A New Kind of Christian [Egoism]
Lately I’ve been struck by how many seemingly mature Christians are “bent in on themselves” (to borrow from Martin Luther). While John Piper’s Christian hedonism, outlined in his now classic Desiring God, has merit (namely that believers are most satisfied with life when God is most glorified in them), I cannot get over how many I know who name Christ as Lord, but seemingly think only of themselves! It’s no surprise that those of this stripe are the least pleased with their life circumstances despite all the efforts to infuse pleasure into their existence. Ironically, in an effort to promote their own pleasure, they end up producing considerable pain! What Rick Warren’s popular Purpose Driven Life says in the opening chapter, namely, “It’s not about you,” and Piper’s dictum that we must find pleasure in God and his purposes as the summum bonum of Christian experience, is simply being ignored in many Christian circles. Our narcissistic society is breeding a new kind of Christian egoism that puts personal interests above others.
Inevitably this selfish tendency gives birth to the “empty self,” which J. P. Moreland’s Kingdom Triangle annotates in detail. Sadly, rather than living a rich and rewarding existence spending ourselves on others, I know too many believers who look only “within” to find peace and fulfillment. Their quiet times are more precious than shoveling their neighbor’s driveway after a snowstorm. Time spent on devotional or academic readings obscures the call to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Lest I be accused of bifurcation here, let me be clear. It’s not a matter of either a) having devotional times, preparing to do ministry by hard, focused academic study or b) meeting others’ practical needs where possible and making disciples for Christ. Rather, this is a call to explicit obedience to Scripture as in 1 John 3:16-18. My logic follows that of Jesus in Matthew 23:23. We must both devote personal time to Christ and reach out to those around us. The former should naturally give rise to the latter.
Despite Scripture’s clear teaching about investing in the lives of others, many invest only in themselves. It’s rare that I hear from others what is going on in someone else’s life. In fact, one believer confessed to me they do not even know their neighbors after many years living in the same house. I hardly ever hear a call for requests to pray for others from the “others” that I speak with regularly. Instead, it’s all about them!
The Apostle Paul makes clear that we must “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3, 4, TNIV).
Likewise, Christ teaches us that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35); blessing comes from giving, not receiving. While it may be nice to be on the receiving end, true blessing comes from investing in others for God’s glory. Moreover, there’s a kind of reciprocity when we give to others and we find that generosity yields prosperity “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25). We really do receive back what we give.
Believers are the light of the world and when our light shines into the lives of others by our good works on their behalf, then God’s glorious presence is illuminated (Matthew 5:14-16). If the spotlight is constantly on ourselves, then we illuminate nothing whatsoever of eternal import and we end up multiplying our discontent and prolonging the misery of the empty self. God help us to to find pleasure in serving others and experience the blessing of giving!