By Irvin Himmell
To the Philippians this exhortation was written by Paul: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). Here is a text which needs to be preached.
Selfishness is excessive or exclusive concern with oneself. It is seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. A selfish person is like a ball of twine – all wrapped up in self! Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) said, “He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies.”
A faithful child of God fixes his attention, not on self alone, but on others. Look around and consider your brothers and sisters in the Lord. They deserve to be esteemed in spite of their shortcomings. When I seriously contemplate my fellow Christians, each has some quality that surpasses mine. Perhaps one is more patient than I am; another thinks more quickly; another has a better personality; another excels me in knowing what to say when at the bedside of a sick person; another has more courage; another has a wider range of experience; another is a better teacher; etc. How uncharitable and egotistical it would be of me to fail to esteem others. Our interest must extend beyond self.
Signs of Selfishness
Let us give some thought to ways in which selfishness may be demonstrated. Any of these signs should trigger alarm on our part.
(1) One’s interests circle around himself. His foremost concern is his own comfort, convenience, and enjoyment. The shadow of self is cast over everything else. His language abounds in I, my, mine, me, us, ours, and we. Nabal was this kind of man (1 Sam. 25:1-11). When David sent some of his young men to Nabal to try to find favor with him, this obstinate fellow answered in a distinctly selfish tone: “Shall I then take my bread and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?”
(2) The guiding rule is, “What is in it for me?” This sign of selfishness shrinks people into a mold that restricts usefulness. It is an attitude too often exemplified. The fellow who follows this rule thinks the church owes him something. He thinks of classes and worship in terms of receiving, not giving. It never occurs to him that there might be something which he could contribute. “What is in it for me?” Well, the opportunity to serve is what is there “for me.” Remember the parable of the Samaritan in Luke 10:30-35. The priest and the Levite passed by on the other side, leaving the wounded man without assistance. They saw nothing that would benefit themselves. The Samaritan lost sight of self, turning attention to the needs of the victim. He had compassion, bound up the man’s wounds, took him to an inn, paid the bill, arranged for future care, and promised to reimburse the innkeeper later. When we were infants we were takers, but by now we should have developed into givers. Selfishness curtails devotion to duty.
(3) Lack of genuine concern for others. God teaches us to love, and love “seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5). Failure to show real concern for others discloses lack of love. There are some who do not care what happens to others. The strong are taught to bear the infirmities of the weak (Rom. 15:1). We are to rejoice with others who rejoice, and weep with others who weep (Rom. 12:15). The spiritual are to restore the brother overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1). We dare not shut up our heart of compassion against a brother who has need (1 Jn. 3:17). The rich man in Luke 16 lifted up his eyes in torments. He had shown no interest in the plight of Lazarus, a poor, diseased beggar.
(4) Shutting faithful Christians out socially. Here is another sure sign of selfishness. Some in the church limit their social contacts to a special circle. They never invite anyone into their home unless he is of their own “set,” their own family, or their special group of friends. Others limit their invitations to such as will return the favor. This does not square with what Jesus taught in Luke 14:12-14. Some do themselves a great disservice by shutting out the aged, the poor, the lonely, and those with whom they have only slight acquaintance.
(5) Personal concerns outweigh service to God. It was selfishness that prompted the Jews to put off building the Lord’s house but not their own houses (Hag. 1:2-4). Too many Christians “seek their own.” Paul brought a rather strong indictment against certain ones in Philippians 2:21, “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” Jesus died for all, “that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15). Service to God demands that our personal interests not take priority.
Fruits of Selfishness
Having noticed some of the signs of selfishness, we now turn our attention to some of its fruits.
(1) Selfishness makes one unreliable. A selfish person cannot be depended on to give as prospered. Cheerful giving (2 Cor. 9:7) flows from a generous heart. Jesus Christ was rich, yet for our sakes became poor. His example (2 Cor. 8:9) teaches us to give unselfishly. A selfish person is unwilling to deny himself as Jesus commanded (Matt. 16:24,25). A selfish person does not devote much time and attention to the Lord’s work. Paul knew that he could depend on Timothy because of Timothy’s care for others (Phil. 2:19,20).
(2) Selfishness produces ruin and disgrace. Lot made a selfish choice that bore bitter fruit when he pitched his tent toward Sodom. He was a righteous man but was influenced by the beauty and fertility of the plain of Jordan (Gen. 13:9-13). The prodigal son squandered his living on himself and came to poverty and shame (Lk. 15:11-19).
(3) Selfishness robs God. The Jews in Malachi’s day acted selfishly by offering blind, sickly, lame animals in sacrifice to Jehovah. They withheld the tithes and offerings which belonged to the Lord (Mal. 1:8; 3:8). Just as they robbed God, many today rob him of worship, time, the use of their energies, and their resources.
(4) Selfishness deprives one of joy. In the parable about the two sons, the elder brother was selfish. Unlike the younger brother, he did not waste his substance in riotous living, but he was sullen, sulky, unforgiving, and angry due to a selfcentered attitude (Lk. 15:25-32). He shut himself out from a joyous celebration. Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Some never know the joy that comes through Christ “living in us” (Gal. 2:20). They are trapped in a state of self-inflicted misery.
(5) Selfishness leads to other sins. Ananias and Sapphira lied in an attempt to cover their selfish greed (Acts 5:1-11). Judas Iscariot betrayed the Lord because he was thinking only of himself. Diotrephes used malicious words and became a church dictator due to selfishness (3 Jn. 9,10). Broken homes result from selfishness. People often abuse others, verbally and physically, due to their own selfishness.
Knowing the signs of selfishness, let us endeavor to overcome it. Knowing the fruits of selfishness, let us guard against it. No one is Christ-like unless he is unselfish. The Son of man “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Our Master gave himself in service and in sacrifice for us. May his love conquer so that we can sing from the heart,
Higher than the highest heavens,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, thy love at last has conquered,
None of self, and all of thee.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 11, pp. 334-335
June 6, 1991