the more I subscribed to it. Gladstone said, “Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race.” These are strong statements that place absolute blame on the condition of selfishness. This warrants taking a serious look at the subject of selfishness.
1) What does selfishness look like?
• Sin. James 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Sin is wrapped in self. I like how someone put it, ‘in the middle of sin is ‘I’. Sin is an act of rebellion against God. But why are we rebelling? Because we want to please self instead of God. We want something that we’re not supposed to have. When Adam and Eve sinned they wanted to satisfy their own desires over fulfilling God’s desire for them. So many sins have selfishness written all over them. Pride, lust, envy, jealousy, anger; the list goes on and on. Sin is wrapped in self.
• Discontent. We expect things from others. But the irony is that we don’t expect anything of ourselves. We don’t want to help ourselves we just want to continue to demand that others provide us with what want. The other irony is that although we’re selfish and greedy, we are never satisfied. We spend our time looking out for #1 but in the end are always left wanting. We’re ungrateful and unappreciative. Our focus is self yet we are discontent and dissatisfied. We are never really happy. Actually quite the opposite; we are miserable complainers. Benjamin Whichcote said, “None are so empty as those who are full of themselves.” Selfishness breeds discontent and discontent breeds emptiness.
• Impatience. I think impatience can be a good indicator of selfishness. Many times we’re impatient because we’re running behind and we’re in a hurry. We’re worried we won’t make it there on time. That might be different. But, have you ever been impatient when you weren’t in a hurry? I deal with that when I’m driving. I’ll get irritated and annoyed because I have to wait in traffic and I’m not under any time restraint. Why is that? Because I’m selfish. “Why do these people have to be on the road the same time as me?” “Why are these people in the store the same time as me?” “Why do all these people have to be in the same restaurant as me?” The list can go on and on. Why do we feel this way? Because we are selfish and don’t want to have to wait for anything. A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Okay; Ryan, you be Jesus!” We just don’t like having to wait. We get annoyed, irritable and impatient because we want everything to happen at our speed. What do you think is going on when people cut in line somewhere? “I don’t want to wait my turn, I don’t care if you’ve been waiting yours, I’m more important that you so you should let me cut ahead of you.” The same principle is at work with the people who race up the side of the road when they know the lane is ending just to get further ahead in traffic. When I don’t get what I want when I want it; when I don’t get my own way I react with frustration and anger. Impatience is due to selfishness.
• Greed. Luke 12:13-21. Materialism is wrapped in self. If I find myself in hot pursuit of more, more, more then I am focused on self. This is where jealousy and envy stem from. I am greedy; I want what you have. And I despise the fact that you have it and I don’t. I want it all. The mine, mine, mine syndrome takes over and we do foolish things. Just think of Bernie Madoff. Through greed comes a take, take, take attitude where if I want something bad enough I don’t mind getting it through manipulation, coercion and if need be-stealing. In America we are saturated with self-gratification; more specifically instant-gratification. Instant gratification screams selfishness. Instant gratification is surrounded in impatience and greed. I can’t wait any longer; I have to have it now. I want it; I need it; can’t spend another moment without it. Greed encompasses selfishness.
• Lying, Deceiving and manipulating. When we want someone to help us we often use manipulation to accomplish it. We lay a guilt trip on them. “If you really love me you’d...” We use tactics that put them in an awkward position. We don’t care that we are making someone uncomfortable or putting them out or using them as long as we get what we want from them. We intimidate them and give ultimatums “It’s my way or the highway”. When we have relationships or friendships where we try to manipulate and control the other person we are wrapped in selfishness. I want to mold you into the image that best suits me. And if you don’t change to become what suits me then I don’t want anything more to do with you. I don’t care about you; I only care about what you can do for me. And if I need to lie, deceive or manipulate to get what I want then I will because it’s all about me.
2) What are the results of selfishness?
• I lose my sense of caring. James 4:1-3. I can’t be happy for someone when they achieve something. I can’t rejoice with someone who comes into an unexpected windfall or received a nice gift from someone. All that I can think when you share your blessings is how badly I wanted it to be me instead. In selfishness I lose my sense of caring about someone else’s needs. “Got to do for me; no one else is going to”. Even if I am willing to help someone it’s with an ulterior motive like, “what’s in it for me?” And I also lose my sense of caring about doing God’s will. There’s no way a self-centered Christian will be willing to spread the gospel. I won’t have a servant’s mindset; I won’t be exemplifying Christ to others. I won’t be showing the greatest virtue-love. One of the attributes of love in 1st Cor. 13 is, ‘love is not self-seeking’. 1st John 3:17, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” I lose my sense of caring and love for others when I’m selfish.
• I lose my joy. Proverbs 18:1, “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.” Since selfishness breeds discontent and discontent breeds misery, the natural result is a loss of joy. McGeehon said, “No one is happy or free who lives only for himself. Joy in living comes from immersion in something one recognizes to be bigger, better, worthier, more enduring than he himself is. True happiness and true freedom come from squandering one's self for a purpose.” When my purpose is me, I will be unfulfilled and lacking in joy.
• I lose my freedom. How many people are in jail because of their selfishness? Whether it’s through embezzlement, theft or even murder. How many people are willing to kill for money? I lose my freedom to become what God has designed me to be. Selfishness is a trap that will keep me bound and stuck. It constricts. I forfeit the freedom to be a blessing to myself and others. I miss opportunities to better myself. I’m stuck in my own little world and I’m blind to what’s going on in the world around me. My focus is stuck on me and only me and life passes me by. I’m bound by my own selfish desires. Through selfishness I lose my freedom.
• I lose my connection with God. How can I be connected to God when I’m all about me? Selfishness is what kept me away from God in the first place. Why, now that I’m a Christian, should I think it won’t keep me away now? One of ways the connection is lost is because I stop praying. Why do I do that? One of the main reasons is because God’s not giving me what I want or what I think I deserve. Therefore, as a result, I just stop praying. “What good does it do?” “God doesn’t care about me.” Because of my selfish expectations, I allow myself to become disconnected from God. Then, of course, my relationship with Him suffers. I stop reading my bible and I stop going to church; all because of selfishness. I make selfish excuses like, ‘I’m too tired’, ‘it’s my only day off’; ‘I’m not being fed’. ‘I, I, I’. It’s been said, “There is no room for God in he who is full of himself.” The most serious result of my selfishness is when I lose my connection to God, his word and his people.
3) How can we be delivered from selfishness?
• Pray for it. The Psalmist prayed in Psalm 119:36, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.” ‘Let me be focused on your word and your will; not on my will’. The Lord’s Prayer in Matt 6 shows an unselfish spirit. In this prayer we say, ‘your will be done’ (not mine). We say, ‘give us today our daily bread’ (give us what we need and let us not be greedy and expectant for more). We say, ‘forgive us as we have forgiven others (forgiveness is selflessness). We’ve said this prayer countless times but do we really consider what we are saying? Are we trying to live as selflessly as this prayer points out? If we’re going to overcome selfishness we need to pray for it and mean it.
• Put God first. Luke 12:22-34. If we’re going to be able to ‘seek first the kingdom’ (vs. 31), then we need to not worry (vs. 22), have the right priorities (vs. 23), have strong faith (vs. 27-28), not be afraid (vs. 31-32), be generous (vs. 33-34). If we’re not putting God first then we’ve forgotten who we’re supposed to be living for. 2nd Cor. 5:15, “And he [Jesus] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” We have to decide to be a servant of Christ instead of a servant of self. If we’re going to do that we will need to get out of our comfort zone. We need to give up our comforts in order to accomplish the greater good. We will need to be willing to help someone when you don’t feel like it. We will need to go to dangerous places to do his work. We will need to be willing to confront someone with the truth and risk offending them. When we put God first we are choosing to forsake our self-seeking attitude and self-will for God’s will.
• Be generous. In Acts 5, we see an example of selfishness by Ananias and Sapphira when they were dishonest about the sale of their property. But contrast that with the example of the believers talked about before that in Acts 4:32-35. This is a remarkable example of selfless generosity. They shared everything they had. Their possessions were communal property. 2nd Cor. 8:1-4. Paul recognized the Macedonian churches for their selfless, sacrificial giving. Mother Teresa once said, “If you give something that you can live without, it’s not giving.” Generosity isn’t only about giving your material goods. Being generous with your time is also a way to combat selfishness. Sometimes we are selfish about our agendas. We have our “me” time and if that’s infringed upon we get irritated. And although not every interruption is a necessary one, if we are generous with our time we will be willing to compromise some of our free time for the sake of the greater good.
• Practice humility. Phil. 2:3-8. We are to imitate Jesus’ humility. If the attitude of our hearts is humility we won’t be driven by selfish ambition. When I’m humble I will put other’s needs ahead of my own. “Consider others better than yourselves”. This doesn’t mean we are less than or that everyone else is superior, but that we have the mindset to look out for what’s in their best interest. We can look out for our own interests but we need to look out for others’ interests as well. We need to practice the others’ better than ourselves command because we have spent plenty of time concerned about ourselves first. But, if we imitate Christ we will see that we need to forsake our desires as he did. We need to be focused on the greater good, as he was. Jesus said in Matt. 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.” This can be easier when we’re willing to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. If we would like to be treated with respect, we need to be respectful. If we would like to be forgiven, we need to forgive. If we would like to be loved, we need to love. Humility makes that possible. Humility removes selfishness.
CONCLUSION: On some level we all deal with selfishness. We need to recognize the various ways it plays itself out so we can attack and eliminate it. There’s no room for selfishness in the life of the devoted Christian. We are called to surrender our life to Christ. Like Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We need to die to self is we are going to accomplish the greatest good for the kingdom of God.