The Contents Of This Chapter
Though unbelief in the goodness of God and the reliability of
God’s Word is the root of sin, pride driven selfishness is its
We are prone to distrust God when we think He is not giving us all the things we need to live a happy, satisfying, secure life. We are even more prone to distrust Him when we believe He is allowing bad things to happen to us – either by not stopping them from happening or by not correcting them in a timely manner. We deal with our disappointments and frustrations by concluding we know better than God what is best for us. This is pride.
Upon concluding we know better than God what is best for us, we begin moving away from God and rejecting at least some of what the Bible says about how to live. From there, we take matters into our own hands and begin working things out according to what we believe best serves our interests, satisfies our desires, meets our needs, and makes us happy. This is pride driven selfishness, and it always leads to sin.
Therefore, though distrust of God is the root of sin, pride driven selfishness is the lifeblood of sin. For example, it is the pride of thinking we know more than God about what is best for us that leads to believing that selfishness – at least in some situations – is better than love and that sin is better than godliness.
Choosing selfishness doesn’t mean we don’t know the difference between right and wrong. It means we are unwilling to think in terms of right and wrong because such thinking might get in the way of what we want or believe we need.
In the same way, choosing selfishness doesn’t mean we don’t know the difference between love and selfishness, for we prove what we know by how we respond to those who selfishly hurt us or make our lives more difficult. However, when love gets in the way of what we want, we treat it as impractical or unrealistic given the circumstances and turn to selfishness because we can bend it to our wishes.
Consider how this truth played out in Adam and Eve’s first experience with sin. First, they stopped trusting God to provide them with all they needed to have a happy, satisfying, secure life. Second, they assumed they knew better than God about what was best for them. Third, they stopped thinking about right and wrong in relation to loving everyone who might be affected by their choices and behavior. Fourth, they began rationalizing and justifying the reasonableness of doing what they knew was wrong. In fact, they went to far in their prideful, selfish thinking that they concluded the best thing to do was to do what God had told them would kill them.
And what was the result of their sin? We have all suffered immeasurably and unnecessarily. We’ve lost the perfect life in the perfect environment where a face-to-face relationship with God was a daily occurrence. We suffer the burden of hard and sometimes fruitless work to survive. Women endure pain in childbirth. We face the challenges of nature and the destructiveness of natural disasters. Our bodies are attacked by injuries, diseases, illnesses, and infirmities. Our minds are affected by evil thoughts, fears, discouragement, depression, and insanity. We grow old, only to suffer the ailments and disabilities of old age. We die, and often it is not a pleasant death. In other words, we live under the influence, the power, and the destructive consequences of sin because of their choice to sin.
Adam and Eve choose self-gratification over the interests of God, the welfare of their children, and the future well-being of all mankind. But you may ask, why not? If the most powerful being in the universe cannot be trusted to promote or protect our good, should we not take matters into our own hands and do what we think is best for ourselves?
Never!! No one can distrust God and take matters into his own hands to seek his own good without turning from humility to pride and from that which is true love to that which is truly selfish.
The reality is, in whatever way or area of life you distrust God, in that way or area you will assume you know more than God and you will become self-centered in order to do for yourself what you believe God can’t or won’t do for you. In doing for yourself what you believe God can’t or won’t do for you, you will make the good of self your priority and allow the good of others to become a lesser concern. Therefore, you will neglect or jeopardize the good of others through your efforts to promote and protect your own interests. This is pride driven selfishness – which is the lifeblood of sin.
Though unbelief in the goodness of God and the reliability of God’s Word is the root of sin, selfishness is its sustaining lifeblood.
After forty years of wandering in the desert, Israel was finally
ready to enter the Promised Land. The first obstacle facing them was
Jericho – a huge, walled, fortress-like city. Lacking a
well-trained army and the weapons to defeat such a city, Israel needed
a miracle. Joshua, Israel’s leader, went to God. God told Joshua
to have the Israelites march around Jericho once a day for six days. On
the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times. After
the seventh time, seven priests were to blow one long blast on their
trumpets. When the trumpets sounded the Israelites were to give forth a
great shout, and the walls of Jericho would fall down.
When the Israelites had marched around Jericho the seventh time on the seventh day, Joshua reminded them that Jericho and all that was in it belonged to the Lord. Every inhabitant of the city was to be destroyed, except Rahab and those who lived with her. All the gold, silver, bronze, and iron were to be turned over to the treasury of the Lord. Everything else was to be left behind. Joshua warned them that if anyone disobeyed and took anything for themselves, it would bring God’s punishment on the whole camp of Israel. Then the priests blew their trumpets, the people shouted, the walls of Jericho fell flat, and the Israelites took the city.
In taking the city the Israelites discovered great wealth, but they followed God’s directions and turned it in to the treasury of the Lord, with one exception. Achan, an Israelite soldier, kept a beautiful robe, five pounds of silver, and 1 1/4 pounds of gold for himself. He had heard the warning. He knew that the consequences would mean trouble for all of Israel. But thinking he could hide his sin, and in so doing outsmart God, he chose to improve his financial situation at the risk of jeopardizing the well-being of every other Israelite.
God’s punishment on Israel for Achan’s sin was the withdrawal of His power and protection in battle. As a result, they were sent running in retreat in their next attempt at overthrowing a city, and thirty-six soldiers lost their lives. Upon finding out whose sin had brought this punishment from God on Israel, they put Achan and his entire family to death. (Note: Joshua 6:15-7:26)
This may seem unnecessarily harsh since Achan didn’t take very much. And it wasn’t as if he committed murder or adultery. He was simply trying to improve his financial situation so he could get a good start in a new homeland. What is so bad about that? Why would God make such a big deal out of such a seemingly small sin? To get a clearer picture of the size of Achan’s sin, consider its affect on others.
First, successful sinners influence others to sin. Israel needed God’s power and protection as they settled their new homeland. And, they needed His provision and protection to live there in peace the rest of their lives. God gives His power, provision, and protection to the righteous – those who live according to the ways of godliness and love. He withholds it from the unrighteous, because He does not want to encourage pride and selfishness by rewarding them or making it safe for sinners to go on in their pride and self-centeredness. If Achan could sin and get away with it within two weeks of entering the Promised Land, how long would it be before other Israelites followed his example? And who would suffer the most yet deserve that suffering the least when God withdrew His power, provision, and protection? The children and grandchildren. Therefore, because sin influences others to sin and thus increases the destructive effects of sin, Achan’s sin was humongous.
Second, sin always starts small, but grows to devastating proportions. Achan took what belonged to God when he took the robe, silver, and gold from Jericho. It may not have been much, but it reflects his attitude toward God and his fellowmen – an attitude which is arrogantly self-centered. A person steals because he believes the gratification of his needs or wants are more important than the happiness and well-being of the one he is stealing from. A person steals because he believes his needs or wants give him the right to take that which belongs to another. A person steals because he believes it is better for the one stolen from to unjustly suffer loss than for him to endure the unpleasantness of doing without something he needs or wants. Therefore, if Achan would think so little of God as to steal from Him, what would stop him from stealing from his fellow Israelites? And though he stole a small amount this time, wouldn’t the fact that he profited and got away with it prompt him to steal more the next time, and the next time, and the next time? Because stealing from God reveals a contemptuous, arrogantly self-centered attitude toward all humanity, and because sin grows, all Israel was faced with a growing threat to their well-being. Therefore, Achan’s sin was humongous.
Third, sin always victimizes one or more people who had nothing to do with the sin. Thirty-six Israeli soldiers unjustly and unnecessarily lost their lives. They were not given a choice in the matter, they were victims of Achan’s sin. But the cost to others did not stop there. Among these thirty-six men were husbands, fathers, and first-born sons. This means the families who lost these men lost someone they loved and who was vital to their well-being. Again, these families were not given a choice in the matter. These families were left in a saddened, crippled condition – not because of some wrong or foolish thing they had done, but because of Achan’s sin. Therefore, from the victim’s viewpoint, Achan’s sin was humongous.
Pride and selfishness, though socially acceptable in many instances and seemingly insignificant in many situations, are a devastating curse which causes incalculable and often irreparable harm to victim and sinner alike.
Tanya wanted to be loved because it made her feel so good. To satisfy her want she developed a relationship with Steven, a fellow who wanted to be loved, too. Their relationship grew from joking and superficial conversation to sharing deeply personal things. They went from casual friendship to believing they were meant for each other. Tanya and Steven had finally found someone with whom they felt safe and comfortable; someone who made them feel special and sought after; someone who made them feel really good.
But Tanya and Steven were married – and not to each other. They brushed aside this fact as they pursued love and intimacy with each other. They ignored the fact that they were on a course that would cause their spouses, children, and extended family needless pain. They overlooked the fact that they claimed to be Christians and that their actions would bring shame on the name of God and His church. What they didn’t neglect was their desire to feel good. In their quest, they went so far as to became sexually involved with each other. In time, their affair became public knowledge.
Tanya and Steven were not children, or even young adults. Both were old enough to know better even though they didn’t do better. However, both criticized their spouses for not loving them the way they wanted to be loved. Both clearly stated how they wanted to be loved and what their spouses needed to change in order to give love them that way. In other words, they were able to identify selfish behavior in others and the consequences of that selfish behavior on them – which proves they had a good idea of right and wrong in a marriage relationship. Yet both of them selfishly pursued their own gratification without concern for the unnecessary and unjust damage they would do to their spouses, their families, their Church, and to the name of God.
You may think Tanya and Steven are horrible sinners – and they are. You probably feel certain you would never do such a thing yourself – and maybe you wouldn’t. Yet they are no worse than the rest of us. Why? Because the same distrust of God and pride driven selfishness motivates some of our choices and behavior. Like them, there are situations and times when we think we know more than God about what is best for us, and because we do, we choose selfishness over the good of others, needlessly hurting them in the process.
Peg grew up in a Christian home, and for the most part had a good childhood. She married, had four children, and continued to attend Church with some regularity. She said she believed in God, loved her children, and wanted to love her husband – but he was not so easy to love. He kept asking her to do things – like care about him, parent the children better, be more responsible with household duties, and show as much interest in the good of their family as she did in her crafts and her friends.
After years of making the same requests and seeing almost no progress, he felt deeply discouraged and genuinely unloved. In frustration and hurt he turned mean around the house and began looking for love and happiness outside the home. Yet Peg continued to live what appeared to be a naive, blind to reality, it’s not my fault, he’s the bad guy, kind of life. She clearly saw his faults (and he had many), but she would not look at her own. She wanted him to change, but she would not take seriously her need to change. She knew what was right when it came to his treatment of her but she would not honestly examine her behavior to see if she was doing what was right when it came to her treatment of him. The truth is, Peg was as much the cause of suffering in their home as her husband.
Why would such a seemingly nice person like Peg, who was liked by her friends and pitied by all who heard her side of the story, continue to do so much damage to her marriage and family? Because Peg hated conflict, discord, facing personal faults and failures, or any other thing that might make her look bad and result in disapproval and rejection. She wanted to feel accepted and loved by all, all the time. If she had to overlook the truth about herself, she did. If she could avoid dealing with conflicts in an effort to resolve them, she did. If she had to explain away some of her choices and behaviors or deny doing anything wrong by claiming to have had good intentions, she did – and all in an effort to ensure being accepted and loved. Yet sadly, her efforts to keep as many people as possible happy with her resulted in hurting her husband and damaging their relationship.
Peg was prideful, selfish, and self-deceived. She was as prideful and selfish as any of the others in the preceding examples, for she was as willing as they to think she knew better than God, push Him and His ways aside, and go her own way for the sake of personal happiness. But then, is Peg that much different than the rest of us?
The opposite of selfishness is love. Selfishness seeks the good of
self to the neglect of or at the expense of the good of others. Love
seeks the good of everyone affected in any way by its choices and
behavior. And should the good of others require it, love will promote
or protect their good to the point of sacrificing its own good, even if
it means losing its life.
Selfishness believes we must make our own happiness and well-being a priority in order to get the happiness, satisfaction, riches, security, and recognition we deserve in life. Love believes we must make the good of God and the well-being of others a priority so everyone, including us, can get the things we all deserve in life.
Selfishness is based on the premise that we must look out for our own good, first and foremost, because no one else seems willing or able to do it in the way it needs to be done, and we know what is best for us better than anyone else. Love is based on the premise that it is perfectly safe to make the good of others equal to or greater than the good of self, because God, who is greater than ourselves, is devoted to promoting and protecting our good, and God knows what is best for us better than anyone else.
This is an important point. It is our nature to love only as far as we can ensure the good of self according to our ideas of what the good of self is. If we are to love others as much as ourselves, we need someone wiser and greater than ourselves to ensure our good so we can unselfishly promote and protect the good of others. Therefore, to love others as ourselves we must be convinced that God has sufficient power, wisdom, ability, and the commitment to look out for our good. Then, we must be convinced that God is using and will use His power, wisdom, and ability to promote and protect our good in every situation – even when we put our own well-being at risk in doing good for others. Finally, we must act on our faith by placing ourselves in God’s hands as we make the good of others equal to or greater than the good of self.
Because God’s love is unwaveringly perfect, because His power is infinite, because His wisdom is unchallengeable, and His father’s heart unequaled, He is the one being who naturally has what it takes to be our provider and protector. Because He guarantees we can never seek the good of others at a cost to self greater than what He will cover, we are free to love without fear for our own well-being. Truly, we can never out-love God’s love for us. We can never out-give God’s giving to us. Whatever it costs us to love others, God replenishes, and then some. Therefore, we are free to love others without fear of what such a denial of self might cost because God ’s provision and protection is sufficient to cover any cost incurred.
Selfishness comes to life when we assume God is unwilling or unable to cover the costs of loving others in the same way we want to be loved. This means our good becomes the deciding factor when determining how far we will go in loving others. In other words, distrust of God brings us to the conviction that we must depend on selfishness, at least in some situations, in order to have the happy, satisfying, secure life we want and believe we deserve. Therefore, when we are distrustfully self-centered and we think the good of self is at risk, we willfully turn from the noble life-style of love to the more expedient life-style of self-centeredness.
To better understand what selfishness is, it is important to
understand what it isn’t. We are not selfish when we want food,
clothing, shelter, good health, education, transportation, or any other
thing needful and beneficial for living a full and satisfying life. We
are not selfish if we desire to satisfy our natural appetites,
passions, and impulses. We are not selfish when we want to be loved and
accepted. We are not selfish when we want a loving, happy family, a
safe neighborhood, a good community in which to raise children, and a
nation where the people are free to do what is right. We are not
selfish when we desire to have employment which pays a livable wage. We
are not selfish if we want to avoid unnecessary and unjust frustration,
hardship, injury, pain, or physical need. We are not selfish if we
desire to be happy. All these wants and desires are a normal part of
the human life. It is not selfish to want to satisfy them.
However, if in seeking to satisfy a normal desire we disregard the good of God and/or harm others in some way, we turn a normal desire into a selfish desire.
For example, the desire for food is a normal desire given to us by God for our good. The purpose of food is to strengthen our body. The pleasure of taste is an added bonus, making a necessary task an enjoyable task. If we over-eat for the pleasure of eating so that we grow fat while others go hungry, we turn something good into something selfish. We go from satisfying our appetite to gratifying our taste buds. We also turn something good into something selfish when we use the pleasure of eating to ease the pain of bad experiences, distance us from our sorrow, and avoid dealing with our depression. In such cases, we turn from responsibly dealing with the difficulties of life to trying to off-set or compensate for our problems through mind-numbing pleasure.
The desire for security is as normal as the desire for food. True security is found in God and comes from God. His intention is for us to make Him our first and foremost source of security so that we do not resort to excessive, self-centered, fear driven, irrational, and relationship damaging solutions when feeling insecure from real or imagined threats to our present or future well-being.
If we make a secure job with good benefits with an established company our first and foremost source of financial security, we turn something good into something selfish. Seeking security through employment (instead of God) leads to the neglect of important relationships (lack of time for God, family, other Christians), curtailing evangelism (can’t do it at work, don’t have enough time after work), and compromising what we know is right (so as not to lose advancement or the job itself).
Seeking financial security against possible future needs through savings accounts, insurance policies, and retirement funds leads to ungenerous or grudging support of current or imminent needs – such as local and world missions, food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and shelter for the homeless.
Making your first and foremost source of security the use of control over others may protect you from being taken advantage of or victimized, but it also leads to coercing or manipulating people into doing what we want.
God wants us to be secure, but looking for security in wrong places or in wrong ways feeds self-centered behavior. Real, lasting security comes from putting our lives in God’s hands and living according to His Word – regardless of the circumstances. It comes from trusting God to be our provider and protector so we are not hindered from seeking His good and the well-being of others by taking matters into our own hands and pursuing security apart from God.
Selfish gratification travels the descending path from bad to worse. However small or innocently we begin, self-gratification compels us to use unnatural means to satisfy normal desires. This is true of the alcoholic, the drug addict, the sexually promiscuous, the homosexual, the rapist, the child molester, those involved in pornography, those involved in witchcraft, the tyrant (be he the ruler of a nation or the bully in his home), the murderer, the physically or emotionally abusive, the gossip, the thief, the swindler, the jealous, the one who delights in getting even, the conceited, the chronic liar, the businessman who behaves like Scrooge, the employee who cheats his employer, and the one who causes or fuels dissension and strife. If we find ourselves satisfying normal desires, God-given desires, and intrinsically unselfish desires through unnatural means it is because we have become self-centered in our pursuits.
Not all desires are sinful. Nor is it selfish to want to satisfy our natural, normal desires. Within the boundaries of love we can satisfy our normal desires to our heart’s content. We become selfish when we make the fulfillment of our normal desires more important than the good of God and the well-being of others. We go farther down the path of selfishness when we choose to gratify our normal desires through unnatural means. But it doesn’t have to be this way. God has given us the means to satisfy every natural, normal desire without going outside the boundaries of love – without doing what we know is wrong and harming others unnecessarily in the process.
The focus and benefits of selfishness make it very appealing. For
example, looking out for our own interests seems much wiser than
entrusting our happiness and well-being to someone we at the very least
partially distrust – such as God. And we like the satisfaction of
getting what we want, when we want it. We get excited over the
possibility of one more acquisition, one more moment of pleasure, one
more time for things to go our way, a little more power, a lot more
luxury, added income, bigger savings, better returns on our
investments, and a more secure future. We treasure quick and sure ways
to thwart or get even with people who try to use us, abuse us, cheat
us, or beat us for their own selfish ends. We value being able to do
what we please, when we please, as we please. And as young and old have
figured out, selfishness makes a lot of things possible which are not
possible when loving others as ourselves.
However, there is a truth about selfishness that is too often ignored. The benefits of selfishness are temporary while the damage and suffering caused by selfishness lasts a long time – and sometimes forever.
Every selfish act contains at least one seed of destruction. Each seed produces a two-headed monster. One head turns on us, adding to our woes. The second head turns on those affected by our selfishness, robbing them of what is rightfully theirs and adding to their woes.
In other words, we cannot act selfishly without creating more problems for ourselves. These added problems may not show up for some time, but they will show up and do their devastating work in our lives.
And se cannot act selfishly without creating victims of our selfishness, without bringing unnecessary suffering into the lives of those affected by our selfishness. And sadly, the victims of our selfishness are most often those closest to us. Yet the circle often spreads beyond them and can include those who are out of our sight – those we don’t know and those we will never know.
Dale is a top-notch car salesman making lots of money. He’s good! He’s so good he used his sales techniques to talk his wife into what he wanted for himself, or what he decided was best for her. At first, he lived like a king, oblivious to the effect his methods were having on his wife. But one day, she rebelled. She was through with being manipulated and used. She was deeply wounded, bitter, and in a state of despair. The man she loved enough to marry turned out to be so selfish that he deliberately and continuously tried to manipulate and control her for his own benefit. Their marriage almost ended in divorce before he admitted to his selfishness and its destructive effect on his marriage. Without a doubt, he enjoyed the fruit of his selfishness for a time. But as he himself now admits, the benefits gained during his few years of pleasure could never offset the pain of a damaged relationship or the cost in time, effort, and money to rebuild that relationship to one of mutual love and trust.
In the long run, the benefits of selfishness are always out-weighed by the destructive consequences brought about by selfishness. And truly, the costliest consequence is the damage done to relationships – especially those relationships we consider near and dear.
We may gain the whole world by selfishly pursuing the good of self, but we can never gain someone’s love. True love cannot be bought, demanded, finagled, or forced. It must be voluntarily and cheerfully given to be mutually meaningful and satisfying to the one being loved. No mutually loving, mutually satisfying relationship can be one sided. It takes two people committed to the good of each other to give life and durability to a shared relationship of love and trust. A selfish focus on our needs and wants destroys the possibility of sharing in a mutually loving, satisfying relationship.
When it came to things, Jason had almost everything a person could want. He had a huge home, three cars, a pretty wife, good-looking children, fine clothes, a high paying job, the latest in gadgetry and technology, a cottage, a boat, four snowmobiles, two motorcycles, and many other things that people wish for. He got a lot of gratification from his possessions, but he never felt satisfied. In fact, he was angry and depressed most of the time. Few people saw it because he hid it behind the facade of enjoying all his possessions and adult toys. Yet his anger and depression were like a monster on his back which he could not shake off.
Why was he so angry and depressed? Jason longed to be loved. Many claimed to be his friend, yet he shared no bonds of intimacy with anyone. He had no relationships of mutual love and trust – not even in his own home. Though surrounded by people, he felt alone and unloved. It was his own fault. He was so self-centered that he made the people in his life feel as if they were things to be used, not people to be loved. It isn’t as if he had no concern for others. It is just that looking out for the good of others ordinarily took second place to looking out for his good and getting what he wanted. Put simply, Jason had no relationships of shared love and trust because he focused on taking, not giving. It is true, he enjoyed many pleasures and benefits as a result of his selfishness. However, in selfishly seeking his own good he lost out on one of the most valuable and satisfying thing of all – an intimate relationship of communion and companionship based on mutual love and trust where both parties know they are cherished and secure.
Why do we so eagerly sabotage our lives, damage valued relationships, hurt those dearest to us, and bring unnecessary suffering into the lives of people who have done nothing to us to deserve such misery? Distrust of God and pride driven selfishness. But why do we go on and on ignoring the obvious consequences of our selfishness? Because it gets us what we want, or at least promises to get us what we want when we want it! Yet we are ruining our own lives in the process! Don’t we care!?! Yes, but that concern is pushed aside by our pursuit of the good life as defined by our fleshly desires, ungodly values, irrational fears, the allurement of worldly pleasures and possessions, and our beliefs about what is best for us.
Like metal to a magnet, we are attracted to immediate gratification.
We want what we want right now. The fact that the devil used the
allurement of immediate gratification when he tempted Eve in the
Garden, and Jesus in the wilderness, testifies to its powerful,
universal appeal. (Note: Genesis 3:1-6, Luke 4:1-13)
To better identify selfishly gained immediate gratification, consider its several common forms. It often looks like an expedient short-cut which significantly reduces the time it usually takes to get what we want. Examples of this would be the involvement in sexual activity outside of marriage instead of waiting until marriage, appeasing others to avoid conflict and maintain a semblance of peace, participating in questionable or outright dishonest business practices to gain a promotion or increase profits, and using domineering or manipulative tactics to make others do what we want.
Another form of selfishly gained immediate gratification looks like the ideal quick-fix for a difficult problem. Examples of this would be divorce, returning evil for evil in an effort to stop evil, faking or outright lying to protect ourselves from unwanted shame or loss, and blaming others as the cause of our misbehavior.
Sometimes selfishly gained immediate gratification takes the form of pleasure that numbs us to such things as physical or emotional pain, bad feelings, disturbing memories, or fears. Examples of this would be excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages, taking mind-altering drugs, overeating, getting lost in a hobby, extravagant buying, and excessive television viewing, video gaming, or social media and internet use.
Selfishly gained immediate gratification can look like passive or aggressive behavior that is used to shield us from the unwanted or unpleasant things of life. Examples of this on the passive side would be withdrawal (becoming reclusive), silence, pouting, secretiveness, appeasement, procrastination, and unexplained uncooperativeness. Examples of this on the aggressive side would be grumbling, screaming, threatening, abusive anger, blaming, and criticizing. We use these kinds of manipulative, controlling tactics to pressure people into giving us what we want, now.
Selfishly gained immediate gratification always looks to us like our only hope when it seems God is failing or has failed us in some way. When we are suffering because of unmet needs, burdened by the misery of physical afflictions, struggling against injustice, broken-hearted by the pain of rejection, feeling abused, afraid, discouraged, or longing to indulge ourselves with some pleasure or possession that has been out of our reach for a while, we turn to selfishness because it seems at the moment to be the most efficient, reliable, and quick way to solve our problems and get what we want.
Therefore, when we are convinced God is not providing the protection or provision we need, our desire for immediate gratification motivates us to deliberately choose selfishness as the most expedient means of dealing with our unmet needs and wants.
However, do not be seduced by the appeal of immediate gratification. It has one major flaw. It denies a reality that over-shadows its benefits. Selfish choices and behavior always give birth to some form of destructive consequences. And, these destructive consequences make our life, and the lives of everyone affected by our selfishness worse than they were before we acted selfishly.
PINOCCHIO is the story of a puppet who was changed into a real live boy through a two-step process. He was given certain human qualities at first, but he had to remain a wooden boy until he could prove he was brave, unselfish, and able to tell right from wrong. Since he was not yet fully human he had no conscience, so Jiminy Cricket was given that role in Pinocchio’s life.
The sly fox, Foulfellow, was Pinocchio’s tempter. Pinocchio’s first temptation took place on his way to school. Foulfellow stopped him and told Pinocchio that he should not waste his time in school. According to Foulfellow, the wisest thing Pinocchio could do would be to use his talents on the stage where there would be bright lights, the roar of applause, and fame – things which would certainly be more fun than school. Pinocchio was so enthralled with the thought of stardom that he went with Foulfellow, who sold him to the carnival man, Stromboli. That very night Pinocchio got his applause and stardom. But he also got locked in a cage after the show and threatened with being used as firewood if he didn’t continue to perform for Stromboli.
Now take notice. Pinocchio got the promised gratification he selfishly sought, but he also got problems he never would have had had he done the right thing and gone to school. The same thing happens to us when we selfishly choose immediate gratification over what we know is right.
Meanwhile, Foulfellow was making a deal with Barker, an evil man who enticed boys to Pleasure Island where he turned them into donkeys for use in his salt mines. Foulfellow agreed to help Barker find some boys for Pleasure Island. Pinocchio, who by now had been freed from the clutches of Stromboli, was the first one Foulfellow met. It wasn’t long before he was talking Pinocchio into a trip to Pleasure Island by telling him the island was filled with games, toys, and all the candy he could eat. Besides all that, there was no parent or boss there to tell Pinocchio what to do.
By nightfall, Pinocchio reached the island. It was like an enormous amusement park. Gorging himself on the pleasures that surrounded him, Pinocchio was unaware that he was turning into a donkey for use as slave labor in Barker’s salt mines. When Jiminy Cricket realized what was happening, he tried to warn Pinocchio of the impending disaster. Pinocchio would not listen. He refused to believe that Barker, the generous provider of all this fun, had evil motives. In his deluded condition he would not believe that bad could come from something that seemed so good. Yet Pinocchio was sprouting donkey’s ears and a donkey’s tail.
Once again, take notice. To get the pleasure he wanted, Pinocchio ignored his conscience. He overlooked the obvious discrepancies in what he was told about Pleasure Island (do anything you want without consequences). He refused to question the motives of its owner. Pinocchio was closing his eyes to the reality of his circumstances and his impending doom. Numbed by the immediate benefits of his choices, he was unaware he was becoming the last thing any of us would want to be – a donkey headed for slave labor in dark caverns under the earth. Yet do we not, too often, act just like Pinocchio?
Consider Foulfellow’s methods. He got Pinocchio to selfishly do what he knew was wrong by convincing him he could significantly and immediately improve his life. Foulfellow made himself believable by presenting himself as sincerely concerned about the happiness and well-being of Pinocchio. Yet when the truth was revealed, it was evident Foulfellow cared only about himself. He devised evil schemes to exploit and ultimately destroy Pinocchio so he, Foulfellow, could gratify his own selfish desires for profit and pleasure.
Satan, his co-workers, and all others who tempt us to sin, be they human or demonic in nature, are similar to the evil characters in the story about Pinocchio. They act as if they are sincerely interested in our well-being. They seem sympathetic when they come to us in our time of need or discouragement or anxiety or insecurity or discontent. Concern for our happiness seems to ooze from their every pore. Their call to self-centeredness seems so rational and reasonable. They sound so sensible and kind when promising tremendous pleasures, huge profits, enviable possessions, popularity, power, acceptance and approval, bullet proof security, or anything else our selfish heart desires if we will but do as they say. Yet they care nothing about our good.
They are completely self-centered – solely interested in using us to gratify their own desires. More than that, they are forever devising evil schemes that will enable them to use us, and indeed ruin us to get the happiness and fulfillment they seek. And sadly, to our shame and ruination we are so dazzled by the benefits of immediate gratification that we willingly and eagerly do what we know is wrong – even at the expense of those we claim to love the most.
Plainly put, one of sin’s most powerful attractions to our self-centeredness is immediate gratification. Getting what we want, now, can seem so right and good, so deserved and satisfying that we are easily tempted to use selfish and sinful means to gain the satisfaction we seek. If we fail to see this, we will fail to see much of the sin that is in our lives.
Therefore, don’t be blinded by the lie. The benefits of selfishly based immediate gratification are temporary while the damage and suffering last a long time – and in some cases, forever. Therefore, do not live contrary to God’s Word and reason. Do not do what is ungodly, illogical, and irrational. Do not think yourself wiser than God, for following the path of immediate gratification always leads to loss and destruction.
Self-centered people rarely get up in the morning admitting they are
willfully and intentionally selfish. They are not inclined to admit
they routinely resort to the ways of selfishness to get what they want.
In fact, they’ll get indignantly defensive or even angry if asked
to admit they cherish the benefits of selfishness more than the good of
others, including those they claim to love. This kind of dishonesty is
far too common. However, denying our selfishness does not make us less
selfish, nor does it make the consequences less painful to those
experiencing the effects of our selfishness.
How is it that we so easily convince ourselves that we are not selfish when we are? Simply put, we think of ourselves as good people trying to do what is best for ourselves in a world where too many others are trying to take advantage of us or neglecting us. Consider the following examples.
Many of us have hurts from the past. Most often, those nearest and dearest, those we should have been able to trust the most have hurt us the most. Because the pain cuts deep, we determine to protect ourselves from being hurt again – and especially from being hurt by someone who holds a position of importance in our life (i.e., parents, spouse, sibling, child, close friend, teacher, co-worker, employer).
Therefore, to keep from being hurt again, we make self-protection the overriding goal in every relationship where we think there is the possibility of being hurt. One way we do this is to keep important relationships shallow enough to end them, relatively pain free, at a moments notice should that be what it takes to keep from being hurt again. Another way we do this is to quickly push back (i.e., anger, silent treatment, threats, pulling away) when we pick up even a hint of being hurt by the other person.
However, this sets up a contradiction of reality. On the one hand, we want to be loved – intimately, deeply, vibrantly, freely. On the other hand, we want to protect ourselves from being hurt by the ones we want love from. So we work against the intimacy, depth, and vibrancy we long for by keeping the relationship shallow. Or we stifle or even prevent the growth of intimacy, depth, and vibrancy by using such things as anger, the silent treatment, threats, or pulling away to protect ourselves when a real or even an assumed threat of being hurt appears.
Are we intentionally sabotaging the very thing we want from a relationship with those nearest and dearest? Yes and no. Yes in that we are intentionally protecting ourselves from being hurt again, and in so doing we are using selfish and therefore relationship damaging methods. And no in that we don’t want to damage these relationships, yet we thoughtlessly do because feeling good – as opposed to feeling hurt – is of greater concern than nurturing and maintaining a meaningful, mutually satisfying relationship with someone.
Think about this: who's good are you seeking when you do this? Only your own. Yet most of us do not see this as a form of selfishness. To us, it is good judgment. We are simply protecting ourselves from being hurt and ensuring our own pleasure and happiness. So we deceive ourselves into believing our wall of self-protection is a wall of good intentions and not the wall of selfishness it really is.
Another common way we deny selfishness in the pursuit of pleasure is in the pursuit of money and the accumulation of possessions. Think about this: who's good are we promoting and protecting when we do this? Our own? Yes! Our family’s? Most likely. God’s? Possibly, yet if so then marginally. Our neighbor’s or co-worker’s? Only a little if any at all. The poor and disenfranchised in our community and nation, or in third world countries? Once again, only a little if any at all. Yet it is rare to see this as selfishness. Most often it is seen as building a secure future, caring for our families, fulfilling our dreams, and even enjoying God’s blessings which He especially bestows on those He favors. And so we deceive ourselves into believing that some or even many of our efforts at gaining pleasure through money and possessions are efforts of good intentions and not the efforts of selfishness they really are.
Because pleasure is exactly that – pleasurable, many of us treat the pursuit of pleasure as a serious hobby. We see ourselves as doing nothing more than reaching for those pleasures which are rightfully ours. Yet we ignore the fact that our pleasure-seeking pursuits are too often excessive, destructive to our health, financially costly beyond reason, and damaging to our most important relationships. Why? We want to believe that our interest in and pursuit of pleasure is within the boundaries of good intentions and personal rights.
It seems that few are eager to be honest with themselves. We would rather see ourselves as good people with good intentions. We want to be considerate, honest, moral, conscientious, loving, and kind. And we would be that way, all the time, if it weren’t for other people’s frustrating, unjust, hurtful, vile, or wicked behavior. The reality is, most of us believe noble motives and loving behavior are important, but only so far as they do not hinder us from obtaining what we think will make us happy and ensure a sense of well-being. The problem is not that our selfishness is so difficult to discover. The problem is that we do not want to see it.
ninety-nine percent of the time we have some purpose for choosing what
we choose, and doing what we do. We can discover our purpose by looking
at the patterns and/or the timing of our choices and behavior. To find
the patterns and/or the timing, we must look at those choices and
behaviors that are repetitive, that we do again and again. As we
examine the pattern and/or timing, we begin to discover the purpose, or
our true intent.
years of marriage, I memorized and meditated on James 3:2-12. This
prompted me to listen to the way I talked to my wife. Within three to
four weeks it became obvious that I regularly used sarcasm and object
lessons (or what I called editorial comments) to communicate my
frustrations, disappointments, and dislikes about her to her. (An
object lesson is using a situation or a comment she made as a point of
reference to redirect her attention to faults in herself that bothered
me.) I wasn’t forceful, as in strong anger and a loud voice. But
I was persistent.
As I examined the patterns of sarcasm and object lessons, I realized my purpose was to control her. I was persistently using sarcasm and object lessons to push her into doing things my way. I wasn’t screaming and threatening, but I was selfishly sinning against her just the same. I wanted my way, and I was willing to get it at her expense. The repetitiveness of my behavior revealed the patterns, the patterns revealed my purpose, and my purpose showed how self-centered I was.
But maybe you don’t have an aggressive nature like me. You may be more easy-going, like the passive type person who seems noble at first glance. He is always smoothing out the rough spots in relationships, guarding his words, and even putting conciliatory twists on the hostile words and deeds of others. He continuously works for peace and avoids conflict whenever possible. He hates arguments, strong words, put-downs, and angry outbursts. He appears to be a sensitive soul who doesn’t want to upset anyone.
Is he this way because he’s committed to the good of others? No! He’s protecting himself from two of his greatest fears – rejection and the loss of a peaceful setting. And what makes him feel rejected – and therefore unloved? Or what makes him feel the loss of peace? Being the brunt of, or in the midst of criticism, harsh words, anger, and conflict. So he tries to gain acceptance and keep a peaceful environment by continuously appeasing those around him.
Does he appease them because he loves them and wants what is best for them? No! He appeases them in the hope all will be peaceful between he and them. This false sense of peace he interprets as love and acceptance. Do his methods promote intimacy and trust between himself and those he is in relationship with? No! It frustrates them because he won’t work through differences and resolve conflicts with them – things that in the doing would make the relationship better. In fact, his methods ultimately convince them he doesn’t really love them. Could he see the truth about himself? Yes, if he would honestly examine the intent of his easy-going, passive approach to life.
Once we have discovered the purpose of our choices and behavior, we can move toward considering the consequences of our choices and behavior on others and ourselves. Consequences further expose our motives, revealing the selfishness or selflessness that is active within us.
Love not only does no wrong to anyone (Romans 10:13), it seeks the good of everyone (Mark 12:31). In contrast, selfishness does wrong to anyone it must to advance its own cause. Therefore, the consequences of our choices and behavior, both immediate and future, on others and ourselves, exposes our true motives. But remember, when examining consequences, you are looking for your repetitive patterns of choices and behavior, not the exceptions, because it is the repetitive patterns that most accurately reveal your true motives.
Immediate consequences can be discovered by looking at the immediate gains and losses from what we are saying and/or doing. If we are the major beneficiary while others are forced to endure what they do not want to endure, our motive is selfish. If the good of others – which may include us – is the predominant result, our motive is love.
The long-term consequences can be discovered by asking what future loss or gain will likely be experienced as a result of what we are saying and/or doing. If we are feeding bad habits, damaging relationships, unnecessarily hurting others, doing what is contrary to the Word of God, and/or dishonoring God in the public eye, we can be sure our motive is selfish. If we are nurturing current relationships, growing in godliness and maturity, serving the good of others, striving to repair damaged relationships, trying to build new relationships, and giving people cause to see God as good, we can presume our motive is love.
To confirm what we discover about ourselves we ought to ask those affected by our choices and behavior how we are affecting them. If they are not available, we should put ourselves in their place and ask how we would feel if we were being treated in the same way we are treating them. And along with these two efforts, it is always wise to ask God to search our heart and thoughts to see if there is any hurtful, selfish and sinful way in us (Note: Psalm 139:23-24).
Selfishness hides easy, and dies hard. If you want to find it, you must search for it. If you are going to look in the right places, you must examine who you really are, not who you would like to be or think yourself to be. You must come to terms with what you really do, not what you intend to do. If you want help seeing the truth, ask those directly affected by your choices and behavior how they feel about your treatment of them. Listen carefully to what they say. Then, be honest with yourself about what you find. Finally, if you are going to defeat selfishness, you will have to work at it, hard, for the rest of your life.
seems clear that we are born with an over-powering inclination toward
pride driven self-centeredness. However, by the time we become young
adults our pride is arrogance toward God and our selfishness is no
longer a naive, unintentional response to the needs and wants of life.
It is a deliberate, willfully intentional act of the will that is not
forced on us but chosen by us. And because it is a choice, we are
responsible for making that choice.
Willfully choosing pride (or self-rule) and selfishness over humility (submission to God’s rule) and love is directly related to distrust of God’s intention to always do us good, and distrusting the reliability of His Word to tell us the best way to live. To solve our unbelief dilemma, we make ourselves the most important person in our life, determine for ourselves what is best for us, and act accordingly.
Pride and selfishness, or pride driven selfishness gives life to all sin. For this reason, the very foundation of the Christian life is built on humility and the denial of self. If we are to follow in Christ’s way, loving as he loves and obeying God as he obeys, we must first deny self and humble ourselves before God. No one can think himself wiser than God and humble himself before God at the same time. No one can love self supremely and love God supremely. No one can love self supremely and love his neighbor as himself. To love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves, we must humbly deny self-centeredness and put away selfishness. (Note: John 12:25; Luke 9:24-25)
The prideful, selfish person who calls himself a Christian does serious damage to the reputation of God and the reputation of Christianity. His pride driven hypocrisy makes God look bad in the eyes of unbelievers, and his selfishness makes Christianity look bad in the eyes of those who endure unnecessary suffering as a consequence of his selfishness. He harms the Body of Christ by setting an example that influences other would-be Christians and weaker Christians to follow in his footsteps. He does even greater harm by living and presenting a type of religion that leads people to believe they can enjoy the benefits of God’s salvation without forfeiting the benefits of selfishness and sin. He destroys the essence of Christianity by promoting the importance of being born again and knowing about God while ignoring or evading the need to wholeheartedly live for God. He renders meaningless the language of Christianity by proclaiming to believe it in principle while contradicting it in practice. (Note: Matthew 16:24-27; I John 4:7-8,20-21; Isaiah 58)
Are you convinced that pride, selfishness, and sin are inseparably linked? Are you convinced that pride driven selfishness brings destruction into your life and unnecessary suffering into the lives of all who are affected by your prideful and selfish choices and behavior? Do you know that God, through His Word and by His power, will teach you, strengthen you, and enable you to live a love-controlled life? If you have not made the deliberate choice to forsake pride and selfishness, I urge you to do it now. Then, take the necessary steps to give life to your choice.