Vol. 11 No. 4 April 2009
Selfishness Versus Selflessness
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines selfish “1: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others 2: arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others ‘a selfish act.’” Selfishness is the noun form of the adjective selfish. Synonyms for selfishness include self-centered, self-interest, self-will and egotism. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary states “SELF-WILL: The act of stubbornly and arrogantly insisting on one’s own way, as opposed to following the will of God.” Selfishness is a character trait all Christians must erase from their lives in order to be pleasing to our God (2 Peter 2:9-10).
The Bible is full of examples of individuals who succumbed to the sin of selfishness. Some of these individuals died in their sin while others repented. The angels of God commanded Lot and his family to flee Sodom. When they tarried with reluctance, the angels took the hand of Lot, his wife and his two unmarried daughters and led them out of the city. Once they were safely away from the city, the angels instructed them not to look back so as to be saved from the destruction of that wicked city. Lot’s wife selfishly looked back at all that she left behind: children, friends and possessions. God turned her into a pillar of salt (Genesis 29).
Her selfish act led to the sin of drunkenness and incest. On two separate occasions, the two daughters fed wine to their father, then, slept with him so as to bear a son in their father’s name since he did not have a son to carry on the name of the father. If the mother had been present, these sins would not have happened. Even though the Bible chose not to reveal Lot’s wife’s name, she is remembered throughout time as the one who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.
Potiphar’s wife is another unnamed woman in the Bible. She also suffered with the sin of selfishness. Her husband was the captain of the guard for the pharaoh of Egypt. She had all the necessities of life and more. She was the wife of a great leader. Many women would envy her wealth and position in life. However, she wanted what she could not have. Young Joseph was an Israelite slave serving a man in a position of authority. Joseph performed his duties so well that Potiphar placed Joseph in complete control of all his possessions within the household and in the fields. Mrs. Potiphar desired Joseph; she repeatedly begged him to lie with her. When he refused, she falsely accused him of trying to force himself upon her. Mrs. Potiphar’s selfishness and false accusations caused an honest, hard working man to go to prison (Genesis 39:1-20).
King David is a biblical example of a servant of God yielding to the temptation of the devil. King David had great wealth, great armies and ruled over a large kingdom. God had blessed him, and David had served God well over the years. Instead of going to battle with his army, King David chose to remain in Jerusalem. One evening while on his rooftop, King David observed Bathsheba bathing and lusted for her. Selfishly, King David called for Bathsheba and committed adultery with her. When she apprised him of her pregnancy, he tried to hide the sin and subsequently was responsible for the death of Uriah, husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). God sent the prophet Nathan to King David with a parable. At the end of the parable Nathan said, “Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). King David acknowledged his sin and God forgave him (2 Samuel 12:13). King David’s moment of selfishness brought great sorrow upon the house of David. One of the consequences of King David’s sin was the death of the child born to Bathsheba.
The New Testament records the conversion of Simon the Samaritan (Acts 8:9-13). Simon had been a sorcerer, bewitching the people with his trickery, pretending to be a “great one.” After hearing the preaching of Philip, Simon obeyed the Gospel, then, accompanied Philip as he taught others. Simon was amazed at the great miracles performed by Philip. When the apostles heard that the Samaritans had accepted Jesus Christ as the Savior, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. Simon observed the power possessed by Peter and John, and he wanted that same power. He offered to pay Peter and John if they would grant him the power to lay hands on others so those he touched could perform miracles. Peter rebuked Simon for his evil ways and told him to repent of his wickedness. Simon asked Peter to pray to God on his behalf (Acts 8:14-24). Simon selfishly desired the power that belonged to the apostles. Perhaps, he envisioned great wealth by selling the ability to perform miracles to others. Unlike Lot’s wife and Potiphar’s wife, Simon repented of his sins, making a course correction in his life to conform to God’s will.
We have looked at two examples of unrepentant, selfish individuals and two repentant, selfish individuals. Now we will look at an individual who lived his life in a state of selflessness. Jesus Christ is the only individual to walk on this earth who was perfect (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus showed kindness and selfless acts toward others throughout His earthly ministry. After hearing of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus went into a desert place to be alone. When the multitudes followed Him, Jesus had compassion for them and healed their sick. As evening approached, His disciples encouraged him to send the people away into the villages as no one had food for all the people. Jesus refused to send them away and performed yet another miracle, providing more than enough food for over 5,000 people (Matthew 14:10-21).
Jesus selflessly died a cruel death upon the cross at Calvary so you and I might have the hope of salvation, living an eternity in heaven (Luke 23:33; 1 Peter 1:3-5). This is the greatest act of selflessness one could do for another.
Please, examine your life (2 Corinthians 13:5). Please, strive to follow the example of Christ by living a selfless life. If you succumb to the temptation of the devil and act selfishly, please, follow the example of King David and Simon the Samaritan by repenting of your sin before it is eternally too late. Do not become like Lot’s wife and others who impenitently have acted selfishly.
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. CD-ROM. Seattle: Logos Research Systems, 1996.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986.