Romans 15:4 states that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Many of the “things” written in the Bible are examples, both positive and negative, from which we are able to learn how we are or are not to behave and think before God. A lot of those examples are of selfish people who illustrate the characteristics and consequences having an improper attitude toward self. A consideration of those examples is beneficial for anyone who wants to “deny self” and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).
Cain—an example of one who had no concern for others (Genesis 4). Most are familiar with the story of Cain—how God rejected his sacrifice while accepting that of Abel, his brother. Cain, jealous of his brother and having no regard for anyone but self, murdered his brother. When God afterward asks him where Abel was, Cain responds with the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). All of us must realize we are our “brother’s keepers.” We are to look out for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4) and to esteem others better than self (Phil. 2:3). We must love one another (1 John 4:7). Cain’s selfishness caused him to hate his brother and kill him (1 John 3:11-12).
Ahab—an example of one whose selfishness led him to be concerned about things before he was concerned about people. King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard and pouted when he could not get it (1 Kings 21). His wicked wife Jezebel killed Naboth and then gave his vineyard to her husband as a gift. He was ecstatic. He gave no thought to Naboth or his family. He had what he wanted. Too many people place undue emphasis on things of this world and too little on people. Jesus said one cannot serve God and things (Matt. 6:24).
David—an example of a selfish attitude which caused him to seek fulfillment of his own pleasures with no regard to the cost in getting them. His selfish pursuit of pleasure caused him to sin with Bathsheba. His selfishness then led to lies and murder (2 Samuel 11). God did not allow his sin to go unpunished. He sent the prophet Nathan to expose the sin of David and to announce God’s judgment upon him. Like David, far too many people today are selfishly pursuing pleasure with no regard for either consequences or the impact of their actions upon others.
James and John—examples of those who selfishly desire power and prestige for themselves. They asked for the most prestigious and powerful positions in Jesus’ kingdom (Matt. 20), not to help others, but to have their own egos inflated and fulfilled. The rest of the apostles were greatly distressed at their actions but it seems that James and John had given little thought to what the others thought or how they were affected. They wanted what they wanted and were willing to alienate themselves from their brethren in order to get it. Jesus told them their selfishness reflected the selfish attitude of the worldly-minded. Such ambitious drive today still is opposed to the teachings of Jesus. He said that those who would be great in His kingdom would be a servant of all (Matt. 20:26-27).
The Older Brother of the prodigal (Luke 15)—an example of one who had no compassion or love for others. Jesus stated to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). While the older brother seemed to love his father, his lack of love for his brother showed otherwise. The Christian may claim to love God but if, out of selfishness, he does not love his brother, he, in reality, does not love God (1 John 4:20-21).
Do you find yourself in any of these examples? If so, you must take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation. You must stop being so focused on self. You must start living for Jesus. When you “deny self,” follow Him and allow Him to live in you, His selflessness will be a part of your life. Everything will be better once you start thinking like Christ and thinking of God and others before you think of self. Selfishness can only cause you problems. Selflessness in Christ will bring you great blessings.