Thursday, September 13, 2012

Selfishness verses Selflessness

"For all seek their own, not the things which are Yeshua ha Mashiyach's." 
Philippians 2:21                                                  (Jesus Christ's)
(Some thoughts a Brother in Christ shared:)
 Most folks are accustomed to the idea that if you're not being obnoxiously selfish then you are ok. A person who habitually puts his or her interests first, without any regard for the inconvenience (or calamity) they may bring upon others, is generally classified as selfish.
However, such a definition of selfishness is far from satisfactory from a Scriptural point of view. The Word of God calls us, not to passive indifference, but to active selfless service.  According to the message of the New Testament, it is not enough to merely avoid overfly living for ourselves at the expense of others. Instead it can be stated that those who are not laying down their lives in devotion to God, & in service to others, are guilty of “seeking their own.” This type of selfishness mostly goes unnoticed though because we have been raised up in such a “me generation” society. So, rather than spending time on the obvious examples of self-centeredness, let us call attention to subtle ways in which people are being selfish, living unto themselves.
   Not uncommonly we hear people who profess Christianity justify something they do, or desire to do, with the statement, “I don’t see anything wrong with that.” Often this is due to failure to take the Scriptures  seriously; they enjoy their sin & will not be deterred by a few Biblical passages. Sometimes, however it is true that the particular action they are referring to, in & of itself, is not necessarily wrong. The problem is that their lives, even in the best examples, consist almost exclusively of things that “aren’t necessarily wrong,” in & of themselves. There is nothing blatantly contrary to Scripture about living in a house, working with your hands, taking a trip to another state, learning about a particular subject, enjoying music, passing the time with certain types of hobbies, or keeping company with like minded people. The goal, the very target of Evangelical Church folk is to have a life made up of such things. Nevertheless if your life consists of little more than this, it isn’t much of a Christian testimony. When the best that a believer can say about his life is merely that the vast majority of his time is taken up in activities that “aren’t necessarily wrong,” he is exhibiting a prime example of what the Scriptures call being “lukewarm” toward Y’shua (Jesus).  (See Revelations 3:15-16)
Nowhere in the New Testament are we taught that Christian life consists of doing whatever we want as long as it is not violently contrary to the Scriptures. The primary focus of a true follower of Y’shua is not about answering the question, “Is what I wish to do necessarily wrong?” Rather it is about answering the question, “Is what I wish to do something that God delights in?” The Holy Scripture makes clear the sorts of things in which our heavenly Father delights (e.g.: purity, kindness, study of the Scriptures, prayer, sharing our faith, service, etc.). The actual goal & target of a Christian is to have ones life consist largely of these types of things.
    In Matthew 11, some disciples of John the Baptist came with a message from John, essentially asking if Y’shua was the Messiah. Instead of just saying, “ Yes, that’s me,” which anyone could have done, Y’shua pointed out that he was doing things that to those who knew the Scriptures would identify him clearly to be Mashiyach (the Messiah, referring to Isaiah 35:3-6 & Isaiah 61:11 ). He then added, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” Matthew11:6
   It would be an understatement to say that many people were offended at Y’shua, but we tend to forget this fact. After nearly 2,000 years, being trained by society to picture a Christ who is something like Mr. Rogers, it is easy to miss that Y’shua was “despised & rejected”, & eventually killed for what he taught. (See Isaiah 53) Multitudes came to be healed by him & to hear him; but in the bitter end, before the resurrection, only a small number counted themselves as his disciples. Apparently then, most people were offended at Y’shua, for some reason or another.
   Few would have been offended at the Messiah if he had come preaching only that we need change some of our beliefs, spend a few hours of the week differently from what we are accustomed to, & abstain from obvious vices, such as intoxication, brawling, or cheating on one’s spouse. Religions of the world, whether Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or otherwise are content to require little more than these types of things. A quiet, normal life of religious complacency would have suited people just fine, as  it has since time immemorial. But Y’shua’s words came smashing into people’s worlds with something new & radical, & this was offensive. He called upon people to go way beyond the complacent norms of society, & live out selfless devotion. Y’shua spoke hard sayings: about denying ourselves & taking up the cross to follow him, about dying to ourselves, about selling out & leaving all behind, about suffering wrong without fighting back, obeying his commandments even if it means losing our own families. The Messiah claimed authority as Master & Lord (Luke6:46 & John13:13) .  He taught that we should, indeed must, be willing to confess him before men, to bear affliction & persecution for him, & even to die for his sake (Mark 13:9-13).
   In short, Y’shuas message & call upon us is to give up our lives in service to our Creator (Matthew 16:24-25). As the Apostle Paul put it, we are to offer up our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Romans12:1).  To become a Christian means to no longer live unto one’s self, but unto Mashiyach (the Messiah). (2Corinthians5:15)  He is telling us not to merely make a few alterations in our schedule & beliefs, but to totally & radically change virtually everything about our life; & become “new creatures” (2Corinthians 5:17) 
   In this light suddenly “not necessarily wrong” lifestyle is exposed as, in fact, all wrong. It is a life inherently & thoroughly selfish. The parable Y’shua spoke in Luke 12:16-27 illustrates this point clearly. Here we have a man who worked long & hard & received abundantly for his labor. Y’shua did not say that man was dishonest. He made no mention of him keeping wages back from any workers. From society’s view, it would be very difficult to point out anything he had done that was “necessarily wrong”. Yet, God was greatly displeased with him, & the reason is that all his work was for himself. The modern version of this parable is known as the “American Ideal”, a life centered around career & possessions. It is the very epitome of living unto one’s self: planning & working & saving & investing, with the goal of obtaining things for self. Though considered so normal, even admirable, through the lens of Y’shua’s message it is seen as selfishness, pure & simple. The New Testament message is about giving; the American Ideal is about getting. Y’shua taught self-denial, self-sacrifice, for the good of others. The American Ideal stresses self-preservation. The New Testament calls us to live by faith in an invisible Provider/the American Ideal exhorts rather to depend on visible securities such as material assets & armed defenses. The Christian life is about seeking first the kingdom of God, being willing to suffer affliction, & be content even when experiencing necessities (See 2Corinthians 6:4 ; 12:10). The American Ideal as prompted by it’s Evangelical Church world, advocates spending large amounts of time pursuing comforts & pleasures for self, And while the early Christians strove to perfect holiness in the fear of God, (2Corinthians 7:1) modern believers often justify their lives by saying that the things they do, even in their most optimistic opinions are merely “not necessarily wrong”.
   To those content to live a typical complacent life of self-preservation, Y’shua’s message has always been greatly offensive. It threatens their entire world-it’s too scary, too precarious, too radical & requires too much of them. This is precisely what happened to the young rich ruler. (See Mark 10:17-21 ; Luke 18:18-23).  Rather than letting his life fall on the Rock of Y’shua & be broken (Matthew 21:44) his self preservation prevailed upon his heart to become offended. He concluded that the cost of discipleship was too high. Many others have come to this conclusion; & this trend continues even today. Although many are willing to make some changes in their life for the sake of their faith, most are not in any way planning to lay down their lives, goals, plans, & careers in order to commit themselves to selfless, Christ-like service & devotion to God. Instead they are busy charting out their course of society’s normal, typical, predictable, secure, lukewarm, selfish lifestyle. To them a selfless Gospel like the one Y’shua preached is simply offensive.
   Consider two outstanding examples in the New Testament, the Apostles Peter & Paul.(Other non-Apostolic examples could be sited such as Timothy, or Titus, but these two Apostles will serve the purpose. ) Neither was content with a quiet complacent life, one considered normal by society’s standards. Instead they gave their lives to carry the Gospel to the world-they were both determined to live for others. Indeed this was what first century Christianity was all about. “by love serve one another” (Galations5:13)  “ I will gladly spend & be spent for you”(2Corinthians 12:15)  “neither count I my life dear unto myself, that I might finish my course with joy, & the ministry which I have received of the Lord Y’shua to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) And it’s a good thing of course that they were willing to live for others rather than live a quiet life for themselves, or else we may never had heard about the Gospel today.
    It is by understanding this message of selflessness that we can grasp the meaning of the New Testament exhortations: to prefer one another, (Romans 12:10) to esteem others better than ourselves, (Philippians 2:3) & to take the lower seat (Luke 14:10-11) Y’shua himself did not come to be served, but to serve & to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew10:28) Paul echoes this by saying he had made himself servant to all. (1Corinthians 9:19) His reason for this, he stated, was to win others to Y’shua. Paul’s focus, & the focus of the first century Christians in general was not on merely avoiding actions that are “necessarily wrong” but on dedicating one’s life for the salvation of others, & to be able to help as many souls as possible. When believers fail to see themselves as servants both to God, & to all people, they tend to hold themselves more highly in importance; & this produces little besides selfish attitudes & actions. Something often associated with placing importance on ones self is putting great emphasis on being treated fairly. This manifests itself as: being quick to anger, a consistent demand for respect, & continual efforts to defend our own reputation, & to seek retribution when wronged.  If such statements surprise you, they should not. The concern of God’s people in the New Testament is not about “what is fair for me,” but rather, what is charitable & holy, & what makes for a truly Christian testimony. In the last 11 verses of Matthew 5 Y’shua makes this point clear. Now it is certainly true that Christians are not suppose to do wrong to others; but how should a Christian respond when he is wronged? Are we to demand fair retribution?
In 1Corinthians 6, Paul answers this question. Apparently some in the church had wronged their brethren; & those defrauded had reacted by taking them to court. This was “utterly a fault,” something horribly wrong that these brothers did not just bear & forgive. “Why do ye rather not take wrong?” Paul asks, “Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” Y’shua gave us an example of taking wrong patiently & charitably (Luke 23:34; 1Peter2:19-23). Stephan followed faithfully in his Master’s steps (Acts7:59-60). Many would do well to remember more often the Scripture that tells us to not take heed unto all words spoken (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22) It is easier to be of this longsuffering attitude when we are not holding ourselves in great importance. There is to be sure a time & place to “warn the unruly”  1Thesalonians 5:14) , & instruct with meekness those who are erring. James 5:19-20). However, our reason for acting must spring from charity, out of a desire to restore someone in need (Galatians 6:1), it should not be out of merely wanting to defend ourselves.
   When self is on the throne, trifling matters best left ignored become grounds for offense, & even anger & bitterness. “My opinion” becomes more important, “my way” is assured the best way, “my questions” are regarded as the ones needed to be answered first, & “my problems” are the most pressing. Meanwhile, it becomes difficult to see anything as “my fault”. When several people harbor attitudes, arguing & resentment are virtually inevitable. Further in this selfish frame of mind, it is easier to be offended at instruction & reproof than to receive them. It is with meekness that one receives the saving word (James 1:21) ; & meekness is not a characteristic of self-centeredness.
   Selfishness is as well present in all desire for vain glory, which can quickly lead to envy & strife (See Galatians 5:26). It brings one to thinking much about self, talking about self, & being concerned about the needs of self rather than “…looking on the needs of others” (Philippians 2:4). Each of us of course has needs & our Father wants us to ask Him for good things (Matthew 7:11).  However, when prayer time becomes little more than presenting a wish list of items for self, it can hardly be denied that selfishness is involved.
   The holy, upright love of God in a Christians heart is something that leads away from seeking ones own  (1Corinthians 13:6). Charity is never selfish; it is too concerned about others to place much importance on self. Selfishness is not upright, in fact it is at the base of virtually all manner of sin. Paul was aware of this connection; in 2Timothy 3, he refers to those who are “lovers of their own selves,” & lists numerous awful things that are associated with that. Few have pointed out the connection between womanizing & selfishness; but once considered, the association is inescapable. Pursuing ones desires without any thought whatsoever for its affect on others. Similar statements can be made about theft & other forms of dishonesty, as well as covetousness, murder, & many other sins.
   Everyone who chooses the world over service to God is being selfish, particularly those who leave God & His people, to return to the world as Demas did in 2 Timothy4:10. The result is universally the same: serving sin, being a hindrance & stumbling block to those who are trying to follow Y’shua & troubling others in various ways when they should be seeking to help. It is always for nothing else than seeking temporal pleasures for self.
   So we can see that merely abstaining from certain things that are obviously contrary to the Scriptures is not enough. Rather, a complete definition of selflessness manifests that if we are not actively being selfless—giving our life in service to Y’shua & for the good of others—then we are being selfish. If the best justification that can be offered for nearly all of the activities in one’s life is, “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” such a life can be classified as thinly veiled selfishness. It is an attitude that seeks first its own will, not the attitude of asking what will please God the most.
   Are you willing to lay down your whole life for the sake of others?

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