Sin #1: Selfishness

Let’s hit the easy one first.  By easy, I mean easy to identify, not to defeat.
What is selfishness?  Before we define it, let’s begin with this passage from the Bible.

Matthew 10:37-39
The one loving father or mother above me is not worthy of me.  And the one loving son or daughter above me is not worthy of me.  And he who is not taking his cross and following after me is not worthy of me. The one having found his life will lose it, and the one having lost his life for my sake will find it. (NT Transline)

Anyone who says being a Christian is easy is either ignorant, delusional, or deceptive.  This verse features Jesus explaining what it means to follow Him.  He says this same thing in other places with slight variations.  What is the ‘cross’ that we must take with us?  (Remember, Jesus said this before being crucified, before the cross meant anything like what it means today).  The cross is our self-will.  Are we going to live our lives however we want, or will we submit our desires, hopes, dreams, and hearts to God, and allow Him to lead us–believing that He knows better than us how to live and where to go?

This is the central question of the gospel and of the entire Bible.  It is the fundamental issue that plagued the Israelites after they were set free from Egypt.  It is the same issue that plunged the nation into judgment centuries later.  Do we trust God?  Do we believe Him?  Will He take care of us?

What’s In Your Heart?
What is the opposite of love? Most people instinctively think of hate. But love’s real adversary is selfishness.  Either we will love God–which means to do His will, obey His word, seek Him with our whole heart–or we will do what we feel like doing, and live the way we want, and no one can tell us what to do.  Especially God.  Likewise, either we will love each other–spouses, children, friends, coworkers, strangers–and in so doing put their needs before our own, or we will ignore the needs of others until our own are met.  Comfort before sacrifice.  But Jesus says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.

Now, the world often accuses Christians of telling them how to live.  How dare they force their values on us.  How dare they tell us how to live.  But it’s not the Christian who is telling them this.  It’s God.  The original Law came directly from God to Moses.  The new covenant came through Jesus to the whole world.  And Jesus, right here and in many other places, clearly declares that to follow Him, you must give up your right to determine how you will live.  Further, you must follow Him more than you are devoted even to your own family.

Now, why does He say that?  Why would He say we have to love Him more than our parents or children?  Because He won’t ever let us down.  Because He is the God of our parents and children as well as us.  He will love them better than we can.  He is first.  There are no other gods before Him.  Obviously, Jesus isn’t telling us family doesn’t matter.  Many other verses make it crystal clear how much we are to love and honor our parents and children.  But God comes first.

An even stronger reason Jesus says this is because our families are so important to us.  If we are to put God even before the people most precious to us, then where does God rank in our hearts compared to all the other stuff?  To cable TV?  To the internet?  To our jobs, or our fashion, or our bank accounts?  What about our needs, like security, sexual fulfillment, peace, joy, and belonging?  We put God before those too?  Yes, because He is ultimately the only one who can provide them.

It’s like the second to last quote from Pornified in the Intro.  Excitement leads to pleasure which leads to satisfaction.  But eventually, this leads to boredom.  Everything good in the world, by itself and in great enough quantity, eventually leads to boredom.  Why else would celebrities who are married to the most beautiful models and actresses in the world go cheat with other women?  How stupid can they be?  They’re not stupid.  It’s simple boredom, resulting from selfishness.  Not any more complicated than that.  If you don’t love, you get bored.  And if you aren’t loved (or don’t realize how much you are), you’ll go do what you want until you feel better about yourself.

Proverbs 21:17
He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich. (NAS)

Again, stop interpreting the dozens of verses like this to only refer to monetary wealth.  Hugh Hefner is rich, and he loves pleasure.  He’s not rich inside.  He’s probably one of the most insecure men in the world.  Needing all these young, naive lovelies to surround him and help him feel like he’s cared for and adored.  But he’s not.  Look at what the first batch of the Girls Next Door ended up doing.  All three of them ended up with their own reality shows.  And all three of them left him.  Once he got them access to the celebrity world, they cashed it in and now have their own careers.  Now, I’m not saying they felt nothing for him.  I’m not them, and can’t possibly know that.  But I do know they didn’t love him.  In the true sense of this word, the unconditional sense, they could not have loved him.  If they did, they would not have left (ignoring for the moment he had three of them!).  Of course, it’s doubtful he loved them either.  He just needed a place to put his….uh…right, we get the idea.  He loved how they made him feel.  Like many today, feelings are the barometer of love.  When I stop feeling good, I must not be in love anymore.

Actions and Behaviors
So what does selfishness lead us to do?  What actions demonstrate this sin to be pulsing within?

The number one way this shows up is in our willingness to hurt another person to get what we want.  Recall the 6th quote from Pornified in the Intro.  As long as no one gets “hurt,” there isn’t anything wrong.  This is a common deception in today’s ‘not as bad’ morality.  Many people believe that as long as no one gets hurt, then whatever you’re doing is okay.  The question no one asks about this is, “What does it mean to be ‘hurt’, and can I control that?”

Esther, one of my favorite books, reveals this attitude wonderfully through the person of Haman.  This man was willing to execute an innocent man.  He later was willing to orchestrate the annihilation of the man’s entire race (sound familiar, Adolph?), all because his pride had been insulted.  He felt slighted, not given his rightful honor.  It began here:

Esther 3:5
When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage. (NAS)

This seemingly small incident initiates a sequence of events that leads to the deaths of thousands of people, and could have led to many more had Haman’s plans succeeded.  Thousands.  Read this one more time.  THOUSANDS of people died.  Why?  Because of one man’s pride being insulted, and him not having the humility, dignity, or integrity to let…it…go.

But I thought pride can’t hurt anyone.  It’s not an action.  Terrell Owens has pride, and no one gets hurt, right?  Not yet, at least not physically.  As far as we know.  Is physical suffering the only kind of “hurt?”  If you think that, you should move to Antarctica and bury yourself in the ice, because you aren’t human.  Of course there are other kinds of pain and suffering.

Had Haman stopped there and let it go, no one would have gotten hurt.  But that’s the point.  He didn’t let it go.  That’s why it’s a SIN.  Sin hurts.  It is inevitable.  Sin produces suffering.  Sin kills.  Sin exploits.  Sin derides.  Sin gossips, maligns, slanders, steals, and does whatever it feels like.  Sin rules!

And if you think looking at porn has never hurt anyone, then you are willfully delusional.  Am I being insulting?  No, actually.  Read Pornified.  I’m not touting this book as the consummate truth or anything.  It’s just one book.  There are several others.  There’s human trafficking all over the world.  Hundreds of thousands of young girls and boys, women and men, sold, kidnaped, exploited, raped, and ruined.  For what?  For the selfish sexual gratification of insecure men.  Are we really that different?  The lucrative human slavery industry makes millions of dollars a year.  Someone is paying for it.

No one gets hurt?  You think all those porn actresses love what they’re doing?  Many of them have convinced themselves they do.  But a few of them have failed in this attempt, and one day the realization of the state of their lives crashes down on them, and they fall to pieces.  Drug addiction, prison, prostitution.  They crumble.  They need help.  Groups such as the xxxchurch and Shelley Lubben’s ministry reach out to these women.  Lubben, an ex-porn star who is now a Christian, tells her story with redemptive humility in the documentary Traffic Control.  Ministers such as these know the women still enslaved by porn.  They listen to them.  They help them.  The xxxchurch ministry, and the men and women who run it, are heroes of the faith.  They’ve done more good in a few years than some churches have done in decades.  By the grace of God.

The Pain of Porn
Check out these quotes from Pornified (the names were changed by the author):

“Abby quietly seethed inside, unable to handle Leo’s dual nature: good Christian on the outside, porn-frenzied pothead at home.  When she reproached him, Leo accused her of being a Jesus freak.”

“Leo even went and told the pastor about the source of their marital problems. ‘She’ll just have to learn that all men struggle with pornography,’ the pastor advised.  Abby quit the church.”

Who got hurt in this scenario?  Everyone.  The pastor.  The church.  The husband and wife. And any kids they may have had.  And all of us.  How many unbelievers scorn the church because of stories like this?  “Oh, he’s a Christian, and look what he did.  Look what the pastor said.  They only care about the size of their congregation.  They don’t care about real needs.”  And they’re right.  What kind of crazy person would join a church after hearing a story like this?  Now you’re not just hurting your family.  The very eternity of souls is now at stake.  I’d call that ‘hurt.’

Abby left the church because of porn.  There are thousands of people who have left the church over stuff like this.  No support or understanding from the leadership or from the people around them.  Blaming the victim.  This infuriates me, that a pastor would say something like this.  What does God think of all this?  What does God think of our pornified nation?

Who gets hurt through porn?  Everyone.  Just like alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, or any other addiction ruins families and hurts lots of people, externally and internally, financially and relationally, psychologically and physically, porn addiction does the same thing.

Does it happen right away?  Of course not.  Does it happen the first time a guy goes to a casino?  Thus the ignorance of our culture.  The inability to assess long term consequences.   The denial or minimization of psychological damage.  The certainty of our own ever-shifting standards of morality.  So we go on living for ourselves, doing what we want, and denying that anyone gets hurt along the way.

Biblical Truth
In II Samuel, which records King David’s problems with sexual sins, there are a number of profound insights into human nature and the nature of sin.  Listen to this story from the prophet Nathan, and the dialogue that follows it:

II Samuel 12:1-8
Then the Lord sent Nathan to David.  And he came to him and said, “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a great many flocks and herds.  But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and his children.  It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him.
Now a traveler came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.  He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.”
Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!’” (NAS)

There is so much to say about this passage.  Look at God’s heart toward David.  All he had to do was ask, and God would have given him almost anything.  Does God do the same for us?  As we see here, He wants to, but some of His blessings are conditional based upon our conduct.  Yes, God’s love is unconditional, but so much more awaits us if we turn to Him and trust Him with our lives, our needs, our wants, and our ambitions.

And look at David’s reaction to the story of injustice.  He rightly recognizes that the man deserves to die, but in this instance justice demands a repayment of four times as much.  We see a duality in the penalty for sin here.  Death is the just punishment for all sin, and this destiny awaits us all in eternity if we continue to reject God’s offer of salvation.  But in this life, many sins have a separate punishment that fits the crime.  In this case, the victim deserved a fourfold compensation.

But now, let’s focus on the main point to draw from the story.  This story is Nathan’s way of describing, in parable (an analogy in the form of a story), the nature of David’s sin of adultery and murder that he had committed previously with Bathsheba.

David is the rich man in the story.  Why?  He has an abundance of everything.  He has multiple wives (let’s not get into that for now), authority over the whole nation, military conquests, peace on every side, the anointing and favor of God, and ever increasing wealth.  Now, if you don’t know the Bible too well, don’t think David is a stuck-up arrogant ruler with a silver spoon. Read 1 Samuel, and learn what kind of suffering he had to endure before receiving all these blessings from God.  It far eclipses anything most of us have suffered, and David endured it all with his eyes on God, and his faith strong in the Lord.  He is one of the greatest examples in history of a person who lives by faith and courage.  Thus this story is his tragedy.

Uriah, the former husband of Bathsheba, is the poor man in the story.  Why?  Because he has none of the things David has, except one–a beautiful wife.  She is Uriah’s one treasure, his blessing from God, and his joy.  And the poor man has his only lamb stolen by the rich man, who has an abundance of herds and sheep.  So why would a rich man who has everything steal from a poor man who has but one treasure in his house?  Selfishness.

David saw Bathsheba, and wanted her.  It’s not any more complicated than that.  When we look at porn, or go to strip clubs, or buy prostitutes, we too are stealing, and we do so out of compulsive selfishness.  I want this because it will make me feel better, and I don’t care what you say, or what God says, or what my wife says, or what my accountability group says, or what my parents say.  I need it; I feel so much pressure and anxiety; I need some relief; I need to feel accepted and desired, and these beautiful naked women make me feel that way.  I want what they will give me, that no one else can give me.  I, me, need, feel, want.

Habits Form, Habits Break
The more we give in to this sin, the more its reasoning becomes part of our pattern of thought.  We think first of ourselves, of our needs, and then make decisions based on that.  The needs of others (or the Word of God) do not enter the equation.  Do you see why this sin is so much more dangerous than one external act of lust?  This kind of thinking will extend into all other areas of our lives.  Financial generosity, giving our time to others, doing something for a friend rather than watch the game, help our wives with something rather than play video games.  You get the idea.  On what should we base our decisions?  Galatians says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit.”  After that, in 5:16 it says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.”  A person who lives by the Spirit makes decisions based upon the values of the Spirit, not on their own selfishness.

This type of internal change will not happen in one night.  This is my point in wanting you to understand that to defeat sin in your life, it requires a fundamental shift in your understanding of what it means to be a Christian.  This is what it means.  It means you really do love God more than your parents or children.  You really do put His will before your own.  And that hurts sometimes.  That’s why Jesus calls it a “cross.”  A cross entails personal suffering, and sometimes it hurts to put God’s will before our own.  Usually, it just hurts our pride.  But as we saw with Haman, that can be enough to destroy worlds.

To live in freedom, we must learn to live by the Spirit, and not by our own wants and desires.  In this story told by Nathan, the poor man doesn’t just have a lamb stolen from him.  The rich man also steals his dignity, his humanity.  What must it be like to stand before his family now?  Humiliated, bereft, robbed of a huge part of his life.

Victims of Selfishness
And when you look at porn, you too are stealing.  You’re stealing the God-given sexuality from each woman you look at and masturbate over.  You’re stealing her humanity and dignity and self-worth.  You are taking from her something you can’t give back.  The rich man couldn’t give the poor man his lamb back.  Even if he gave back four new lambs, they wouldn’t be the same one.  The material provision would be restored, as is just.  But the wounds would still be there.  The mistrust.  The fear.  What if he does it again?  What if he seeks revenge because he had to pay me back?

The women we victimize through porn suffer these things and more.  They don’t trust men.  They believe all we want is the pleasure they can give us.  They think we’d take advantage of them if given the chance.  And to prevent that, they just give it to us at the outset and get paid for it.  They think that will make us leave them alone (you can see why so many women who star in porn were sexually abused as children…it’s very, very common).  And it doesn’t matter if they’re doing this willingly or not (but don’t be deceived, some of them really aren’t, and you can’t tell the difference with one hand down your pants).  We still exploit them and steal from them.  We must own up to that.  The greater sin here is not lust, but our selfish appropriation of something sacred that belongs to another person.

And we cannot ever give it back.  Don’t believe me?  Talk to a woman who has been abused or raped.  It doesn’t matter if their attacker gets executed.  The fear, the insecurity, the tentativeness–these all linger for years afterward.  Just because the porn actresses get paid doesn’t mean they don’t feel things like this too.  In the area of sexuality, it is impossible to avoid.  They may not feel fear necessarily, but whatever psychological damage they suffer cannot be fixed by us who have wrought it.

And that’s just what you’re stealing from the victims.  What about your wife (or future wife), or girlfriend, or congregation, or Sunday school class, or employees, or employers?  Trust can be broken in a single day.  Hypocrisy exposed can destroy a lifetime’s good reputation.  Just look at John Edwards.

Selfishness is the willingness to hurt someone to get what you want.  Read Esther to see how Haman’s selfish pride consumes him and leads to arrogance, jealousy, hate, rage and violence.