Self: An Evangelical Four Letter Word

Many years ago, I remember waiting at the checkstand in a supermarket when I first saw an issue of the magazine, Self. I was horrified and disgusted.  It was the most blatant manifestation of the cultural drive towards self-centeredness and egotism. I even remember mentioning it to a friend in discussing the depravity of the world.

Nowadays, I don’t think I’d be as mortified. I’m still a little saddened by it because the magazine really is, so far as I can tell without actually flipping through a copy, a glorification of shallow ideals. But my original horror, I think, is also a testament to the mindset of some of the Evangelical church where one is not supposed to value self but only other.

I have commented before that there is a self to deny and a self to preserve and nurture, and perhaps this post is nothing more than a recapitulation of that previous thought. Regardless, I saw another copy of Self the other day and was reminded of this mentality that I had taken on. Some of it, I am convinced, is the product of the church’s constant message, spoken and not, that one is to do for others, care for others, look out for others, and save others, and anything you do for yourself is selfish, selfishness being the embodiment of evil.

I like to point out to people when this mentality shows up that Jesus was selfish.

Not all the time, of course. Pure selfishness is a sure warping of what God desires for us, but there are times when caring for oneself and looking out for oneself is exactly what we need to do. When the disciples were crossing the sea, Jesus was tired and took a nap rather than tending to them. When crowds were gathering around Him, demanding and pleading for things, Jesus slipped away to be by Himself. Jesus didn’t just look out for others, He also looked to his own needs.

Paul even notes this in writing to the Philippian church: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:4 NASB)  Paul’s concern was that the church was acting like what sin drives us all towards – that self-centeredness and egotism. However, the word that gets left out in so many unspoken mentalities is the word, also.  Don’t selfishly look out for what you need, but also look out for others, too.  You must care for the whole church, not just yourself, but also not excluding yourself. You are part of the body of Christ, and failure to care for yourself means that part of the body will whither, and when one part suffers, as Paul notes in another passage, the whole body suffers. “… no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29 NASB) Paul adds in a metaphor for marriage. We must care for ourselves as Paul admonishes and Jesus demonstrated.

It is not a sin to tend to oneself. In fact, it can be very damaging to fail to care for oneself. If we neglect or hate ourselves, we are essentially calling bad or unlovable what God has declared lovable. In fact, when we do not love ourselves, we may end up rejecting the love of others, including God, and then we prevent them from being able to follow through on their calling to love us.

The church is right to fight against self-centeredness. Sin drives us there. But when that doesn’t work, sin can drive us towards self-hatred, and that is just as damaging. You were created good, and no matter how much sin has tainted you, God still loves and desires you; in that sense, you still are good.

Self isn’t a four letter word.

God, help me see how much I’ve taken in the belief that tending to myself is wrong or that I’m not lovable. Help me see how I sabotage myself and end up avoiding being loved. It’s easy to slip into being me-focused, but it’s just as easy to slip into feeling like I shouldn’t care for myself or let myself enjoy good things at all. You love me, I know, but there are things about me that I don’t really believe You love. Show me where I am mistaken and how much You want me to flourish. Blessed be You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, perfectly in relationship, loving one another and thereby loving Yourself, Lord God.

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