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  • Writer's pictureDon Walker

Deliverance from the Cult of Self

Selfishness is the epidemic disease of our day. Unbeknownst, to those suffering from this disease, it is destructive. We are systematically taught from our earliest days to "look out for number one," to "pamper ourselves," and to "encourage self-actualization, self-awareness, and self-esteem." We have made a supreme vice into a supreme virtue. As a result we have become self-absorbed, self-concerned, and self-consumed. We have also become supremely unhappy and unfulfilled. As psychologist Paul Kellerman has pointed out, this is precisely because "The only path to genuine happiness and fulfillment is through service to others. It is only as we give ourselves away that we can truly discover ourselves." Whereas, in times past the motivating concept that shaped our society was "faith in God," it is now "self-fulfillment." The modern cult of self beckons us to "find ourselves" by turning inward. It entices to "satisfy ourselves" by "being true to ourselves." Modern man wrongly assumes that all his personal ills are a result of his failure to "love himself," actually nothing could be further from the truth. He has been brainwashed to believe that the root of all bliss is "self –esteem." But one of the most basic principles of sociology is that satisfaction, purposefulness, contentment, and success are all directly connected to selfless service. In other words, authority ultimately resolves itself upon the servant not upon the tyrant. This basic concept of social development is understood all too well by the administrators of many of our contemporary social service institutions. They recognize that whatever agency serves the needs of the people will ultimately gain the allegiance of the people. So, they serve. And, as a result of the entitlements they bestow upon others, they gain more and more authority. As my dear friend Dennis Peacocke is fond of saying, "He who serves leads." Unfortunately, many believers have seemingly missed this truth. Notice what Jesus taught His disciples, "And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel’" (Luke 22:25-30). The cult of self is contradicted by the whole of history. The great lessons of the history are invariably told through the lives and work of men and women who put the interests of others before their own, who put the safety of others before their own, and who put the happiness of others before their own. Compare the life stories of men like William Wallace, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Booker T. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill with our modern day obsession with self. The contrast is immediate and enormous. The heroes of the past were always those who resisted the temptation of selfishness. They fought for justice, they cared for the needy, they worked for mercy, they fed the hungry, and they rescued the perishing. Their greatest accomplishments were always the result of their comprehension that servanthood was ultimately the key to significance and success. There is an axiomatic principle of life that reveals if a person or thing does not abandon its independence and right to exist as a "free agent," it will never fulfill the purpose for which it was created. Marriage is an example of this truth. It was the intent and the design of the Creator that in marriage two individuals become a single unit. "These two shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). This does not mean that the woman loses her identity, and becomes a mere "shadow" of the man. But it does mean that both are required to lose their independence in order to attain the fulfillment and joy that God purposed in marriage. Each individual must be willing to abandon "self" for the sake of the marriage. Our society is seeing the purpose and joy drain out of marriage because individuals have become more and more preoccupied with self-fulfillment. As long as marriage partners put their self-fulfillment as the focus of their relationship, they remain separate individuals and the "life" of the marriage is lost. This principle is evident in the biology as well. For instance, a living cell in an organism, such as the human body, is not designed to function in and for itself. Each cell was created to function in service to the other cells in the organism. On occasion a cell will step out of its proper place and begin to act independently. When this occurs the cell has become cancerous and must be destroyed in order that the life of the body might be spared. The world of physics provides us with another example. The three subatomic particles – protons, neutrons, and electrons – are useless existing independently. They can, however, lose their independence and become bound with other particles to form the elements that make up our universe. Together with other atoms, they form an almost infinite number of compounds that bear no resemblance to the identity of the original elements. Plato, over three hundred years before Christ, understood this principle and its relationship to the social order. In reference to a society that had demanded the independence of the individual to the detriment of the whole, he wrote, "They fret at the least hint of servitude, and won’t have it; for at last, you know, they care nothing for the laws written or unwritten, that no one may be their master in anything. This then is the beginning from which tyranny grows." [Great Dialogues of Plato, New York: The New American Library, 1956. pg. 362.] When a people are consumed with independence and self-fulfillment they are on the road to the loss of liberty. In the economy of God one will only find frustration and emptiness seeking to serve and satisfy one’s self. On the other hand, true fulfillment and joy are ours if abandon the quest of self-fulfillment, and lose our life in God’s Kingdom. Jesus stated it this way: "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25). This principle of life could not be more simply stated.

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