Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Is there anything wrong with being a self-centred person? Some learned psychologists say that the ego is the centre of the personality.
Now, I don’t know enough on this topic to agree or disagree. But I do know that self-centredness is rife in our society. The number one theme is “take care of yourself” and many books that are available to buy push this theme.
One book is called Pulling Your Own Strings, by Dr Wayne Dyer. He says “If you are not pulling the strings, then you are being manipulated by someone or something else.” He’s trying to help people be more assertive and stand up for their own rights. That’s OK up to a point.
Then there’s Helen Lester’s children’s book Me First, about a pig named Pinkerton who is very pushy, always wanting to be first, ahead of other little pigs. But one day he learns a lesson that it’s not always good to pushing ahead of others.
And then there was a cartoon about a man who looked very sick with his doctor. The doctor was taking his pulse and shook his head: “You’re in a bad way – you’re allergic to yourself”. Yes, he was in conflict with himself.
Thinking about others first
Isn’t there another way of living and thinking about ourselves?
Yes, there is, and the Bible says something quite extraordinary in the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:39: “If you want to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it”.
It goes against so much of our current thinking that we must place ourselves first. That’s why Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves”.
I’m part of what is commonly called the “baby-boomer generation”. Articles have been written about us, much of which is not complimentary, with authors saying we are the most selfish generation of all time. I don’t know if that’s true or not – I hope it’s not! But for generations, people have been putting themselves first, or pushing and shoving for top positions.
Let me give you a simple example. Back in the 19th century, stage coaches in America had three grades of ticket. A first-class ticket on a stage coach entitled the owner to remain in it no matter what. A second-class ticket meant that if difficulty arose you had to get out and walk beside the coach until the situation was resolved. But if you weren’t too well-off and purchased a third-class ticket, it meant you were called on yourself to solve whatever difficulty came up – whether it meant getting down in the mud or pushing the coach up a hill. So, you can imagine everyone wanted the first-class ticket. Striving for the highest seat or the best ticket is a passion that has been with us for a long, long time.
But the Bible reminds me that the happiest people are those who have a higher goal in life, to serve and please God, because the human personality was designed to have Jesus Christ at the centre. That’s why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. In Him we discover abundant life, that is personally rewarding and offers eternal life when we die.
Let’s become other-centred rather than self-centred.
The more you give your life away
During a time of combat, a young soldier asked his commanding officer if he could rescue one of his comrades who was severely wounded. The officer narrowed his eyes and stood a while in thought, and then said, “I’ll give you permission, but it’s not worth it. Your friend is probably dead, and you’ll be putting your own life at risk.”
Feeling the responsibility for his friend, the young soldier saluted and then proceeded on his way, dodging bullets as he ran, and managing to get to his friend. He hoisted him over his shoulder, and quickly brought him back to the trench. The officer inspected the wounded soldier and then shook his head with grief. “Your friend’s dead.” He looked at the young man and saw a red spot on his shirt and added, “And you’re wounded. I told you it wouldn’t be worth it.”
The young soldier looked into his officer’s eyes with confidence and answered, “It was worth it, Sir.”
“What do you mean worth it? You’re wounded and it was all for nothing.”
“No, Sir. It was worth it because when I knelt down beside him he said to me, ‘I knew you’d come.’”
The more you give your life away, the more you find it. Again, it is one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith that has proven to be true with the test of time. The more unselfish you become, the more joyful you will be. Jesus could not be more emphatic or clear about this point.
Time and again he ended his parables with words such as: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted,” and “The last will be first and the first will be last.”
Self-centredness distances us from God
We must consider that being self-centred will take us away from God. It is easy to fall into thinking about ourselves. We must break the cycle of selfishness because the benefits are far outweighed. We were born with selfish tendencies, but we have to yield ourselves to God to overcome them. He wants us to get out of that behaviour.
Paul acknowledged this key to joyful living in that letter about joy to the Philippians. In chapter four he wrote:
“Dear brothers and sisters, I love you and long to see you, for you are my joy and the reward for my work.”
In other words, the joy he found in his life’s work was in the people whom he served and helped. The epitome of Jesus’ teaching on this key to joyful living is found in his words from the 15th chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus says: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (verses 12-13).
Jesus modeled this very way of selfless living – and dying for us.