Thursday’s Column: Carl’s Corner
Self-denial is tough. Yet, for us to be obedient to God, we must lay our will to the side in order to pick up God’s Will for us (Luke 9.23). But God is not the only One deserving our consideration in this matter. Sometimes, a Christian’s self-denial requires acquiescing to his or her fellow man (Philippians 2.4).
You’ve likely watched the news about young people insisting that they have their spring break despite admonitions to provide for “social distancing” from the threat of the novel coronavirus. When interviewed, these young people said things such as, “I had been waiting for this for two months and wasn’t going to give this up/lose my money.” With youth, we realize that there is a certain feeling of invincibility. More than one spring breaker stated that he or she felt that the entire threat was being overblown. One fellow, however, stated his feelings thusly: “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” 1 Fortunately, Governor DeSantis stepped in to bring an end to this partying. 2 Even so, the consequences may be irreversible.
I’ve heard the statistics. Yes, they do seem to be on the side of young people (i.e. lower death rates). 3 Even so, it is not a matter of the welfare of these revelers. The CDC guidelines are intended to ensure that fewer people contract the virus, especially those at higher risk. By selfishly engaging in risky behavior (beyond that of the typical spring break fare), these young people put themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19. When they return home, they may pass the virus on to an elderly grandparent, despite not showing any symptoms. 4 Suddenly, that spring break that they insisted on partaking of becomes someone else’s problem, a potentially life-threatening problem.
That’s easy to see, isn’t it? But what of other situations where our refusal to humble ourselves and cede our way to another creates other unintended circumstances? For example, Paul says that if the stronger brother doesn’t bear with the weaknesses of the weak, he is just seeking to please himself (Romans 15.1ff). Paul immediately follows this up by saying that even Christ did not please Himself (Romans 15.3)! Here is the Son of God, Whom Paul said thought it not robbery to be equal to God (Philippians 2.6). (John more plainly states that He is God—John 1.1.) Despite this truth, God decided for the sake of those “made lower than the angels” that His Son would taste death for the greater need of His creation (Hebrews 2.5-9).
Sadly, the flesh wants what it wants. This blinds us to the greater needs of others. When we act selfishly, we are not being like Him Who is our example (Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Peter 2.21). This is why I said at the outset that self-denial is tough. In perilous times, as well as during the good, we may find ourselves asking the Lord to increase our lacking faith. Let us strive to determine to do things not solely based upon its impact or cost to us, but the impact our course of action has upon others. That makes sense not just in pandemics, but when you strive to be a mature member of God’s Family on earth.
1 “US students party on spring break despite coronavirus.” BBC News, BBC, 20 Mar. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-51955362/us-students-party-on-spring-break-despite-coronavirus.
2 Elizabeth-Matamoros. “’The Party Is Over’: Florida Governor Shuts Down Beachgoers.” Washington Free Beacon, Washington Free Beacon, 19 Mar. 2020, freebeacon.com/issues/the-party-is-over-florida-governor-shuts-down-spring-break/?fbclid=IwAR1VNde4flHCtg3dzFvLH4ePKHGTkPYoAo_HNxG2gCNxpOv2B1a1EidzD1Q.
3 Belluck, Pam. “Younger Adults Comprise Big Portion of Coronavirus Hospitalizations in U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-young-people.html.
4 Salo, Jackie. “Ex-CDC Head Tom Frieden Says Kids May Be Secret Coronavirus Carriers.” New York Post, New York Post, 3 Mar. 2020, nypost.com/2020/03/02/ex-cdc-head-tom-frieden-says-kids-may-be-secret-coronavirus-carriers/.
(NOTE: Carl is pretty sick today and getting tested in Huntsville–please pray for him. I’m filling in for him on the blog today)
My good friend, the late Bill Snell, enjoyed telling a story about a preacher who was staying for several days with a brother in Christ, his wife, and their little 5-year-old son. Every morning, the woman of the house made a hot breakfast that included the flakiest, fluffiest biscuits he had ever tasted. Each morning, the little boy would get to the table before the preacher. As the preacher sat down to eat, the little boy would touch the top of all the biscuits and say, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….” Finally, the preacher was fed up enough to get to the table just before the boy. As the boy sat down, the preacher touched the top of all the biscuits and said, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….” The little boy smiled impishly, licked the palms of his hands, and said, as he touched the top of each biscuit, “Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours….”
Selfishness may seem childish, but it is not just a problem for children, is it? Too often, we allow others to provoke us into childish actions. We lower ourselves to their level, but we come out looking just like them. In the book of Philippians are several, well-known statements warning against the follow and hurtfulness of selfishness. Paul writes that some preached out of selfish ambition (1:17). He further says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (2:3). Some “seek after their own interests” (2:21).
James warned, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (3:14-17).
However cute you did or did not think that little boy was, selfishness is anything but adorable. It is evil and chaos. It is arrogant and dishonest. May we ever strive toward a spiritual maturity that does away with this sort of behavior.
What do high cliff ledges, train tracks, animal game parks, bridges and buildings have in common? They are apparently popular sites for people to take selfies, and places, among others, where over 200 people have died in the last 5 years in pursuit of that “perfect selfie.” The Economic Times of India, a country leading the world in deaths by selfies, reports that 86 people in 2016 and 73 people in 2017 died in this tragic, needless way. Since 2014, 128 have died in the course of taking selfies in this densely populated nation. But other countries are getting involved in trying to stem the tide of such tragedies. Irish doctors reported, “The consequences of poorer spatial awareness and a focus on getting a good or daring photo has lead to multiple traumas” (Indulekha Aravind, 2/18/18). There are people in Russia that have become celebrities because of their daring self-centered photos (ibid.). Nowhere social media has gone is there an exemption from this trend, including here in our country.
Because I do not have a background in psychology, I freely admit I could be wrong about this. But, could these extraordinary lengths to capture oneself in these kinds of photos be an act of desperation for acceptance, friendship, or even love? Could the yearning for admiration, congratulations, and adulation drive people to disregard all restraint and precaution? I’m not sure I know the answer to that.
I do know that, as Henry David Thoreau said in 1854, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Walden, ch. 1, p. 8). Perhaps these daring selfies are a symptom of that sensible observation. With selfies, we are able to project exactly the image or perception of ourselves that we want others to see of us. We don’t publish the unflattering nor do we want to show the boring. We want to be seen as valuable, relevant, and attractive. Why? Though we might lose our way in the process, human nature is to desire community and relationship (cf. Gen. 2:24). There are a great many destructive ways to do that, and being self-obsessed is certainly harmful.
It’s very interesting that God planned the church from eternity (Eph. 3:9-11) as a place and a way for us to focus on others. Paul wrote, “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” (Phil. 2:3-4). So much about being Jesus’ disciples gets us outside ourselves and into the lives of others—not just other Christians but people from every walk of life outside of Christ. He wants our energy, effort, and focus to be turned outward. It’s not so much about projection, but about service. Through that, God will be glorified and others can be satisfied. It seems that such is why God has us here!
Sometimes a person wants so desperately to do something that they rationalize their decision to do so by crediting God with “sending a sign” or by concluding that “it’s meant to be.” In an age where God communicates to man, neither by voice nor directly through His Spirit but by His Word, this can prove dangerous thinking. The dilemma often is when we pray for something having multiple choices or outcomes, and then we have to make a decision. Most of us have been in this position. We want God’s will to be done, and we cannot be 100% sure we did the right or best thing at the time.
The danger comes in confusing our own will with God’s will. We can be certain that we are making the wrong decision if what we seek to do is blatantly unwise or clearly in violation of what Scripture says. Congregations have claimed Spirit-guidance for unauthorized changes in worship or their women’s roles within the church, and they have even claimed feeling God’s working among them or receiving a sign indicating God led them to such innovation. Men and women have dissolved their marriages, having blamed God for the move by saying they felt, or were even led to the conclusion, that such a move (and subsequent involvement in a new relationship) was His will. This simply cannot stand the test of scrutiny.
A famous example of the folly of such thinking comes from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In 1938-39, Hitler brilliantly and bloodlessly divided his enemies through economic and political strategy. On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s troops occupied Poland and took it over. Incidentally, that day was the anniversary of one of their biggest military victories. On September 1, 1870, they overran Sedan in a day of war and strategy that long stood as a symbol of Germany’s military might. Throughout Germany, the populous lined up behind Hitler, optimistically concluding that a new world order led by Germany–no matter how achieved–“was meant to be.” Hindsight now shows how mistaken a notion this was. On May 2, 1945, Hitler committed suicide. the next day at 2:41 A.M. in a Reims’ schoolhouse, General Gustav Jody signed Germany’s unconditional surrender…five years, eight months, and two days after the occupation of Poland. Of course, world supremacy by a country led by a murderous madman was not “meant to be” nor was it “divine guidance.” Yet, many Germans in the late ’30s and early ’40’s thought so (For more information, follow this link.
Let us be careful not to confuse what we want with what God wants. May we never transpose selfish desires with divine guidance. Otherwise, we may stand to lose more than our nation and freedom (cf. Prov. 14:12). By shaping our mind and hearts through faithful, unprejudiced Bible study and constant prayer, we will be in a better position to recognize–when faced with tough choices–which one better glorifies God and achieves His purpose in this world.
His coach, Jay Wright, and teammates expected and wanted him to take the last shot in the 2016 NCAA basketball championship game. The senior point guard had intentions of doing so, too, but at almost the literal last second he turned and delivered a short pass to Junior Kris Jenkins who sank a three-pointer just before the final buzzer. It was the game-winning shot, lifting Villanova over North Carolina for the Pennsylvania school’s first championship since their legendary victory in 1985. Ryan Arcidiacono, who grew up 20 miles from campus and constantly dreamed of hitting a game-winning shot for the championship, will be remembered, as much as Jenkins, for delivering one of the most exciting games in college basketball history—Jenkins for his beautiful shot and Arcidiacono for his unselfish pass.
For those who know coach Wright’s philosophy, this turn of events is absolutely no surprise. Google “Jay Wright unselfish” and a multitude of articles come up talking about how the coach drills the idea of putting everybody else above yourself from the time kids enter his program. Players earn his trust and confidence by proving themselves converts to his selfless style of play. It is heartwarming to see such values being instilled in impressionable young people.
The local church must adopt the philosophy of its leader, Christ. He modeled it (Ph. 2:5-11) and mandated His followers do the same (Ph. 2:3-4). An atmosphere of unselfishness cultivates spiritual and numerical growth, just as selfishness inhibits such growth. Selfless service is most often bypassed by the world, though most deeply appreciate seeing demonstrations of it. Deference to others is a mark of distinctiveness that must be found in disciples. The better we do this, the brighter the light of Christ can shine through us!
“It’s all about me.” I would see that saying on a car tag frame nearly every day. Is that really the message we need? Aren’t we self-centered enough, as it is? Truly, the man who lives only for himself runs a very small business. What a bankrupt business it is, at that.
According to the Bible, it’s hardly about the individual at all. In fact, the Lord makes a strong point of it to call our attention to others. Paul says, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). “Selfish ambition” is condemned in Scripture (Phil. 1:17; Gal. 5:20). In fact, James says, “For where envying and strife (literally, “selfish ambition”) is, there is confusion and every evil work” (Js. 3:17).
That is both provable and measurable. Abortion is a horrid, evil practice–the most literal way one could shed innocent blood (cf. Prov. 6:17). What is at the heart of the commission of every such abomination–whether one pleads inconvenience or hardship or any other reason given? Self-interest is. Selfishness is putting self above others, in this case taking another human life to protect selfish interest.
Adultery is a contemptible crime, ripping families apart and giving what may be the most intimate heartbreak a human is capable of experiencing. What compels someone to lie to God and others (breaking vows and covering indiscretions)? What drives one to fill physical and emotional wants in ways that fly in the face of God’s written will? Selfishness does! For that matter, selfishness drives every sexual sin, every departure from God’s design and structure for sexual needs and fulfillment (cf. pornography, homosexuality, fornication, etc.).
Every New Testament writer roundly renounces false teaching (Matthew–7:15; Mark–13:22; Luke–Acts 13:6; Paul–Galatians 2:4; Peter–2 Peter 2:1; John–1 John 4:1; Jude–Jude 4ff; James–2:14ff). Untold millions of people will lose their souls because of false doctrine. Hell will be populated with followers of false teachers (cf. Mat. 7:21-23) and the teachers themselves (cf. Jas. 3:1). The New Testament gives insight into some common motivations that drive men and women to teach false doctrine. The motives are so often selfish. Jude says of them, “Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (11). Greediness propels fold to “practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:19). What is the problem? Often, it is unmixed, shameless selfishness.
I will never make it to heaven if my attitude is that “it’s all about me.” It is not all about me. It is all about Him. It is about Jesus–serving Him, obeying Him, and imitating Him. It is about the lost–loving them, teaching them, and winning them. It is about the church–helping it, strengthening it, and supporting it. Selfishness is unattractive, but common. Remember, the one who lives for self alone usually dies the same way.
There are surely more contrasts along these lines, but consider this regarding them all. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b). Much of this is a matter of selfishness or unselfishness. As unappealing as the prospect is, each of us does well to look closer at which we are. We may grab a temporary spotlight, get a short-term advantage, or have the fleeting praise of men, even while taking, but the Lord’s view is different. He says of takers, “They have their reward in full” (Mat. 6:2,5,16). How much better to give (cf. Lk. 6:38)!