Living In Community: Self-Centeredness

When Christianity is all about me, it's not Jesus you are following.

Living in Community: It’s About We

Here we are a New Year. What I like about the New Year is that it feels like another gift of time to get things right. Because of the freedom we have in Christ, a New Year can be received like a kind of do-over. We can’t undo the past, or erase the mistakes, but we can learn from the mistakes, make amends, and build on the good we have experienced. I’ve laughed at New Year’s resolutions. Make a solemn vow on January 1st and within a week, oh, well, maybe next year. Today on this first Sunday of the New Year I want to encourage you to make a resolution concerning your behavior. I want to encourage you to treat each other as Christians are empowered to treat one another. This teaching is about how Christians are to behave towards one another.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
“…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

The old way of life, the way you lived goes. A new life, a new way for you to live begins. That new life is best characterized as being spiritually aware.

When we enter into a right relationship with God through faith in the gospel you are born again. The gospel is that God incarnated and become known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus revealed God to us, God’s love; God’s compassion; God’s forgiveness. Jesus revealed to us how we are meant to live as human beings. Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom, it is in the Kingdom that all is made right. Then Jesus sacrificed Himself, an act of obedience, that overcame every act of our disobedience. He shed His blood, dying on a cross, that anyone may be reconciled to God. Jesus rose again, promising all who believe, simply believe, eternal life, and the same power that raised Jesus from the grave will raise you also. That’s the gospel.

When you simply believe that Jesus has done all that needs to be done to reconcile you to God, you are born again; Born again, talk about a do-over. Receive God’s gift, make a public declaration of your faith and you are officially a Christian, a follower of Jesus, a disciple. You have been adopted into God’s family. You’re not a step-child; you’re a legal member of the family. Co-heir to the blessings of Christ, a member of the kingdom, co-equal with every other believer, a child now of God. This is an incredible new start.

Let’s up the blessing, shall we? When you believe God Himself, God the Holy Spirit indwells you, actually takes up residence within you, His purpose is to partner with you in becoming all that God has created you to be, to guide you into living your life to the full. Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth. The Holy Spirit empowers you to live the life of this new person God made you.

Yet even with all these gifts, there is spiritual work that needs to be accomplished. What we tend to do is bring the way we have done our old way of life into our new life. We bring with us what was normal in the way we related to people before Christ right into our new life and new family in Christ. We basically replicate what we know, instead of learning the new way we are to live and relate to one another. When we do so, we don’t act like Christians. This is not a new problem in the Church, Christians acting like anything but those called to love one another, but it seems especially prevalent in today’s culture that when we are brought from the sewer we don’t know how to live in the palace. We are going to look at one old way of living that we bring into the new way of life that is a deterrent to living in Community. That old way is self-centeredness.

Romans 12:2 (NLT)
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

The customs of this world are what we all grew up immersed in, rarely have we taken the time to evaluate them because they seem so normal. We haven’t looked in the mirror to examine ourselves because we think there’s nothing wrong.

We get many revelations in scripture as to how Jesus thought, not only in the things he said but more so in the things he did. This is our mirror, our model, our standard, His are the thought patterns we are to adopt. St. Paul was one of the early followers of Jesus and he wrote to a church in the town of Philippi about how Jesus thought. In the letter, Paul recognized Jesus' status as Co-equal with God. We don’t want to gloss over that too quickly. It's really difficult to speak correctly about what theologians call the Godhead, the Trinity, God in three persons, Not three God’s but One God self-revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You don’t climb any higher on the authority, prestige, importance, influential, trend-setter, and power ladder. You are top Dog; not only King of the mountain but the maker of the mountain. Jesus doesn’t show off how great He is. He sets aside all the privileges of deity and incarnates, becomes human (Philippians 2:5-11). He comes to us as one who serves (Luke 22:27). When we read the conception story we learn that Jesus is just like every other human being except he is born free from Adam’s curse. He is not a son of Adam. He is not estranged from God. Being a man, Jesus demonstrated how humans are to behave. In that letter that Paul wrote we read:

Phil 2:7-8 (NLT)
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God. Jesus demonstrated humility.

One of the customs of the world that we drag into our new lives with Christ is wrapped up in the slogan: “It’s all about me.” We’re talking about self-centeredness.  Here’s a local worship team that brings this message home for us:

For you who may have missed the subtle message, let’s see if this special TV offer enlightens you to the problem of dragging pride into your new life as a member of the family of God:

OK for you folks who never listen to the lyrics, one more clip:

When you become a Christian, it’s no longer about me, it’s about “we.” The scripture reveals that those who are united to Christ are united to one another.  1Cor 12:27 gives us a word picture describing a spiritual reality. Jesus is the head of the body, those who believe are the body. In your new life, you are part of one body. Each believer is a living part. Pathologists call a part in the body that is “all about me” cancer. I’ve seen such cancers kill congregations and have been the cause of many falling away from the faith and especially “the church.”

Romans 12:4-5 (NCV)
Each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses. In the same way, we are many, but in Christ, we are all one body. Each one is a part of that body, and each part belongs to all the other parts.

President John F. Kennedy in his famous inaugural address in 1961 said: “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” The clarion call of the culture has changed—it's more what can I get than what I can give to make things better. This self-centeredness is cancer that we drag into our new life with Christ. We see ourselves as all that and a bag of chips and we want special attention. We want others to pay us deference. We want others to recognize how wonderful we are. When we feel slighted, or we don’t get what we want we complain. “It’s all about me.” You’re not paying attention to me, you’re not catering to me, you’re not doing what I want, you’re not spending time and money and effort on taking care of me. You don’t sing the music I like, you don’t serve the coffee I like, you don’t regulate the temperature the way I want. There an old movie called “The Little Shop of Horrors” it features a talking carnivorous plant that has a special taste for humans. Its dialogue is rather repetitious, it one line is “Feed Me,” sometimes with the variation “feed me more.” Watch the clip--

I see this same type of “Feed Me” behavior in Christians who have dragged the old way of doing life into the new. They quickly become a disruption in the body as they put demands on every other disciple to take care of them. People can become black holes of need and exhaust the body, “Feed Me More.”  I have referred to such folk as EGRs, that is Extra Grace Required for the body to deal with.

“I want what I want when I want it,” and if you don’t give it to me, “how dare you!” You’re a bad person. You didn’t respect me. You don’t love me. What a bunch of hypocrites! A hissy fit, a tantrum is thrown and you want everyone to know it. Unfortunately, such behavior is parasitic.  It drains the body of vitality or vibrancy, and worse distracts from the calling of the church. This is cancer in the body.

In a healthy body, every part works together for the common good. So we are urged over and over again in scripture: do what benefits the whole.

Romans 12:1 (NCV)
So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him.

To be a living sacrifice you seek the will of God and choose to live according to it. Often that entails denying self for the welfare of the body. Sacrificing self is being inconvenienced by choosing to do what benefits the body.  If you do what strengthens the body, you contribute to your own well-being, since you are part of the body,  

1 Corinthians 12:25-26 (TLB)
“…the parts have the same care for each other that they do for themselves. 26 If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.”

When self-centeredness motivates you to demand deference, to gossip, to spread rumors, to try to garner support for “your side,” to be a consumer and not a contributor, you think you are promoting self, but in actuality, you're causing your own body harm.

Since we tend to be blind to what we are doing I am going to use a leadership principle to illuminate the problem. This is not intended to be a guilt trip or to motivate you to do something, it is a lighted mirror for you to look into and evaluate what you see, that’s all. Ok? No heavy guilt trips here. If the principle hits home let the Holy Spirit gently lead you in the way of the disciple.

The leadership principle is known as The Pareto Principle which states that in any organization, especially in a volunteer organization like the church, 20 % of the congregation does the work, while 80% of the congregation benefit from. It’s most often the same 20% doing serving, and the same 80% doing the consuming. Again don’t hear a guilt trip in this.  You see it all the time, but most clearly in a church workday, or an outreach, or in a fellowship meal, or in janitorial work, or gardening work, or teaching, or ushering or greeting guests, “or, or, or” in just about every other area of service.  The same folks show up to do the work. If only 20% of your body parts are functioning, do you think the body is sick or healthy, declining or thriving?  When you are consumed with self-centeredness it doesn’t even enter your mind that you appear to be playing the role of the boss, the master, when we have all been called to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

1 Corinthians 12:27 & Romans 12:6-8 (NLT)
“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”  “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

There is a very effective way to tell what opportunity God has given you to serve. If you see something that needs to be done, “do it.” You seeing the need is your Divine call to go to work. A while back someone informed me, “Pastor the trash in the kitchen needs to be taken out.” I said, let me show you how to take care of that problem, but they had to leave and didn’t have time. That individual eventually left for a more consumer-oriented congregation and will remain nameless. 

This is how we live as Christians in community. We do what builds the body up. We build up with our words, our attitude, our service, this is love in action (John 13:35). The well-being of all is your concern.  Addressing concerns, asking questions, seeking clarification is healthy; critical complaining while not offering solutions or willing to be part of the solution, infighting: not healthy; that’s biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15).

Philippians 2:3-4 (NLT)
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

A change of thought must occur for the body to be healthy and thrive. I have to understand that I am to be a living sacrifice to God. Being a living sacrifice means I am here to serve and not be served. I am to encourage not discourage with my words so I have to put a guard on my mouth (Psalm 141:3 & Ephesians 4:29). I have to adopt the attitude that life is about us, not me, therefore I serve the body in love (Matthew 23:11). I have to be willing to be insulted, slighted, and then forgive (Matthew 18:21-22)  and once having put it under the account of Christ, go in humility confronting this apparently rude brother or sister, lovingly not accusingly, not demanding, relating to them how the situation made me feel (Matthew 18:15).  I have to be willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the body. Jesus said it this way:

Matthew 16:24 (NLT)
 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.

There is a balance to be struck between caring for self and caring for others. Self-centeredness is sly. It is not easily vanquished. We have grown up in a culture that is “Me first,” with the motto: “Do unto others before they do unto you.” We seem to constantly ask “What’s in it for me?” As a new creation in Christ, you already have been given the power to deal with self-centeredness. I have found that vanquishing self-centeredness is not a onetime battle, but rather an ongoing war, a deterrent to the welfare of my family that I must guard against. So it comes down to recognizing when I am acting purely out of my pride to promote self and using the power given to change my behavior before I damage the body.

I encourage you to make a New Year’s resolution. Determine that you will be a healthy part of the body of Christ.

Romans 12:9-11 (NLT)
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.


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