Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Mum was preparing some delicious pancakes for her two sons Kevin, aged five, and Ryan who was three. But as the cooking proceeded, the boys started to argue over who would get the first pancake.
Mum saw her opportunity to give an important lesson: If Jesus was sitting here today, he would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.” Kevin turned to his young brother and said, Ryan—you be Jesus.
A simple illustration I know—but it shows me how ingrained selfishness is in our thinking and behaving. I think the root of every problem we face is selfishness—wanting our own way; spending too much time thinking about what we want or the things we’d like to have.
It was Pope John Paul II who once said, “The great danger for family life—in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort, and independence—lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.” And he was right! Look at the consequences within family life and marriage.
Selfishness is the root of many problems
Yes, selfishness is usually the root of all problems within marriage and family life, and in other close relationships. Selfishness ruins lives and destroys marriages. We act selfishly when we spent too much time thinking over what we want.
When a person is selfish, they are only caring about their own needs, wants, and desires. The person is focused on self-giving and is only concerned about himself or herself. The American social reformer Henry Ward Beecher said: “Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others, and no one is without himself.”
So often we look at selfishness as a problem that someone else may have. Never do we take a glimpse of it being a problem with ourselves. Everyone can be selfish—with this quote, Beecher not only acknowledges that being selfish is a vice. But he states that it is a vice that everyone is burdened with.
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“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4 – NRSV
You can be so preoccupied with your own interests or problems that you are oblivious to other people’s needs, desires and feelings. Or you can be so absorbed in your own insecurities and doubts—so aware of your own imperfections and deficiencies—that you stay cloistered up and don’t really give of yourself to others.
In one of the classic episodes of TV show Seinfeld, George and Jerry are sitting at their favourite coffee shop Dinky’s Donuts, talking about life’s challenges. George is lamenting because of a situation he and his fiancée, Susan, find themselves in. She wants to know his PIN number for his ATM card—the only thing George has left all to himself. To share the number with her would be to surrender everything he has to her. He wants to conceal it from her as his one last shred of independence.
Frustrated, he whines to Jerry, “Why does everything have to be ‘us’? Is there no ‘me’ left? Why can’t there be some things just for me?” And then he wonders, almost without thinking, “Is that so selfish?” Without missing a beat, Jerry chides in, “Actually, George, I think that’s the definition of selfish.”
The series was a big hit around the world. Why? Because it showed very clearly how selfish each of the characters were. It really shows up me and you, if we were really honest.
Consider others’ interests—not only your own
Paul wrote to the church at Philippi—and his message still speaks to us today:
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4, NRSV).
He was talking about personal gain—selfishness and conceit. In fact, the great apostle and follower of Jesus was saying in verse 4: Listen. You are not the most important person in the world. It’s other people—not you. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves.
Why did he say that? The following verses explain it: Think the same way that Christ Jesus thought. He gave up everything and became a slave. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. (verses 5-7).
Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow Me” (Luke’s gospel).