Few sins wage war in the church like selfishness. Selfishness is an ugly word. Most parents, saved or unsaved, seek to teach their children from the earliest possible moment that they should not be selfish. “You must learn to share with others” is a parent’s mantra and a good one at that!
Have you noticed that the center letter of the little word “sin” is “I”? Adam and Eve sinned in the garden because of self-centered, self-absorbed selfishness. Since that moment, the human race has made selfishness its favorite pastime. Self-centeredness usually is followed by the blame game. We perceive the reason for our failures or being deprived of our wants is caused by someone else.
These attitudes and actions are played out in many ways in the church. For example, many people choose a church like a consumer. The focus is on what I want for me and my family. Do I like the music? Are the pews comfortable? Do I like the preacher? Do they have donuts in Sunday School? Okay, so maybe not the last one. That is “I”-thinking when the real question should be “Lord, where would you have me and my family make a difference for the Kingdom with our service and tithes?”
You also hear this self-centered attitude come out in other ways from those who are part of the church. For example, you arrive at your designated pew where you have sat for years, only to find a visitor sitting in YOUR pew. “Of all the nerve! That’s been my pew for 40 years. I gave to the building fund so we could have these pews, and this one is mine.” “I” is the center of that kind of thinking. And, by the way, that is just a simple example of a myriad of “I”-centered ways.
A church often loses its cutting edge because of failing to reach the surrounding neighborhood. People of color or differing language move into the neighborhood; these people visit the church, and some join. Rather than embrace these individuals and fold them into the body, we become afraid these people will take over “our” church. There is that “I”-thinking again. We sing with gusto the song, “Jesus loves the little children of the world, red and yellow, black and white,” but do we really mean He loves them as long as they stay out of our world or as long as they are children not adults?
We also allow our wants to overshadow the best for the church. Too often we are more concerned about our desires than what is best for the church as a whole—“I” is center rather than “we.” The question ought not to be “what do I want or like,” but “what does Christ want us, His church, to do that will bring glory to His name and allow us to reach the most people?” Church decisions should not be a collection of the wills and ways of the people, but a surrender to the will and way of our Lord who is Head of the Church.
The greatest challenge for me personally is the surrender of my will for His. My wants and desires are hard to overcome. When I (we) surrender to the One who was totally selfless, selfishness dies as we become more like our Savior. Self-centeredness does not thrive where Christ is Lord. Christians are to be Christo-centric not self-centric.
Our churches are in conflict and turmoil so often because too many of us are focused on “I” rather than Christ. We are self-absorbed rather than “others” oriented. Perhaps it is time for us to fall on our faces and cry out to God for the cleansing and renewal of our minds, which will always move us from “I” to Christ and “we.”