We are a culture that can be incredibly focused on self. Who we are, what we’re doing, what we look like — these things can define who we are. We want to reward ourselves, but our selves can often be our own worst enemy. There is a battle going on over our sense of self, and the process can consume us. When we let self overwhelm us, we find we are never satisfied, never at peace, and never centered.
This contrasts with diminishing self-interest and putting Christ at the center of our lives. Instead of everything being about me, I make my life about Christ. When I make my life about Christ, I will immediately make things about others. I will have more room for spiritual things. I will have more room for God. Think of how Peter inserts himself when Jesus is predicting His own death in Mark 8:31 – 33. Peter sees this purely in the light of his own priorities and values, and he doesn’t see the bigger picture Jesus is revealing.
When we have a self-centered life, we may think we know better than God. We wouldn’t say that out loud, but we want things solved our way. We want things done on our own timeline. We’re looking after our own interests first. When we try to make our personal will God’s will, then we’re acting like Peter. We’re putting self before God’s plan.
In Mark 8: 34 – 36, Jesus says this about self-interest:
Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?
To completely follow Christ, we have to lay aside all self-interest and put Him first. We have to let go of control and hand it to God. I have to be willing to admit that I am not in charge.
It’s a daily struggle. Influences all around us are always telling us to reward our selves, to pamper ourselves, to protect ourselves, to put self before anything else. That’s not what a Christ-like life looks like. Instead, we have to understand that self-centeredness is a battle for our time, attention, and priorities. When we take up the cross of Christ, we put self to death so that He can live through us.
In Mark 9:33 – 37, Jesus’ apostles are again struggling with self-interest.
Then they came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but Him who sent Me.
We have to be as humble as young children in the eyes of our Father. We have to be as trusting as a little child who relies on their parent for everything. We have to let go of the habit of self-promotion and begin putting others before self. It’s a natural extension of putting Christ in the center of our lives. We put Christ first, then we will naturally put others before self.
Living to Serve
The very next chapter of Mark’s gospel illustrates this struggle again when, in Mark 10:35 – 45, James and John seek a position of power in Jesus’ prophesied kingdom. Jesus answers them like this:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.
Jesus came to serve. Therefore, we should be living to serve. Humility is the key to this. We should be continually looking for opportunities to help and serve others. Not just those obviously in need, but all of those whose friendship we take for granted on a daily basis. Every day should be spent looking past our own desires and toward the physical and spiritual needs of others. The battle for self never ends, but we can move past it by putting Christ and others first in all things.