“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead…”
– James 2:17
One of the most troubling and troublesome spirits is selfishness or the self-serving spirit. This spirit puts “me” first at the cost of all others. In psychology there is a concept called “self-serving bias.” Self-serving bias is any cognitive process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem. Pop artist Mya captures this image in her song, “It’s All About Me.” The spirit of ‘it’s all about me’ is pervasive in our culture – persons who can only view life and the world though a single lens. Such a person puts their selfish desires ahead of the common good! This self-serving bias has proliferated in our society from business, entertainment, and politics, to sports. Sadly even in the church the spirit of selfishness is prevalent where church members have put self-interest ahead of the unity and the well-being of the church.
The great Michael Jordan, who many of our children look up to and want to emulate, said, “To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve.” Most of us will never achieve the public notoriety of a Michael Jordan, yet this spirit of selfishness threatens all of us. In the words of the Four Tops, “still water runs deep.” Selfishness is like still water in our society, it runs deep. And like water unconstrained it can be a destructive force no matter what level of life it operates in.
Years ago a lady in a church had served the women’s ministry as its president for over 40 years, but the day came when the women decided on a younger leader with fresh ideas. The lady who had served 40 years was like a child with a toy; she tried to dismantle the ministry piece by piece. Her argument was: “this is my ministry!’’ Wherever and whenever a self-serving spirit rears its ugly head, nothing good happens. Pope John Paul II said, “The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.”
We need to bind a selfish spirit because it is antithetical to the spirit of Christ. This spirit entangles and hinders one in their spiritual walk with God. And, when manifested, it will create chaos and discord in any human institution. The Bible is clear; believers are called to be the servant and not the served, let alone self-serving! (See Philippians 2:3). A self-serving spirit is one of the hounds of hell whose task is destruction and if not careful, like a narcotic it can dominate one’s life. Beloved, we must bind this demonic spirit if we are to draw nearer to our God. Therefore, in this third week of our series of breaking the chains, I want to focus on the chain of a self-serving spirit.
In Chapter 2 of James’ epistle, he does not name this spirit as self-serving, but he described a fruit of this spirit. The self-serving spirit is a schizophrenic spirit that takes on many different manifestations: bias, favoritism, inequality, narcissism, and prejudice. For James “favoritism” is an outgrowth of a self-serving spirit. The problem for James is service under the guise of favoritism in the church. It manifested itself first in the synagogue, and then gave way to the same spirit in the community. Thus, James’ concern was that this spirit was undermining the Christian community and was sabotaging any attempt by the believer to draw near to God. Selfishness is outside of the will of God for our lives. Believers of James’ day and believers today cannot draw nearer to God while living outside of the will of God. So, in James 2:14, James admonished the saints to actionalize their faith by serving the poor and needy. Authentic faith must ultimately be actionalized in service to others.
Beloved, the bottom line in the Bible is clear. There is a great distance between the personhood of God and even the best of us. Even if we could find the holiest person on earth, there would still be a great distance between that person and the personhood of God. Yet, James in wisdom prescribed for us what we must do to draw near to God. James laid out three concrete principles in the second chapter of his epistle. If we would meditate on them and implement them in our lives, we will be able to counteract this selfish and self-serving spirit that binds so many of us. Stay tuned to this column next week for the conclusion of this series.
Next Week: Conclusion: Breaking the Chain of a Self-Serving Spirit
The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in these articles, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. Rather, the objective is strictly informative and educational. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.