Sunday, June 05, 2022

In Service of Self

Self-centered = pre-occupied with one’s own well being and comfort.

What is the difference between being a selfish person and being a self-centered one? If you think about it, a person may give of his wealth freely, and see himself (and be regarded by others) as generous and unselfish. Yet for all his lavish giving to worthy causes, the real reason for his beneficence can be self-centered, motivated more by how others will see him than by the needs of those helped by his charity — his own image rather than the impoverished condition of the needy.

Big corporations often engage in this kind of duplicity on a grand scale; it is a “virtuous” way to keep name and products before the public.

Less-Obvious Self-Centeredness

Christians may be self-centered in other ways which are not so easily identified: by not participating in activities which expose them to the public. They do not want to be praised, criticized or made vulnerable in any way, so they remain silent observers in whatever is going on. Their friends may speak of them as being shy while they consider themselves wise to not get too involved; it can be too costly to whatever image they have of themselves. Are they selfish? No. Are they self-centered? Yes.

If you want to estimate in how many ways it is possible to be self-centered just open a good dictionary under “self” followed by a hyphen. In mine there are pages of entries running from self-abandonment to self-worth. A few, such as self-discipline, are to be cultivated by every believer. It is not possible to be godly without employing that exercise. But the majority of entries describe unacceptable ways in which we can be self-centered.

From Infirm to Transformed

I once heard a sermon based on Luke 13:11, the woman who had a spirit of infirmity and could in “no way raise herself up”. For eighteen years of her life she had been subject to this oppression. The preacher made the point that, being bent double, she could only see herself and her life was tragically limited by it.

We will not have a personal physical encounter with the Lord Jesus as that woman did and was immediately made straight; not until we meet him face to face will we be totally free from self-centeredness, a carryover of our past life. God intends for us to increase daily in knowledge of him until our transformation is completed and we are privileged to “see him as he is” at his coming. For now, our enjoyment of freedom from any bondage depends on how much we meditate on the Word designed to bring Christ increasingly into our line of vision, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”.

The Fear of Man

Scripture speaks of the fear of man as “a snare”. Think of our interaction with the lost. The lengths to which we go to win their approval, or at least their tolerance, may reveal how much self-centeredness influences the desire we have to share the good news with them. How much are we willing to bear reproach in the cause of Christ? Our Adamic nature is so self-centered, finding it is less threatening to remain silent even though we know we should speak on the Lord’s behalf; showing we love the praise of men rather than the praise of God.

But self-centeredness will also intrude when we are with other Christians. Why does that young woman not take her turn in the women’s prayer circle? And why does that young man not participate vocally during the breaking of bread? And why are some older believers so reluctant to fulfill Malachi 3:16? Each will have their own reasons; they do not have to answer to me. Some may have formerly belonged to churches where such freedom was not encouraged, but it is time for them shake off the dust of the past and enter into the kind of freedom and joy that will eventually characterize Israel, for “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” That is truth for us to know here and now.

Refocusing on Christ

Those who are nervous sometimes need to be refocused, to become more Christ-centered, occupied with what gives him pleasure rather than what they choose as their comfort zone. “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

The Lord Jesus has done enough to free you from all bondage to self-centeredness. How will you respond?

— Colin Anderson, “Self-Centered Christians?”, February 2016

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