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selflessness vs. selfishness

We were not put here to center on having others serve us or on serving ourselves.  We are here, for this brief span of years, to serve God willingly (Psalm 100:2a) and to help supply the needs of others (2 Cor. 9:7; Gal. 5:13c).  Paul stated that “...we must help the weak...” and, quoting Jesus, added, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

One of Satan’s many deceptions, however, is that we must “look out for number one” (ourselves) in this “dog-eat-dog” world.  When we center our attention upon ourselves, the well-being of others becomes unimportant; our pleasure and “personal rights” take precedence.  James put it this way:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:15,16).

Usually, along with selflessness goes humility, while aside selfishness walks pride.  The world flatters us and tells us that whatever possessions we have gained and whatever we have accomplished have been earned as a result of our own worth and merit.  Our society has twisted the meaning of “virtue.”  It no longer matters how good or moral we are but, rather, the “position” we have attained—no matter how many questionable, even corrupt, things we did or how many people we manipulated and exploited to get there.  To approve of this is to “ evil good and good evil...” and was expressly spoken against by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 5:20a).  John urged, however, “ not imitate what is evil but what is good” (3 John 11a).

generosity vs. greed

When we strive to be less concerned about ourselves (knowing that God will provide for us what we need) and more concerned about and caring toward others, generous giving will abound.  Humility seems to be a requisite for generosity.  It is actually a spiritual gift from God to be concerned genuinely about the welfare of others, wanting to share willingly and to contribute generously to their needs (Rom. 12:8b—see “gifts of the Holy Spirit”: C-6, P-IV).  Truly, “...God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

On the other hand, acquiring more and more money and material things, urged on by society’s expectations and approval, can become a habit, even an obsession; and it has its roots in greed, one of Satan’s favorite weapons with which to ruin people.  Jesus warned, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).  Hoarding “things” is an indication to God that we do not trust Him enough to provide for us what we will need and also that we put more value upon the physical (counterfeit) things of the world than on the spiritual (real) things of God.  “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what your have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

Paul said in a letter to Timothy,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

The higher our position and the more things we have, the more “successful” the world considers us (and we consider ourselves) to be.  This tends to enhance pride and self-centeredness (of which a hallmark is “wanting more and more”), leading to the development of a greedy disposition; and then it becomes more difficult to be generous with those who are not as fortunate as we are.  Furthermore, chaos and wrongdoing may follow, because “where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

giving credit vs. taking credit

Solomon knew that “...when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (Eccl. 5:19).  And we should give God glory and thank Him for everything (Psalm 29:1,2; Eph. 5:20).  My favorite song to hear and sing in church—My Tribute, by Andraé Crouch—expresses how I feel about praising God for all He has done for me.  These are the words (slightly abbreviated in the interest of space):

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me—/ Things so undeserved, yet You give to prove Your love for me?

The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude—/ All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee.

To God be the glory, to God be the glory; / To God be the glory for the things He has done.

Just let me live my life; let it be pleasing Lord to Thee. / And should I gain any praise, let it go to Calvary.

With His blood He has saved me, with His power He has raised me; / To God be the glory for the things He has done.

On the contrary, Paul, referring to people who refuse to acknowledge God as Maker and Giver of all things, affirmed,

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:21).

It is a common misconception that the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” is found in the Bible.  It is not.  Many who believe that it is think it provides them with permission and justification to press forward and forcibly get the things which they suppose God must have in Mind for them to have; and, thereafter, they give themselves credit for getting them.  They picture God as looking upon them with approval when they go after the things which they feel are “rightfully” theirs, things they feel they “deserve,” which they believe God should “help” them to get.  They also use this non-biblical concept to get what they want without God’s assistance, when in reality He wants us to ask Him for everything that we need (Matt. 7:11; John 15:7,16b), an instruction exactly the opposite of what society teaches.  (Of course, we should consider that the things we ask for should be in His Will for us to have before asking for them.)

Those who petition God for what they need tend to appreciate the value of what they receive, recognizing that He has provided it.  They also tend to be more selfless, not boasting about what they have, and willing to share what God has given them with others—realizing that what they have obtained from God just as easily can be taken away if they use it selfishly.  However, people who go after anything and everything, thinking that God is going to back up their endeavors because they are proving to be “self-sufficient,” are deceiving themselves with their own pride.

The more “successful” (and, therefore, “happy”) we think we are, the more content we become and the less we tend to acknowledge that God gave us everything we have.  We would rather believe that we got where we are and what we have all by ourselves and, possibly, by the poor “suckers” along the way—the ones who served us—that helped us to get it (although such people rarely are given the credit for doing so).  Again, these are all reflections of our own self-deceptive, inner pride, which God hates.  Humility is a reality; pride is a counterfeit.  Moses, probably the most humble man (besides Jesus) who ever lived (Num. 12:3), admonished,

You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth... (Deut. 8:17,18a).

Often accompanying pride is a feeling that we “can do no wrong,” or at least that everything that we do can be “justified” so that even our wrong actions seem “right.”  On the contrary, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. ...  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him [God] out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8,10).  “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3).

God disregards our achievements and acquisitions unless they result from our accomplishing the objectives in His Plan and unless we have given Him (and others He has assigned to help us) the credit for helping us to achieve goals and to acquire things.  God’s view of those who fit into the “I-got-what-I-have-by-myself” category is this:  “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

God is showing—and will continue to demonstrate during the last days of this age—examples to all people of what happens when some people are too proud to acknowledge Him for all He does.  Powerful, influential, successful, arrogant people are being and will be brought down low (Prov. 29:23a; Isa. 13:11bc).  Truly wise people will seek the Holy Spirit of God to learn how to be humble so the same fate does not befall them.  (Humility is an essential key to knowing God.)  Foolish people will not heed these warnings.  Many will make it to the “top” in the world’s eyes and with its encouragement, only to crash so far down, so fast, their heads (and, unfortunately, maybe their souls) will “spin.”

pride at the top

We always need to remember that it is the praise from our Creator that counts, not the praise from other people.  Since the world’s view of “success” is ungodly and such “success” brings only brief “happiness” and “contentment,” both the praise and the success, as they crumble with time, are bound to leave us wanting—emotionally and financially.  “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

Those who reach the top through ambitions and cravings for power (rather than with the intent to serve others) will tumble at some point and may even lose everything they have gained; while those who humble themselves to help and serve others naturally will be elevated and honored (Prov. 29:23b).  Moreover, anyone who is self-righteous, with a “superior” feeling over others, will be humbled; whereas anyone who recognizes that no one else’s faults are any worse than one’s own will be exalted.

This truth is illustrated in the story of the religious Pharisee and the tax collector, both who went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14).  The Pharisee thanked God that he was not as bad as robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and even the tax collector.  However, the tax collector, during his prayer, was too ashamed of his sins even to look up toward heaven.  He simply asked God for mercy for being a sinner.  Jesus said that this man (the tax collector), not the other (the Pharisee), would be justified before God, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (18:14).  He also said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16).  Peter agreed by affirming, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5c,6).

We are like “kites” in the sky.  Attached to God, we can rise higher and higher; but if we resent His restraint or refuse His guidance, we will be brought down.  Paul Van Gorder, a writer for the Our Daily Bread devotional booklet, describes what a high-flying kite, full of pride, might say:

Look how high I’m flying and how gracefully I’m floating through the sky!  And I’m doing all this in spite of that aggravating boy down there hanging on to the end of the string.  I don’t need that.  I have a tail and broad wings.  If I didn’t have the handicap of this string, I could fly up and reach the moon!  If only I were not tied down in this irritating way. (10)

However, if the string guiding the kite were to be released, chances are the kite would plummet and become entangled in a tree or crash to the ground.  Much as we do not like restraints and rules, God knows what He is doing by enacting and enforcing them.  If we abide by them, not letting our pride get out of hand, we will soar to even greater heights (Isa. 40:31).

humiliation of King Nebuchadnezzar

Consider what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar.  He had troubling dreams (Dan. 2:1, 4:5,13-16) which Daniel interpreted for him (2:31-45, 4:19-27).  (See “Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams” and “fulfillment of Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream”: C-11, P-I for a discussion of the first dream and its fulfillment.)  Concerning the second dream, Daniel essentially warned the king that he would be greatly humiliated if he did not control his pride.  Twelve months later, though, as the king was walking on the roof of his palace in Babylon, he boasted,

Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty? (Dan. 4:30).

Immediately, God spoke to him from heaven and told him that all the things Daniel had predicted for him were going to happen, which they did; Nebuchadnezzar was humiliated to the extreme.  For seven years, true to the description of his dream, he lived like a madman and looked like an animal, having been driven away from his people and forced to eat grass like a cow.  He had no protection from the rain, and his hair grew like feathers and his nails like claws (Dan. 4:31-33).  After this period of vile existence, his sanity, honor, and splendor were restored; and he praised, honored, and glorified God, admitting that God is in control of everything and that He can do whatever he pleases (4:34-36a).

Because he finally acknowledged God’s supreme Authority, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and power were restored to him by God, only greater than before his downfall and humiliation; he had learned that “...those who walk in pride [God] is able to humble” (Dan. 4:36b,37).  (In a similar manner, Job’s own pride and self-righteousness preceded his downfall; but he received a new family and his fortunes were completely restored when he humbled himself in front of God—Job 42:6,12-17; see “endurance of Job”: C-7, P-II.)  What does it take for some of us to humble ourselves before God?  Will it take a humiliating collapse from which we may or may not recover?  God is patient—but only up to a point.

pride in our appearance

Another aspect of pride deals with our physical appearance.  God told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7bc).  There certainly is nothing wrong with being naturally beautiful or handsome, nor with working hard to have a trim and/or muscular body.  But if looking great becomes an obsessive focus and leads to self-admiration, or if one is aiming to secure the praise and esteem of others, one is building confidence on something which has only fleeting worth.  This is a poor substitute for approval from God, the latter being received after acknowledging Him for making it possible for one to have or to attain good looks or great strength.

Now, at least one woman and three men in the Bible were strikingly beautiful or well-built and handsome: Esther (Esth. 2:7b), Joseph (Gen. 39:6c), David (1 Sam. 16:12b), and Daniel (Dan. 1:4a,8,12-15).  All of them were faithful to God and did His Will; as a result, each was vastly rewarded (Esth. 2:17,18, 8:1a; Gen. 41:41-45; 2 Sam. 2:4a, 4:3; Dan. 2:48, 5:29, 6:28).

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).  Being attractive is great.  But keep in mind (from C-7) what God said concerning Lucifer/Satan (who was “...the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty”—Ezek. 28:12b):  “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor” (28:17a).  If you are beautiful or good-looking, remember that your body is a temple that should be used to give glory to the Lord.  Take real advantage of your looks for God; be an “Esther,” a “Joseph,” a “David,” or a “Daniel”!

fear vs. arrogance

King Solomon, to whom God gave great wealth, power, and wisdom, stated, “Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord...” (Prov. 28:14a).  But why should we fear God?  The most obvious answer to me is that He is the most powerful Force in the universe!  (And I do not mean the “Force” implied in the Star Wars sagas!)  What are the advantages in this life of fearing God?  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...” (Psalm 111:10a); it “ the beginning of knowledge...” (Prov. 1:7a); and, along with humility, it will “...bring wealth and honor and life” (22:4).

Some find it paradoxical and even nonsensical to think that a good God, whom the Bible encourages us to trust, also could be a God that we are admonished by the Bible to fear.  If He is so good, it might seem hard to imagine that there could be anything fearful about Him.  If He is so good, then we don’t really have to worry about what happens when we die, right?  God will be fair and just to us, right?  The answers to these respective questions are “no” and “yes.”  We do need to worry what will happen after we die if we have not made our peace with God, because God is fair and just and will give us what we deserve (see “reasons for going to hell”: C-14, P-I; and “eternal rewards, heavenly treasures”: C-14, P-II).  This is a major concept of life which Satan earnestly strives to prevent us from grasping.  (Of course, those who are too “intelligent” to believe in Satan will be the ones most likely to be deceived into not acknowledging this essential fact, which has eternal consequences.)

Those who battle against God—and oppose those who fear and follow Him—are arrogant.  However, in time, the arrogant will be “disarmed”; and those they oppose will be victorious.  The childless Hannah had been provoked to tears by her husband’s other wife, the arrogant Peninnah, who had children (1 Sam. 1:1-7).  Hannah prayed to God that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him back to the Lord (1:10,11).  So God gave her a son, the great judge and prophet Samuel (1:20).  In a prayer to God of thanksgiving and rejoicing, Hannah said, remembering the arrogant Peninnah,

Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.  The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. ...  It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered (1 Sam. 2:3,4,9c,10a).

Fear of God does not involve merely being afraid that He will punish us here and now, nor that we will be separated from Him after we die for not accepting the Son.  It also entails fearing that He will feel hurt and rejected if we disobey and ignore Him.  With this type of fear in mind, we are more likely to think about and consult God before we do anything and tell Him how much we love Him and appreciate everything He does for us, thus causing Him to bless and prosper us just that much more.

People who resist and challenge God, though, could not care less about how they hurt God.  “Wisdom” says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior, and perverse speech” (Prov. 8:13).  In my opinion, an arrogant attitude toward God is the epitome of pride.  Most arrogant people seem to lack a fear of God and often exhibit an outward opposition of God, who Himself declared, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.  I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless” (Isa. 13:11).  Fear of God will be rewarded; arrogance will be punished.  In particular, those who serve God humbly must maintain a fearful frame of mind concerning His awesome nature, constantly remembering that He, not they, must receive all the glory and that arrogance and pride on their part will not be condoned by God.  It should be of great comfort to God-fearing people that “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:7).

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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery, O.D.  Most rights reserved.