Love seeks not her own: is not selfish; does not insist upon its own rights. Love is not focused upon who one is nor upon what one has done. Love seeks to serve, not have others serving oneself. Love is acknowledging others, not insisting that others acknowledge oneself; it is giving to others, not insisting that others give to oneself.
“It is easy to tell the size of a man by the size of what it takes to upset him.” A small person gets upset over anything and everything. We need to be bigger people than that. We should overlook small problems and save our energy for the big ones!
People who are self-seeking always want their own way. They are selfish, self-centered, wanting what they think is best for them. This is the opposite of love. Love (agape) looks out for others, seeks their best interests, willingly gives up its own for the sake of another. A self-seeking person may use his or her gifts but not with a serving attitude or a desire to build the kingdom. Instead, the gifts are only used if they can somehow benefit the self-seeking person. This is not God’s way. Instead, because of love, the believers use their gifts to benefit others first, without “self” or selfish desires getting in the way.
In the last analysis, there are in this world only two kinds of people-those who always insist upon their privileges and those who always remember their responsibilities; those who are always thinking of what life owes them and those who never forget what they owe to life. It would be the key to almost all the problems which surround us today if men would think less of their rights and more of their duties. Whenever we start thinking about “our place”, we are drifting away from Christian love.
I understand that the inscription on a tombstone in a small English village reads, Here lies a miser who lived for himself, and cared for nothing but gathering wealth. Now where he is or how he fares, nobody knows and nobody cares.
In contrast, a plain tombstone in the courtyard at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London reads, “Sacred to the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.”
Love does not seek its own. Here is probably the key to everything. The root evil of fallen human flesh is in wanting to have its own way.
Lenski said, “Cure selfishness and you have just replanted the garden of Eden.” Adam and Eve rejected God’s way so that they could have their own. Self replaced God. That is the opposite of righteousness and the opposite of love. Love is not preoccupied with its own things but with the interests of others.
Again, the Corinthian believers were models of what loving Christians should not be. They were selfish in the extreme. They did not share their food at love feasts, they protected their rights to the point of suing fellow believers in pagan law courts, and they wanted what they thought were the “best” spiritual gifts for themselves. Instead of using spiritual gifts for the benefit of others, they tried to use them to their own advantage.
Paul therefore tells them, “Since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church” (14:12). They did not use their gifts to build up the church but to try to build up themselves.
The Corinthians are completely self-absorbed. They measure themselves by their gifts and ministries and do not think of themselves as a part of the body of Christ. They have marvelous “self-esteem,” but they disdain Paul and the other apostles (see chapter 4). They are so self-centered they are willing to demand the freedom to practice their alleged liberties, even if it destroys a weaker brother (chapter 8). They assert themselves in the church meeting with little or no regard for others and for edification.
The church of our day is hardly different. The word “self” is found often on the lips of professing Christians. Love is a matter of prioritizing. I am to love God above any and all others; He has first priority. I am to love my wife above all mankind, just as Christ has set His love on His church. I am to love my neighbor and even my enemy. That is, I am to put the interests of others above my own (see Philippians 2:1-8). If I love myself first, I cannot love my neighbor, because loving my neighbor means putting him first. I am to love my neighbor as myself; that is, I am to love my neighbor in the same ways I find it natural to love myself (see Ephesians 5:28-30).
Some Christians see self-love for what it is, but there are other forms of self-absorption, and some people are self-centered in other ways. Some put themselves first by continually leveling blame or guilt toward themselves, rather than accepting and appropriating God’s forgiving grace. Others wallow in the mired waters of self-pity, constantly meditating on the ways others have abused them. Any preoccupation with self is self-centered and contrary to the way of love. Let us not forget that ours is the way of the cross; the Christian life is about dying daily and the mortification of the flesh. Too many Christians try to coddle that which needs to be crucified.
There is a malady that makes the Black Plague appear as mild as the common cold. Tally the death tolls of all infections, fevers, and epidemics since the beginning of time, and you’ll still fall short of the number claimed by this single infirmity.
And, forgive me for being the one to tell you, but you are infected. You suffer from it. You are a victim—a diseased carrier. You have shown the symptoms and manifested the signs. You have a case of—brace yourself—selfishness.
Don’t believe me? Suppose you are in a group photo. The first time you see the picture, where do you look? And if you look good, do you like the picture? If you are the only one who looks good, do you still like the picture? If some are cross-eyed and others have spinach in their teeth, do you still like the picture? If that makes you like it even more, you’ve got a bad case.
What about the physical manifestations?
Clutching hands. Do your fingers ever wrap and close around possessions?
Protruding teeth. Do fangs ever flare when you are interrupted or irritated?
Heavy feet. When a neighboring car wants to cut in front of you, do you sense a sudden heaviness of foot on the accelerator?
Extended shoulder. Any inflammation from patting yourself on the back?
And your neck. Is it sore from keeping your nose in the air?
But most of all, look into your eyes. Look long into your pupils. Do you see a tiny figure? An image of a person? An image of you?
The self-centered see everything through self. Their motto? “It’s all about me!” The flight schedule. The traffic. The dress styles. The worship styles. The weather, the work, whether or not one works—everything is filtered through the mini-me in the eye. Selfishness.
Such a condition can be fatal.
Listen to the words of James. “Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things” ( James 3:16 cev ).
Need proof? Let’s examine one newspaper. Today’s edition. How many examples of selfishness will we find in the first few pages?
Selfishness is to society what the Exxon Valdez was to scallops and sea otters—deadly. Is it any wonder that Paul writes: “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 nasb)?
At first glance the standard in the passage seems impossible to meet. Nothing? We shouldn’t do anything for ourselves? No new dress or suit. What about going to school or saving money—couldn’t all of these things be considered selfish?
They could, unless we are careful to understand what Paul is saying. The word the apostle uses for selfishness shares a root form with the words strife and contentious. It suggests a self-preoccupation that hurts others. A divisive arrogance. In fact, first-century writers used the word to describe a politician who procured office by illegal manipulation or a harlot who seduced the client, demeaning both herself and him. 1 Selfishness is an obsession with self that excludes others, hurting everyone.
Looking after your personal interests is proper life management. Doing so to the exclusion of the rest of the world is selfishness. The adverb highlighted in verse 4 is helpful. “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Desire success? Fine. Just don’t hurt others in achieving it. Wish to look nice? That’s okay. Just don’t do so by making others look bad. Love isn’t selfish.
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 nasb)
Remember the passage that describes the Word of God as a sword? I was impaled. As a doctor pronounces a disease, so the passage declared mine. Selfishness. Because of the little me in my eyes, I couldn’t see my blessings.
Love builds up relationships; selfishness erodes relationships. No wonder Paul is so urgent in his appeal: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” ( Phil. 2:3 nasb ).
But aren’t we born selfish? And if so, can we do anything about it? Can we get our eyes off of self? Or, better asked, can we get the little self out of our eyes? According to Scripture, we can.
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind. ( Phil. 2:1–2 nasb )
Paul’s sarcasm is thinly veiled. Is there any encouragement? Any consolation? Any fellowship? Then smile!
What’s the cure for selfishness? Get your self out of your eye by getting your eye off your self. Quit staring at that little self, and focus on your great Savior.
If Christ becomes our focus, we won’t be like the physician in Arkansas. He misdiagnosed the patient. He declared the woman to be dead. The family was informed, and the husband was grief-stricken. Imagine the surprise of the nurse when she discovered that the woman was alive! “You better tell the family,” she urged the doctor.
The embarrassed physician phoned the husband and said, “I need to talk to you about the condition of your wife.” “The condition of my wife?” he asked. “She’s dead.” The doctor’s pride only allowed him to concede, “Well, she has seen a slight improvement.”
Slight improvement? Talk about an understatement! Lazarus is walking out of the tomb, and he calls that a “slight improvement”?
He was so concerned about his image that he missed an opportunity to celebrate. We laugh, but don’t we do the same? We’ve gone from cremation to celebration. We deserve a lava bath, but we’ve been given a pool of grace.
Yet to look at our faces you’d think our circumstances had made only a “slight improvement.” “How’s life?” someone asks. And we who’ve been resurrected from the dead say, “Well, things could be better.” Or “Couldn’t get a parking place.” Or “My parents won’t let me move to Hawaii.” Or “People won’t leave me alone so I can finish my sermon on selfishness.”
Honestly. We worry about acid rain in silver linings. Do you think Paul might like to have a word with us? Are you so focused on what you don’t have that you are blind to what you do? Have you received any encouragement? Any fellowship? Any consolation? Then don’t you have reason for joy?
Come. Come thirsty. Drink deeply from God’s goodness. You have a ticket to heaven no thief can take,
an eternal home no divorce can break.Every sin of your life has been cast to the sea. Every mistake you’ve made is nailed to the tree.You’re blood-bought and heaven-made.A child of God—forever saved.
So be grateful, joyful—for isn’t it true?What you don’t have is much less than what you do.
The story is told of a chauffeur who drove up to a cemetery and asked the minister who served as caretaker to come to the car, because his employer was too ill to walk. Waiting in the car was a frail old lady with sunken eyes that showed years of hurt and anguish. She introduced herself and said she had been sending five dollars to the cemetery for the past several years to be used for flowers for her husband’s grave. “I have come in person today,” she said, “because the doctors have given me only a few weeks to live and I wanted to see the grave for one last time.”
The minister replied, “You know I am sorry you have been sending money for those flowers.” Taken aback, she said, “What do you mean?” “Well, I happen to be a part of a visiting society that visits patients in hospitals and mental institutions. They dearly love flowers. They can see them and smell them. Flowers are therapy for them, because they are living people.”
Saying nothing, she motioned the chauffeur to leave. Some months later the minister was surprised to see the same car drive up, but with the woman herself at the wheel. She said, “At first I resented what you said to me that day when I came here for a last visit. But as I thought about it, I decided you were right. Now I personally take flowers to the hospitals. It does make the patients happy and it makes me happy, too. The doctors can’t figure out what made me well, but I know I now have someone else to live for.”
As always, Jesus is our perfect model. He “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). The Son of God lived His life for others. God incarnate was love incarnate. He was the perfect incarnation of self-giving love. He never sought His own welfare, but always the welfare of others.
Affluent society” is a euphemism, in the context of our poverty-stricken and starvation-ridden world, for selfishness. John Fowles (1926– )
\Christ regarded the self-loving, self-regarding, self-seeking spirit as the direct antithesis of real living. His two fundamental rules for life were that “love-energy,” instead of being turned in on itself, should go out first to God and then to other people. J. B. Phillips (1906–1982)
Glory built on selfish principles is shame and guilt. William Cowper (1731–1800)
He is a slave of the greatest slave who serves nothing but himself.
He who lives only for himself is truly dead to others. Publilius Syrus (First Century b.c.)
I doubt that there has ever been one recorded case of deep and lasting fulfillment reported by a person whose basic mind-set and only question was: What am I getting out of this? John Powell
If I really love God, my innate and persistent selfishness will have received its death-blow. Alexander Smellie
If you wish to be miserable, think much about yourself; about what you want, what you like, what respect people ought to pay you, and what people think of you. Charles Kingsley (1819–1875)
People who are self-centered always live in unpleasant surroundings.
Selfishness is never so exquisitely selfish as when it is on its knees. Self can turn what would otherwise be a pure and powerful prayer into a weak and ineffective one. I may cry loudly to God that the church be restored to her New Testament splendor, and be secretly dreaming that I may be the one to lead her. A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)
Selfishness turns life into a burden. Unselfishness turns burdens into life! Robert Harold Schuller (1926– )
Some people are for seeing God with their eyes, as they can see a cow (which they love for the milk, and for the cheese, and for their own profit.) Thus do all those who love God for the sake of outward riches or of inward comfort; they do not love aright, but seek only themselves and their own advantage. Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1327)
That man who lives for self alone Lives for the meanest mortal known. Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)
There is no room for God in the man who is full of himself. Jewish Proverb
1 Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), 2:660.
Lucado, M. 2002. A love worth giving : Living in the overflow of God’s love. W Pub. Group: Nashville, Tenn.