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Growing Beyond Selfishness

March 2nd, 2018

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17 ESV)

It has been observed by many that Jesus did not ask Peter if he loved His sheep, only if he loved Him. It is upon the love of Christ – first inspired by Him and then instilled in us by Him, and then taken up by us through Him – that we are to serve, live, and be. The love for Jesus and the love of Jesus are to replace all of our personal loves, likes, and preferences.

No question but that this is a lifelong and an incredibly challenging proposition. Our old human selfishness raises its ugly head often, but we should be clear on this, that we have no way of interjecting our selfish preferences with out mucking up the love of Christ in us and through us. We cannot afford the luxury of selfishness and remain true to Christ.

We might say things like, “Well, I don’t like people who don’t like dogs,” or “I don’t like people with this or that accent,” or “This person has offended me and I’ll have nothing to do with them.” Those and a million other excuses are what we use to justify our selfishness, or to try to, to ourselves and others.

Someone might say, “But that was spoken to Peter and applies only to those who serve the Lord in a professional or vocational capacity.” All we need to do to point out the wrongness of this idea is to remember the Great Commission as Matthew 28:18-20 recorded it: “Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” This loving others regardless out of Christ’s love for us and in us is the most relevant spiritual discipline any vocational minister can learn, but it is not only for those in “full time Christian service.” It is for every believer.

The luxury of selfishness is a destructive thing in any life. Peter, the one who conversed with Christ in the John 21 passage wrote in his first epistle:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Our sinful and fallen world continually tells us to interject ourselves into each situation. It views the sacrificial perspective as dysfunctional and guilt-laden. It focuses not on the removal of personal guilt but upon the denial of guilt. So we are assertive and justify our wants and wishes, thinking there is some virtue in selfishness. But the sinful nature of humanity can so easily twist what is our rightful assertion of self rights to something that is ungodly and ugly.

Christ liberates us through injecting us with Himself, and it is His love that frees us. In His love we may properly say no to the abuser and properly respect ourselves as His creation and His redeemed people. Both Christ and Paul stood up to those who abused them and spoke back to injustice (John 18:23 and Acts 23:1-5). But it was never personal for them, and when things become personal, when we do not forgive, when we harbor offenses, when we dislike people for whatever reason, then we are blocking the supernatural and normal flow of the love of Christ through us.

So do not answer in anger, do not dislike people whom Christ loves, do not reject those whom He has called us to love. It is only through Him that we are to live and any degree of selfishness only deprives us of knowing Christ better. True love will sometimes lead us to rebuke people, or to stand up to injustice, and to defend the helpless, but these and other actions are not taken in the spirit of human anger but for God’s sake and in His will.

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