Christianity 201

December 17, 2018

Looking Outside Your Own Self-Interest

It’s been six months already, so today we’re back at the blog of BibleStudyMagazine.com and an article rooted in one of my own favorite Bible passages. But this isn’t all about me, as you’ll see in today’s reading. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then take some time to look at other articles on the site. The author this time around is Jessi Strong.

Our (In)Significance

For most of my childhood, I didn’t know I was weird. I grew up homeschooled, and most of my friends came from conservative Christian households similar to my own. When I finally figured it out, I embarked on a series of attempts to fit in. Often that meant repeating jokes I didn’t understand, quoting movies other people liked, or pretending to be familiar with music I didn’t listen to.

I became an expert on a topic overnight in an effort to create a niche for myself. My contributions to conversation always began with things like, “That’s nothing. One time, I …” And while there was nothing inherently wrong with my desire to have friends and fit in, my attempts at belonging became unhealthy when my goal changed from finding human connection to establishing my own importance.

My mother was the first to suggest that seeking to be the center of attention was not the best way to make new friends. Instead, she suggested, “Find someone at the party who doesn’t have anyone to talk to. If you can make their night better, you’ll end up having fun too.”

Mom’s advice to look outside my own self-interest was a practical application of Paul’s instructions for the Philippian church:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3–4).

Earlier in his letter, Paul warns the Philippians that some men were preaching the gospel to inflate their own self-worth (1:15–17). When discussing those who were not preaching the true gospel, Paul appeals to Christ’s example of humility.

In my search for approval, I was trying to fulfill my own needs, but I had little motivation to look out for others’ interests. Feeling well-liked inflated my conceit—it didn’t teach me to elevate others above myself or to sacrifice for them.

Little by little, I changed my approach. I began to look for the new person in the room. Instead of dominating the conversation, I learned to ask questions. On the surface, I was practicing useful friend-making strategies, but underneath I was undergoing a change of heart. In his letter, Paul goes on to admonish the Philippians to take their example from Jesus Christ:

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (2:6–8).

This call to imitate Christ’s humility can be hard for us to hear. It turns our working model of social class on its head. We like knowing our place—especially if it’s a good one. But the gospel levels the playing field. We are all sinners. And if we are all equally in need of God’s grace, how can we evaluate our worth by comparing ourselves with others?


Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

November 19, 2014

Selfishness, Hoarding and False Security

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Once again, some great thoughts to consider from weekly contributor pastor Clarke Dixon. Click the title below to read at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

Being Foolish with Abundance

small__3538871771Inheritances can be a terrible source of stress for families. The first ever funeral I presided over was graveside with everyone standing, yet they still managed to have a center aisle. A fight over inheritance had already formed the family into two distinct camps. And I had to decide which of two receptions I would attend! So if you want to avoid fights over your possessions when you die, spend you children’s inheritances well!

Inheritance was a thorny issue for a man who seeks the help of Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13 NRSV). Jesus goes on to speak not about relationships and conflict resolution as one might expect, but money: “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’” (Luke 12:15 NRSV) Then follows a parable about an inheritance:

The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? ’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this:I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21 NRSV)

The fool in the parable is foolish for three reasons.

First, the fool is keeping an abundance for himself. ‘I’ shows up a lot in his thinking. In fact the only conversation he has is with himself. When you look at your plans for your abundance, your budget, does ‘I’ show up a lot? And when you look at the expenses column, how much of that has been on treasures you can not keep?

20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? . . . 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:20,33 NRSV)

Second, the fool may be keeping an abundance for a rainy day that may never come. How many of us think ahead and fret over the troubles that may come upon us? And we build our abundance to ensure we will be okay when the rains of trouble fall. We do not know if they will ever fall on us, but we do know that they are already falling on others. We can help others from our abundance, but we won’t if we are overly stressing over our own future.

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens:they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow:they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. (Luke 12:22-30 NRSV)

This does not mean that we should not plan for the future, and planning ahead for potential unforeseen financial difficulties is wise. But there is a fine line between between worry about, and proper concern for, between obsessing over, and taking responsibility for.

Third, in hoarding an abundance, the fool is able to relax:

Then he said, ‘I will do this:I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:18-19 NRSV)

Isn’t relaxing a good thing? Yes, and the Lord makes provision for it through commanding Sabbath rest. But the Kingdom is not built through relaxation. What potential Kingdom projects would never see the light of day because the fool was taking it easy? He had so much potential that was about to go to waste.

I am reminded of a slogan popular among atheists recently: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Some Christians responded with ‘There is a God, Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Either way, that sentiment could lead to a lot of wasted potential. With Jesus it is rather: “Jesus is Lord, now stop worrying and pick up your cross and follow.” Stop worrying about abundance, but show concern for a hurting world. We are not to obsess over our own abundance, but we are to obsess over Christ’s Kingdom and the abundance of love that is part and parcel of it.

31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:31-34 NRSV)

October 22, 2014

What’s In It For Me?

Pastor Clarke Dixon continues his series on generosity; to read this week’s entry at source and check out previous installments, click the title below.

Selfish Generosity? Reflections on Matthew 19, 20

 

Rich Young RulerCan you be generous and yet remain selfish and self-centered at the same time? According to the Bible, yes!

First, let us consider the rich young ruler who asks: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NRSV). Notice incidentally that he is looking for only one thing to do! But notice especially what he is not asking: “Teacher, what must I do to see God’s name honored? Teacher, what must I do to see your Kingdom come? Teacher, what must I do to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Teacher, how can I be of help?” Instead his question is very self focused. He may as well be asking “What about me? What’s in this for me?” Being rich, he would have had the resources to be helpful to Jesus in His ministry, being young he would have had the energy, and being a ruler, his influence also might of been of help. But helping himself is the only thing on his mind at this time.

A short conversation between Jesus and the young man ensues, but there is something notable about Jesus’ response as to which commands the man should focus on:

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:18-19 NRSV)

Do you notice anything about this list? These are all commands that focus on relationships. Jesus is here looking to wean the young man off his self-focus and instead to focus on others. Jesus takes this focus on others a step further:

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21 NRSV)

The young man walks away grieved for being rich now he cannot fathom becoming poor and trusting the Lord with his treasures in heaven. He cannot focus on others. He cannot get beyond his self-focus.

Jesus takes the opportunity to teach, as we read 19:23-26 , about the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven but things quickly get back to the theme of self-focus: “Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”” (Matthew 19:27 NRSV). Peter here is comparing himself and the other disciples to the rich young ruler. They had left everything to follow, the young man had not. Is there reward for that? Yes, great will be their reward according to Jesus in verses 28-29. However, notice how Peter’s question is very much like the rich young man’s? He may as well be saying “What about me? What’s in this for me?” It is a self-centered question.

The next parable in 20:1-16 develops this. Some laborers are hired to put in a full twelve hour day, while others are hired for less, some even for only one hour. But at the end of the day they all get the same amount, and understandably the workers who worked the longest are upset. But to this the master responds:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:13-16 NRSV)

That we are to take this parable as furthering the thoughts of reward in the previous chapter is made clear by the repeating of “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” in both 19:30 and 20:16. To summarize those two passages: “First; yes you will be rewarded. Second; do not focus on your reward.” Someone who has fully surrendered to the Master will trust Him with the final outcome of all things. Someone who has a self focus, however, will focus in on the rewards and make comparisons with others receive. Though we may leave all to follow Jesus, we may still be self-centered rather than fully surrendered. Self-sacrifice may not be sacrificial at all if it is an attempt to come out on top.

Keep reading and we will keep seeing this lesson on self focus. Next up, Jesus speaks of His own death in 20:17-19, which of course has its focus on you and me. Right after that in 20:2-,21 the mother of James and John, with both of them along, asks Jesus to give her sons the best places in the Kingdom. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on others. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on God. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on the Kingdom. They had left everything to follow Jesus. But they had not yet left their self focus. Have you?

June 1, 2012

Two Great Analogies

a·nal·o·gy

   [uh-nal-uh-jee] 

noun, plural a·nal·o·gies.

1. a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based…

Click the title of each item to read at the original blogs.

First from Ralph Howe,

The Sea in the Ship
God tells us that we are in the world but not of it; that we are different – very different from the world. He states clearly that to be a friend of the ways of the world instantly makes us enemies of His (1 John). He is clear that we are in the world to influence it and to rescue as many as we can from the world so that they become part of His Kingdom. Thus, He states clearly that we are His ambassadors in the world (2 Corinthians 5). I believe we have a problem in the Church today – there is too much of the world and the ways of the world. We rely on the ways and wisdom of man instead of the power of God.

A simple illustration provides a deeper understanding of the problem. A ship in the sea is alright. The sea in the ship is all wrong. In the same way, the Church in the world is all right; the world in the Church is all wrong. If there is too much of the sea in the ship it will sink. I believe the ship of today’s Church is so near sinking that every individual who becomes a believer and accepts Christianity is set to bailing water with everyone else to keep the Church afloat – thus, no one is focused on winning the lost and building new boats to sail the seas and rescue those who are drowning.

Many of us come to church with needs. If we focus merely on our needs, we will never come to the end of them; rather, we will live with them forever. Something must release us from a myopic focus on our own needs, drawing us beyond the realm of “I need, I want, help me, pray for me, bless me.” As long as we dwell on such things.we remain enslaved by them. We need to press past a self-centered focus to acquire the wisdom of God and begin to see things from His perspective.

His perspective is that people matter to Him and that no cost is too great to keep them from going to Hell for all eternity. In fact, this is so important that He sent His Son to die for them so that there would be a way for them to enter into a relationship with Him and spend eternity with Him after they die. And, this is so important to Him that He then commissioned and empowered His people to go out and win the lost as well. However, with water in the boat we are not sea-worthy and so have lost the ability to do what the Church (the boat) was originally designed to do.

It is time to make some serious changes.

Second, from Cloudwatcher:

Let Go!
An old man and his grandson happily fed some doves on the window sill of his home. After feeding they flew and perched on a cable outside the window.

The grandfather told the boy, “You see that cable? It carries a heavy current of electricity. It is carefully insulated at every pole and is beyond the reach of humans. If I could reach out far enough to touch that wire, death would be as swift as a lightning strike.”

“You helped me to feed those doves on my window sill. Now you see them perched on that wire which would kill me instantly if I touched it, but they are safe and contented. How are they able to do that? Why doesn’t the cable kill them?”

He went on to explain to his grandson that when the doves touch that wire, THEY TOUCH NOTHING ELSE. If he could reach out far enough to touch the wire, he would still be touching the house and the house would act as an earth (U.S.=”ground”) and turn his body into a channel through which the electricity would flow with fatal results.

BECAUSE THE DOVES TOUCH NOTHING BUT THE WIRE, THEY ARE UNHARMED

What does that say to the Christian?

God would have us seek our safety in complete surrender to Him and His will.

We need to LET GO of EVERYTHING else and trust ONLY in the living God

It is when we reach ONE hand to Him while still holding on to some earthly pleasure with the OTHER hand that we are in danger of being ensnared and trapped by that thing.

1 John 2:15
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.

Philippians 4:6
Let your requests be made known UNTO GOD

Let us trust Thee evermore;
Every moment on Thee call
For new life, new will, new power;
Let us trust Thee, Lord for ALL.
May we NOTHING know beside
Jesus and Him crucified!
~ Joseph Hart