We Evangelicals often get caught up in the narcissism that characterizes this age. Personally, I believe the absorption of psychology into the visible church has a lot to do with this epidemic. But whatever causes this selfishness, too many of us succumb to it. Including yours truly.
I remember avoiding weddings early in my battle with singleness (I didn’t marry John until I was almost 49). For a couple years in my mid-twenties, I’d explain to my girlfriends that attending their weddings would just be too crushing for me.
Usually my girlfriends accepted my decision without complaint. Finally, however, one had the guts to confront me with my selfishness. She wept with me over my romantic disappointment, but now she very much wanted me to rejoice with her. The man who had broken my heart would also be there, she admitted, but having me there meant a lot to her.
I went. I saw the man who had broken my heart, but then I actually enjoyed myself! More importantly, I showed my girlfriend love by putting her needs before my own. In subsequent years I asked other friends to forgive me for selfishly refusing to attend their weddings.
Attending that wedding demanded dying to myself. Although I considered myself entitled to avoid the emotional pain of watching God bless friend after friend with the one blessing I wanted more than anything else, deep down I understood how selfish my attitude really was.
God’s Word commands us to reject such selfishness in favor of dying to ourselves for the sake of others.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ~~Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV)
While Christ’s death on the cross was infinitely more than a mere example of selflessness, it was by no means less than that. Therefore following His example requires setting aside our own desires, agendas, and sometimes our physical lives for the sake of others. Maybe even for the sake of Jesus.
Dying involves separation. I sat with my mother-in-law until a couple hours before she died. Watching her, I knew we’d be irrevocably separated. No more lunches at her favorite places. No more making her laugh. No more stories about John’s mischievous childhood. We’ve been separated from her for almost three years.
Similarly, dying to self necessitates separating from our comforts. We subordinate our own will to the needs or desires of another. Far from a symbolic gesture, it costs us something. Death to self actually means death to self.
Death to self doesn’t appeal to us, particularly in a culture that upholds narcissism as a virtue. But through dying to ourselves we best love others in the way Christ loves.