It is easy to put oneself above others and we start to do so very early in our lives. To look at a toddler who believes everything is “mine, mine” is to see a human being perfecting the art of looking out for him or her self. To explain this seemingly universal trait, some would argue that we are predisposed to being selfish. Evolutionists tell us this predisposition is the result of the evolutionary principle of “the survival of the fittest.” Yet, all ethical systems emphasize the essential value of helping others.
Regardless of its source, the selfish trait is still in play even after we become Christians. It is one thing to put oneself above others, but what about putting oneself above the things of Christ? This was the problem facing some of the Apostle Paul’s compatriots. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he laments, “For I have no man likeminded [as Timotheus], who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:20-21, KJV), or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases both verses, “I have no one quite like Timothy. He is loyal, and genuinely concerned for you. Most people around here are looking out for themselves, with little concern for the things of Jesus” (The Message). While the narrative is short on details, it could very well be that Paul’s observation grew out of the refusal of some to go visit the church he was writing to (see v.19). Maybe something was asked of them that required making sacrifices, putting others above themselves, risking death, or whatever else, these people had no interest. They were the ones who would later abandon Paul during his trial; “they all ran like scared rabbits” (see 2 Timothy 4:16-18, The Message).
It is easy to criticize these people. However, as Albert Barnes cautions, “Let us not be harsh in judging them. How many professing Christians in our cities and towns are there now who would be willing to leave their business and their comfortable homes . . . who would not seek some excuse, and show that it was a characteristic that they ‘sought their own’ rather than the things which pertained to the kingdom of Jesus Christ?” It is necessary to remind ourselves that to be concerned about the things of Christ means practicing self-denial. Indeed, saying “yes” to Christ often means saying “no” to ourselves. For many of us, that does not come naturally. Yet deny ourselves we must, if we are going to strive to please our Lord.
“Most people around here are looking out for themselves, with little concern for the things of Jesus.” Is he talking about you?