The Greatest Hindrance to a Servant Attitude
I think most people find selfishness in other people to be hot……
How many of you just thought to yourself, “What is he talking about?” Likely everyone, because selfishness is a turn off. (Please allow me one Dad joke every so often). I think a less odd way of saying it is: selfishness in others is not appealing.
Yet if we are being honest, we are not the best at being altruistic either. Truth is, no one is naturally self-less. We can all be a bit unappealing at times. Every day, our hearts are geared to look out for number one. It is the natural flow of the soul to seek out the easy, the comfortable and find rest in the view that everything revolves around you. If you’re a driven personality or even a little bit ambitious like I am, you have to be doubly careful.
Why? Because when selfishness and ambition become roommates and start playing X-box together, the combination is deadly. Trust me, you don’t want selfishness and ambition teaming up on a ‘call of duty’ campaign. Selfish ambition is bad, so bad James tell us it opens the door to “wickedness of every kind” (Jam 3:16). Left undealt with, selfish ambition may help your bank account, your platform, your level of fame, but it will harm: your family, your faith, your character. These are the only things we have to bring before God on judgment day. Christians can be notoriously good at learning how to appear unselfish while remaining covertly motivated by selfish ambition. Covert selfish ambition is a problem. It is the biggest hindrance to being a servant, like Jesus is a servant. So you have to deal with it. Ruthlessly.
The reality is, most of us aren’t exactly sure how selfish we are. How can you know? First, the Holy Spirit enjoys helping in such matters. Second, Others have traveled the same road before us and learned a thing or two. So between the Holy Spirit and the church, it’s really not that difficult plum your heart.
A Quick Self-Assessment
Below is a list of 12 things that are true when you’re motivated by selfish ambition. Let the Holy Spirit deal with you as you read them. Discuss it with a friend and see if they agree or have some insight. For clarity, I have added description of the opposite motivations under each sign.
When motivated by selfish ambition these signs will follow:
- Your personal sense of worth goes up and down with the opportunities ahead of you.
When you’re motivated by Christ’s love, your value is solidly found in Christ every day.
- Failure is terrifying.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory and Christ’s love, failure becomes an opportunity for grace and growth.
- You think you’re a big deal.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory, you know it’s all about Him anyway.
- You use people to get you where you want to go.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory and Christ’s love, you value people as made in God’s image and loved so dearly that Jesus died for them.
- You take the credit.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory, you realize how much God and the people around you deserve the credit.
- You strive for breadth of exposure.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory, you focus on being faithful and let God determine the breadth of exposure He gives you.
- You are always thinking about the next thing.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory and Christ’s love, you’re thinking about what God wants to accomplish in your life, for you were bought with a price.
- You’re always comparing yourself to others.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory and Christ’s love, you begin to celebrate what God is doing through others.
- It’s hard to say no to any opportunity.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory and Christ’s love, it’s easier to say yes to balance and priorities.
- You feel entitled to any success that comes your way.
When you’re motivated by God’s glory and Christ’s love, you feel grateful and that what has happened is beyond deserving.
- The need to win is greater than the need to love.
When you’re motivated by Christ’s love, the need to love is greater than the need to win.
- You are always insecure.
When you’re motivated by Christ’s love, your security comes from His steadfast love as seen on the cross.
Analysis and acknowledgment of selfish ambition is one thing, dealing with it is another. Three points will help us make progress beyond analysis and acknowledgment.
Death by delight
When Jesus taught his disciples to die to self He really knew what He was talking about. Practicing death of self really feels like something in you is dying. Everything in you wants to fight, you feel the need to stand up for yourself, to go down swinging but if you do, you’re not dying the right way.
I have been around people who have passed away with grace and dignity, they did not go down swinging. They surrendered. It is always a surrender. The death Jesus spoke of is a process, not an event. It does not happen at the altar, or in a private time of prayer, but in between meetings in the middle of life. No one enjoys it, if they tell you they do, they are lying or they have never tried to do it. A particularly hard death is the slow death of selfish ambition. The above list acts like a heart monitor to see if you have flat-lined or not.
A Christian can have many wholesome motivations for their actions. One just as good as the other. Some things are particularly necessary when one is looking to die to self. It must be something bigger than self. Something more valuable than your life. Something more important than your own ideas and of course, it must issue from a heart rooted in the gospel.
Two motivations meet such a criteria. They particularly necessary when one is looking to die to self. The motives are God’s glory and Christ’s love. If the gospel has taken root in a heart then Christ’s love and God’s glory will become a significant part of the believer’s motivation matrix. For when the gospel has infiltrated a believer’s heart they will begin to be moved by what moves God, namely God’s glory and Christ’s love. God’s glory and Christ’s love move God’s heart that means they are big enough to motivate us beyond self.
Practicing self denial begins by having a passion for God’s glory and abiding in the love of Christ. If our hearts draw motivation from the reality of God’s glory and beauty of Christ’s love, we will be able to say with John, the Baptist, “He must become greater; I must become less,” Jn 3:30, NIV). That is to say, Jesus must become more important, so I may become less important. As we delight in God and Christ, we become less important in our own eyes. We die as we delight, which makes the harder moments of self denial a little less painful.
Paul’s Two Principles
On top of self denial, we need a new strategy to replace the old practices selfish ambition has ingrained in us. Without a new strategy and approach, selfish ambition will soon return. Paul gives us what we need in Phil 2:3-4,
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Paul in Phil 2:3, is calling for a humble self-assessment. This means you don’t think you’re God’s gift to Christianity, or the ministry, your church, or your marriage. The first two mean you may be morally apostate. The last two mean you may be human. So we see, the opposite of selfish ambition is to “consider others better than yourself.” Selfish ambition leads us to forget people are made in God’s image. They become nothing more than means to our own ends. Paul is instructing us to consider others’ contributions as important and valuable, celebrating them as a significant part of the body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit with something profitable to give to the body.
In the next verse, He tells us what we should do. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Note, Paul did not write, “Each of you should LOOK NOT to your own interests, BUT TO the interests of others.” He added two little words: “only” and “also”. In context, they change how Paul wants us to look at things. Selfish ambition looks exclusively at its own interests. But godly ambition has a +1. It adds without subtracting. Paul allows for natural self-interest but also adds a consideration of the interests of others. Paul wants us to be other-centered (to use a Lutheran phrase) where consideration for the other is part of our personal deliberation. When we have a choice before us Paul understands we will ask questions like, “How is this harmful to me and those I love?” “How is this beneficial for me and those I love?“ Paul also wants our hearts, as a matter of second nature, to ask the question like, “Does this harm others?” and “How is this good for those who have a stake in the choice before me?”
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