Self and Self-Centeredness

 •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 10
While it is true that “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24), all of us must admit to occasional displays of selfishness, for man’s natural tendency is for self-preservation. A true story will illustrate this. Many years ago a man named Walter was walking home from his office at the end of the day, when a boy came running up to him, telling him that he had better hurry home, for his house was on fire. Needless to say, Walter (who was a devout Christian) ran as quickly as possible to his home, which was several blocks away. His own account of the incident is that when he came in sight of his home, he was vastly relieved to find that it was his neighbor’s home that was on fire, and not his own. But then he reflected on his attitude and realized that he could not go to heaven on the basis that he loved his neighbor as himself.
If we are honest with ourselves, we would all confess to a similar attitude under such circumstances. We would not wish calamity on anyone, but when it occurs, we are thankful if it happens to others rather than to us. Thus a Christian who is, in the main, most considerate of others and ready to sacrifice for them, may sometimes exhibit a bit of selfishness.
Self-centeredness, however, is far more serious and often more subtle. Fallen man has always made himself the center of his world, wanting everything to revolve around himself. For this reason, self-centered people are easy to find. They tend to talk mainly about themselves, their lives, and their activities; anything else matters very little. Often this is very blatant and obvious, and usually brings about a strong reaction from others. But sometimes self-centeredness, especially in a believer, is camouflaged under what seem to be good motives and right actions. Thus selfishness is occasionally one being “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1), but self-centeredness is a course pursued with self as the root. A self-centered person will see himself as the focal point of everything around, and even his own altruism will eventually migrate into self-pity or the need for admiration and praise. He may seem to be most spiritual, and with real interest and energy in the Lord’s things, but self is at the bottom of it all.
Self-centered believers tend to talk about their scriptural knowledge or their work for the Lord, and they will inevitably shoehorn this into every conversation. They will be constantly trying to enlist others to listen to them or to help them in their work, either monetarily or otherwise. If there is any question raised about this, the rebuttal is, “Are you not interested in the Lord’s things or in His work?” But the root of it all is my scriptural knowledge, my work — what I am doing.
We need to remember that scriptural knowledge, or work for the Lord, if done with the right motive and in the right way, humbles us; it does not lift us up in pride. Paul could remind the Galatians, “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2). In the same way, when Paul was compelled to disclose to the Corinthians some of his sufferings for Christ, he could say, “I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly” (2 Cor. 11:17). It was necessary to say some of those things in order to put to silence some false teachers in Corinth, but it was not normally of God to boast of his labors.
True Christianity centers on Christ, not on man. He, and He alone, must be before us.
W. J. Prost