Selfishness and Selflessness

Christ Triumphant (Coventry Cathedral)

Christ Triumphant (Coventry Cathedral)

Why did you become a Christian (if, of course, you are one)? If you are like most of us I would hazard to say that it had something to do with a feeling that your life was not as it “should” be, or as you wanted it to be. You realized your sinfulness or lack of power, or both, and so you became a Christian because Jesus offered you a new, better life, a life of power.


We come to him and give ourselves to him and yet it is still an essentially selfish act, for we do so only because we expect something better back. It is like going to a car dealer and giving him your old car, which you do happily because you know that you are getting a better, newer one out of the deal. Yet this is what God asks, for he understands us, and so he honours this “gift” of ours.


But once we become a child of God we are supposed to grow up and part of that growing up, a big part, is to die to self, to lose all trace of selfishness. Oh, how hard this is, and how few really attain it. Indeed it is so hard, so radical, that it is almost never even preached any more. Certainly there are sermons without number that claim to be about becoming selfless but almost all of them prove false in the end. For what is the motivation for becoming selfless? Is it not that God will reward us? That either here and now he will bless us or else that he will put more treasure in our heavenly bank? So we become selfless for selfish reasons!


Ponder this question for a few minutes: If there were no heaven, no eternal life, and if God did not promise to bless you, would you still worship him, simply because he is God? I doubt anyone can feel comfortable answering that question honestly. Even those who have become selfless will, I suspect, still wonder, even just a little bit, if there is not yet some small element of desire, some hope of recompense, in their devotion.


It is no wonder that selflessness is rarely preached: What kind of following could you gather doing that? Far better to preach a message that promises that God will give us far more than we give him when we get to heaven. Or, even better, to preach that he will do so in the here and now. Of course one can gather a crowd with such a message. But it is a message for babies. Where are the preachers and teachers of maturity, those willing to offend, to lose followers by preaching the hard things? Like Jesus who, having drawn large crowds then drove them away by talking of the hard things. But who, by doing so, left a core of believers that was ready to become the church and move in true power.


An ultimately selfish selflessness will draw admiration from the world. True selflessness is in conflict, by its very existence, with the world and hence draws condemnation and hatred. But it will also attract those in the world who truly seek God and, just maybe, will wake some of the half-asleep babies in the church to the work of growing up.



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