G’day! Welcome to Partake Ministries and our current series, Issues. Today we are going to look together at self-interest.
Philippians 2:4,21 “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”
Those verses written by Paul almost two thousand years ago still resonate loudly today. In our culture, particularly in the west, selfish individualism is endemic and rife. “I can do what I want, when I want, because I am right and always right.” “Me, me, me”, people cry through their actions and attitudes! Where material possessions take precedence and the desire for more is ever evident throughout all aspects of life. The interest of others is placed at the bottom of the pile – people are placed below possessions. These are twenty-first century gods and idols. The god of the twenty-first century is “self-interest” and humanity bows to this god quite willingly, because it offers no threat. At its very source is pride! Their actions and attitude proudly proclaims “I am first, and everyone else is last”. As Christians, what should our reaction be to this aspect of our culture? as Christians living within this societal culture, how are we and the Church to respond?
Story of the Rich Young Ruler
Within the Gospels, there is the story told of Jesus’ encounter with a man, who runs up to him and falls on his knees before him. Matthew 19v16-26 describes him as a young man. Mark 10v17-22 he is simply a man and in Luke 18v18-27, he is described as a wealthy ruler. Put altogether, that makes him a rich young ruler. This man wants eternal life, wants it now and so asks Jesus about how to get it. This young man had fully kept the commandments listed by Jesus. However when Jesus said to the young ruler that in order to follow Him, he would have to give up all his wealth and possessions in order to have treasure in heaven and eternal life, the man left disconsolate. His life reflected is absorption with self and his self-interest.
That was a step too far for the rich young ruler. He wanted his riches and also everlasting life but Jesus said he couldn’t have both. He remains the only man who left Jesus’ presence sorrowful, and that due to putting his trust in his riches and wealth alone. Now riches are not necessarily wrong but they do make trusting fully in God very difficult (Mark 10v23). One of his primary problems was that he was not content with what he had materially. He always wanted more and possessions were more important to him than people. He was not willing to make the sacrifice required to follow Jesus. This attitude is endemic throughout our society, and sadly in some sections of the church, but what is the counter-cultural response that Christians and the Church should be making
Paul commands Christian Disciples to be content with godliness (1 Timothy 6). By combining contentedness with godliness, Paul means not being worried about anything, because Jesus Christ is to be your sufficiency. Paul says this, because we came into this world with nothing, and we will leave this world with nothing. The bare necessities for contentment of life are food, clothing & shelter. However, we could in the twenty-first century, with some justification say that some other things are also necessary. For example, cars, books and computers may well be a necessity. That is up to our own individual consciences. But what we need to do, when considering purchasing things is, not to so much to ask “Can I afford it?” but rather “Can I justify it, and could the money be better used elsewhere?” Further on in 1 Timothy 6, Paul states that we are not to desire riches, lest we fall into the temptation of coveting and wander away from faith of God (vv9-10) as well as not to love money because it is a source of all kinds of evil. Every day, Christians pray that God would not lead them into temptation; and you know what, He does not need to, because they do that quite easily enough by themselves. And those that are rich are not to flaunt it arrogantly and are certainly not to place their hopes in them (v17). Those who are rich are commanded to be also rich in good deeds, to be generous and sharing (v18), building up heavenly treasure instead of earthly rubbish (v19). I should hasten to add, that contentment should also carry with it, the idea of living simply, in sympathy and solidarity with the poor of the world. Every one of us could to some degree, live that little bit more simply. That is contentment with godliness.
The contented person of humility says, “God is first, others are second, and I come last” and puts people before possessions. They have placed their total trust in God alone, and not in their material possessions. It so easy to fall into the trap of saying – “If only I had that new computer, camera, a new car or an easier job with more money?” It is so easy to say these things, and forget to be content with what we have. And it is even easier to forget to say thank-you to God for giving us all our good things. We hardly ever thank him, for friends and all the material blessings He does provide and the pleasure we gain from what He gives us. A key question to ask ourselves when seeking biblical contentment is: “Could I really thank my Lord for this particular item I want?”
By showing we are content, whether because we have much or because we have little, we reflect a difference to a world, which is all about gaining more and more things. In a culture, where the order is: myself first and others last. As Christians we are to be counter-cultural and put God first, others second and ourselves last. By being content with what we have, we reflect that we are comfortable with what we have.
The culture around us needs to see Christians living with contentment that only comes through trusting actively in Jesus Christ. This contentment is expressed by placing the interests of others first and above self-interest. Placing people before possessions is contentment displayed. They need to see Christians sacrificially loving each other, which is the outcome of being content. They need to see Christians and the Church being loving, caring, compassionate, kind and putting people ahead of material objects. If people see Christians that are not doing those things, rightly or wrongly, the whole Church is branded as a bunch of fakes and hypocrites. Worse still, God is seen, at best, as nothing more than a distant, uncaring and increasingly irrelevant myth.
People should be seeing God’s love, through your love and godly contentedness. For as Jesus said, “All people will know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). We are commanded to love, regardless of what or who the other person is or does. Godly contentment, which is humility in action, is part of unconditional love in action – unabandoned love for God, and unconditional love for others. Too often, even within the Church and the lives of professing Christians, financial profit, the seeking of possessions and pleasure and wanton greed takes priority over people – any people. When that occurs, that means the Church has compromised. They are no better than that rich young ruler who left Jesus’ presence because the demands were too great. Don’t be like that rich young ruler, but rather seek to emulate Jesus Christ, who was the most content person ever to have lived. We are commanded to be in the world but not of the world. We can do this by exhibiting contentedness in action through love to a world and culture that is in need of our Almighty God. Contentedness is the antidote to self-interest.
For more to think about please do ask your self the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.
Q1. How can I show others that I am content with what I have?
Q2. What would others say, if they could see how and why I buy things?
Q1 Do I ever say to myself: “Can I justify it, and could the money be better used elsewhere?” rather than “Can I afford it?”