Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
Bill and Julie represent a vast number of couples whose marriages teeter on the brink of disaster due to selfishness. Each was brilliantly in touch with what displeased him or her about the other, but they were out of touch with his or her own self-centeredness. Each person had some legitimate complaints, but their perspectives were self-absorption. Without realizing it they had fallen under the influence of the spirit of idolatry because they did not believe God was living and working in their problems. How was He at work? He was exposing the unbelief in their hearts and their idolatry of one another, which was motivated by selfishness. These exposures were necessary to lead them to repentance and sanctify them so they could love with Jesus and bring Him glory. In order for Bill and Julie to live to love with Jesus, they needed to realize that their selfishness was opposed to God’s interests.
Self-Interest Opposes God’s Interests
If we wish to sincerely love others with Jesus, we must be on our guard against self-gratification, self-indulgence, self-centeredness, self-significance, self-comfort, and all the other self-sins which drive us to look to ourselves and others rather than God as the source of life. The only hope for Bill and Julie and others like them lies in their becoming obsessed with God’s interests and purpose for their lives. Our natural responses reflect man’s interests rather than God’s. To live to love with Jesus, we need a change of mind. We see an example of this in the life of Peter, as recorded in Matthew 16:21-25. His interests were opposed to God's interests, like Bill’s and Julie’s were in their marriage.
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.”
Why did Peter react against Jesus’ going to the cross? Jesus pointed to Peter’s self-interest. After rebuking Peter, Jesus told His disciples to deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow Him. Peter didn’t consider the cross a part of “God’s wonderful plan” for his life. Neither did Bill or Julie, nor does anyone caught in the snare of idolatry. Could it be that the church today is avoiding the application of the cross to its gospel because it would offend the masses? Crucifying self and laying aside the old self with its evil practices are not popular topics today, nor have they ever been.
According to Jesus’ response to Peter, it appears that self-interest and Satan are closely linked. If Bill and Julie are to experience freedom to love with God’s kind of love, they will need to search out and destroy selfish ambition and the selfish motives behind their words and actions. The most effective way to do this is in their time spent alone with God in His Word and prayer. In these times, they will detect their own selfishness that opposes the work of faith and righteousness that God has freely given them through Christ’s death and resurrection, and they can cry out to God to help them graciously mortify the deeds of their flesh. They can rebuke their selfishness, just as Jesus rebuked Peter’s. They probably need to boldly speak to their selfishness, “Get behind me, Satan!”1 The devil’s schemes keep us consumed with our own self-interests and blind us to who God has saved and called us to be. That’s idolatry. Bill and Julie, of course, are not alone. The Western church, almost without exception, shares their self-centeredness, and God is graciously and noticeably beginning to answer our pleas to deliver us from it.
Jesus’ Love is Selfless
In contrast to the self-interest demonstrated by Peter, let’s consider Jesus’ self-life. What self-life? His self was dissolved in His Father’s will. If Bill and Julie are going to love unselfishly, that love can only come from His life in them. The Scriptures reveal this glorious quality of life in our Lord. In Matthew 26:39, Jesus’ humanity can be seen. “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’” Perhaps like me, you can relate to the “let this cup pass from me” part. But the “not as I will” shows us His heart of love for His Father and highlights to us our own selfishness.
One of the ways I’ve seen our selfishness manifested is in conversations about whether God wants His children to be “true to themselves.” For some people, the highest value in living life is “finding their true self” and being free to express themselves honestly. They might argue that God tells us to love others as we love ourselves.2 The line of thinking is that they should let others be their “true selves” because that’s what they wish for themselves. So God is pleased as long as we express our individual uniqueness and don’t allow others to dictate our values and standards by which we live. In their view, such living would be living under the “law.”
Dr. Gail Gloss, human behavior, parenting, and education expert, speaker, and author, wrote:
An important step toward individuation is a willingness to recognize and acknowledge the patterns of your behavior. Once you begin to work toward your authentic self, you can begin to live as only you can live, and be the person you are meant to be. Then, what others think about you won’t bother you. When you discover your true self, no one else can tell you who you are. If you take back and integrate your disowned shadow-material, you will reunite those parts of yourself that you have projected out onto others. It is this completion of the whole you that gives you the full thrust of your power. Now you can find your destiny, your authentic vocation through individuation.3
It’s hard to imagine such an attitude finding a home in Jesus’ mindset of love. The apostle Paul’s description of His mindset couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to this popular psychologist’s ideas.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8).
Jesus was and is amazing! He was so unselfish in His relationship with His Father that He never acted on His own initiative nor spoke His own words. He didn’t defend Himself when accused or abused, never pushed His own way in a single situation or relationship, and always waited on His Father’s timing—even to the point of emptying Himself in death. For whom? Himself? No, for His Father and for His people. And now He’s emptying Himself in intercession for us. And that’s why He’s our Savior and our Lord. Glorious!
How could He do that? His “self” was fulfilled and complete in His relationship with His Father. He had no need to be selfish because He trusted His Father to take care of Him. To live to love with Jesus, we need the powerful, life-changing work of the Holy Spirit within, convincing us of His love, and giving us a passion and joy to express the heart and love of the heavenly Father like Jesus did in every situation. Jesus believed that He always had what His Father wanted Him to have and that whatever came His way was what pleased His Father. Their relationship was full, rich, satisfying, pure, and unhindered by selfishness. Jesus was perfectly righteous, and God was always glorified in what Jesus said and did. This very relationship is what God calls us to, what Jesus paid for, and what the Father has declared about us through His Son. Yet we don’t even expect or seek it, let alone live in it! What does the Bible say? The New Covenant declares that all that is His is ours.
And in Him you have been made complete.4 Love for others overflows out of vessels filled with contentment and the understanding that “the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22-23). If we believe in Christ, then we are righteous as He is righteous and that makes us full of Jesus! We are channels of His love as we empty ourselves and walk in the fullness of Jesus Christ, Who is our Life. As long as you feel that you are lacking something—that you are empty—you will have your carving tools handy and will be vulnerable to making an idol for yourself. The words of a hymn, Channels Only, written by Mary Maxwell in 1900, testify to this wonderful truth that God’s love fills us and flows through us.
How I praise Thee, Precious Savior, that Thy love laid hold of me;
Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me, that I might Thy channel be.
Channels only, Blessed Master, and with all Thy wondrous power
Flowing through us, Thou can’st use us every day and every hour.
Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit, hearts that full surrender know;
That the streams of living water, from our inner man may flow.
When we surrender our self-will to God’s will, we are free to love others. That’s why Paul admonished his readers that they have to “put it off.” The action verb implies a continuous action—keep putting it off. May the Holy Spirit make you more sensitive to the demand of your self, “Come, make for me an idol so I…” And may you find in Jesus Christ the truth that He is your fullness. It’s good to know that this fullness isn’t a feeling by which we live, but a fact that we appropriate and in which we walk. If what you have right this moment in every situation comes from God (and it does), then you have everything you possibly need to glorify Him in that situation. You lack nothing. Remember: Putting aside self-occupation and being consumed with God’s interests enables us to live to love with Jesus.
Do something with what you’ve read
- Consider the similarities between living to please or express yourself and idolizing yourself and others. What Scriptures come to mind that reveal what God thinks about living to love yourself?
- What ways might God use to expose that you are motivated by selfishness and have a heart to create your own gods?
- Call to mind some situation or event in your life that didn’t go like you wanted it to go. How might you view that same event after reading this month’s Chariot? Share how you would respond now if you believed God was at work in it to expose “the beast of self” in you and to give you an opportunity to experience His fullness and express His love in the midst of it.
- What prayer has this article prompted you to pray so that you might live to love with Jesus rather than live to love yourself?
- “But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s’” (Matthew 16:23).
- “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39).
- Dr. Gail Gross, The Blog: How to Be Your True Self, www.huffingtonpost.com.
- “And in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10).