What is Selfishness?
Selfishness is an inherent work of the flesh, meaning it is something that humans do, oftentimes without even realizing it. Selfishness is most closely linked to your ego. We all have egos. I know the word “ego” sounds like a psycho-babble term, but it basically gives a name to your will which seeks to fulfill its own desires—desires that often are not in line with God’s will for us. Clearly, selfishness is not of God.
Selfishness can manifest itself in many ways. From the way we react to people when they confront us with issues (unreasonably offended), to the way we pursue our own goals (fiercely above all else, EVEN GOD), to the way speak of ourselves (with undue praise to be reserved only for God).
2 Timothy 3:1-2 & 5 speaks specifically to selfishness and the way that it will pervade our culture in the “last days” (the time right before the return of Christ and the end of the world, which many Christians, including myself, believe we are currently living in). It says “in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money… They will be unloving and unforgiving…They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” From this passage I derive my definition of selfishness as—love of SELF and all things that will benefit SELF (like money).
Why is selfishness “bad”?
I mean on the surface this seems like a pointless question right??? I’m sure you can remember being told as a kid not to be selfish and to share your toys with your siblings and/or friends. I’m sure that if you don’t remember anything from the Bible, you remember God’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (essentially a mandate against selfishness). I’m sure you can recall your grandmother (ßor insert other older family member here lol) gossiping about how selfish so-and-so is because she leaves church functions early without helping with clean up, quietly vowing to yourself that you don’t want to be like her. But to truly understand the problem with selfishness, we have to examine it biblically not just socially.
Philippians 3 gives directions about the type of attitude we should have as Christians. Verses 2-4 explicitly state: “Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
STOP AND THINK…..
Do you ask others about how THEY are doing rather than always talking about yourself? Do you think of people as better than you (not in a self-deprecating way, but in humility)? Do you work well with others? Do you love others wholeheartedly and without pretense (without thinking about what they can do for you)? Are you always trying to impress others and fulfill your own need to be liked, wanted, loved, etc. or is your goal to please God?
I really believe that God has just recently shown me ways in which I have been (and sometimes still am, unfortunately) selfish. When I pre-teen/teenager, I was extremely selfish! Exhibit A: I remember getting mad EVERY SINGLE TIME my mom told me to wash dishes. I now know that I was told to do dishes because I had to contribute to the household in some way since I wasn’t paying bills, not because my mother didn’t care about my needs (I always had those taken care of). Exhibit B: If someone said something that upset me I would pout (visibly frowning) for as long as possible, aiming to let go of my fixed frown only after a prolonged length of time.
I selfishly wanted to manipulate their emotions to gain their attention, and I wanted to show them that not only was I a serious adult but that I was the one with the power in the situation. I’ve since come to find that all I was showing was their power over my mood, my childishness, and my utter stupidity. Even as an adult in relationships with males, I noticed myself doing similar things, manipulating to get reactions, affection or even gifts that I selfishly desired, and acting based on my ego rather than loving and working together with one mind and one purpose. I’m sure that my selifhsness was a large part of the reason that those relationships did not succeed, besides that fact that they were not godly and I am sure that they were not meant to be to begin with lol. Thank God I finally realized that he is the only one that should have power over every situation and every relationship. He is the head, not me! That’s a lesson that I’m glad I learned, and in some ways am still learning, because I know that it is helping my current relationships and will help me in future ones!
So you might be thinking—what is the point of any relationship if I am not supposed to ever do what I want to do? Does this mean that I shouldn’t go after what I want, that I shouldn’t even think of myself at all and just do whatever people ask of me without protest? The answer is NO, not at all, that’s slavery! God made us in his likeness, but each with our own different characteristics and wants. We each have our own mind, personality, and will for a reason—to use it. We use it for creativity and problem solving and God uses it in molding us for our life’s purpose. The issue arises when that is ALL we use, when we are totally motivated by how we feel who we like, and what we want. The point is balance and wisdom--knowing that of course it is impossible to ask God before we make any and every decision (otherwise it might take me 2 days to walk a block up the street) but that we have to consult him in decision-making in order to ensure that we are not being selfish. Furthermore we have to know ourselves and know His ways so that we can identify selfish tendencies and our minds can be renewed and freed from them. At the end of the day, we should be seeking for God’s power to govern every aspect of our lives and for His Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.
Like 2 Timothy says, a lot of times we act religious, but reject the power of God. For example I’ve noticed that some (definitely not all or even most!) Christians like to use the phrases “God said,” “I heard from God,” etc. and then proceed to give directions tainted by SELF. While I do not question the individuals to whom God speaks, the manner in which he does so, or the word that he gives (or does not give) them to deliver, I do know that the purpose of prophecy is to strengthens the entire church (see Corinthians 14:4) not the esteem yourself above others. Furthermore, Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. So we should be lifting each other up! Reproaching or correcting others should be done out of love and out of a genuine desire to help rather than a selfish desire to fill a void within you.
I know this one woman always has something (usually something unkind) to say about women who she believes are dressing inappropriately. At first I used to get upset and wonder why she was so focused on what other women were wearing when that’s between them, God and their husbands, if they have one. Then I realized that she isn’t intentionally being malicious. She just is subconsciously putting her ego first, exerting her influence and belittling others because of something she does not like about herself. And honestly, my heart breaks for her because I know what that feels like, and I now know that is not an attitude or characteristic that I want to have. By faith, “selfish me” is someone that I am steadily walking away from. I’m not looking back as she gets smaller and further behind me. I will not embrace selfishness or invite it into the Lord’s temple (my heart).
Now that you understand that selfishness is not just hoarding toys from a friend or quarters from that homeless person on the street, and understand how pervasive selfishness is in our society and probably in your own life, LET GO! Let go of the selfish thoughts, desires, and things that are binding you more tightly to your own ego and to sin, separating you from God. Talk to God about it and ask him to show you yourself. He can put things into perspective by showing you who he has called you to be. Ask him to change your attitude and for help in making your motives pure. Remember that just because it is your first instinct to look out for yourself, that doesn’t mean that’s what you should do. Keep walking away from selfishness J