Self-Centeredness, The Enemy of Joy
Are there any more self-centered, self-absorbed people in the world than celebrities, professional athletes and politicians? And many are so self-centered that they are actually clueless as to the extent of their self-centeredness. Let me give you one example. If you're a baseball fan, you know the name of Alex Rodriguez. It's been several years ago now, Alex Rodriguez signed one of the biggest contracts in Major League history with the New York Yankees. He signed at that time, which has been eclipsed several times, but he at that time, he signed for a quarter of a billion dollars for the New York Yankees. And to say that he was self-centered would be a gross understatement. And Tom Verducci, an excellent sports writer, wrote a book called "The Yankee Years" and in that book, he describes some of the behavior of Alex Rodriguez. And he relays one incident where the manager Joe Tory was concerned about just how self-centered Alex Rodriguez was. Alex Rodriguez wanted to have his own clubhouse attendant. Now in a major league baseball clubhouse, they have these young chaps that are probably high school or early college age, and they attend to the needs of the players. If they need a cup of coffee, or they need a ham sandwich, whatever it may be, these guys take care of it for them. Well, Alex Rodriguez wanted his own personal clubhouse attendant. He wanted his own Jeeves, he wanted his own Butler, as it were. And Joe Tory obviously was concerned about what the effect of this could be on the team and he called Alex Rodriguez aside and he said, ‘you know what, it'd be a good thing if maybe, just to kind of show that you're part of the team, if you would just go get your own coffee.’ So later that afternoon, Alex Rodriguez came back to the manager and said, ‘hey, I wanted you to know I went and got my own coffee.’ What was that? It was another display of his self-centeredness. I did this I want you to know what I did. Well, Joe Tory obviously understood that self-centeredness would negatively impact the performance of the team.
"We all are far more self-absorbed than we realize."
And we look at things like that. And we say, oh, those people, they're so selfish. They're so self-centered. Oh, they're so self-absorbed. Well, you know what? Self-centeredness certainly is a problem. But here's the deal: we all struggle with it. Every one of us struggles with it. We all are far more self-absorbed than we realize. And left unchecked, our self-centeredness will negatively impact the mission of the church. And even the secular world understands what a cancer self-centeredness can be. I just went and did a little research this week and pulled out three quotes from three secular writers about their feelings on self-centeredness, here's what one had to say: "Self-centeredness is the basis for all sorts of immoral behavior as well as all the sorrows of humanity." That's pretty true, isn't it? Another said, "All conflicts in the world are the product of humanity's innate self-centered activity." I really like this guy. He's practicing a little bit of wit here. He said, "If it's about me, I can be assured that there will be a bunch of empty chairs in the auditorium of my life save the one I'm sitting in." In other words, self-centeredness does what? It drives people away, it turns people off.
But here's the deal: we're all self-centered. Self-centeredness is universally recognized as a problem and we as Christians, we are not immune to the problem of self-righteousness, or self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is more than just a problem, it's actually a sin. So self-centeredness must be seen and understood for what it is. As one pastor wrote "There's no room for selfishness in the church. Everything about the gospel, everything the church is designed to be, and everything we learned from Christ's example strikes a blow at the root of human pride and self-centeredness." Now, I wouldn't have been at all surprised this morning when you heard me announce my text as from Philippians chapter one, that you mainly thought, “Oh, good, we're going to hear a sermon about joy. Because after all, everybody knows that the theme of the book is joy.” Well, you're not going to hear a message about joy. Instead, you're going to hear a message about the enemy of joy, which is self-centeredness. You will never know Biblical joy if you are self-centered. If you are unhappy as a Christian, examine yourself, and see are you self centered? You will never know Biblical joy if you are self-centered.
Well, what is self-centeredness? Well, to put it very bluntly, it's the opposite of biblical Christianity. It's the opposite of the way that Jesus lived his life. So how did Jesus live? Well, Paul helps us understand that right here in the book of Philippians. You want to turn to chapter two, we'll read verses 5-8 together. Paul says, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." So, therefore, if you are a disciple of Christ-- and by the way, don't just assume that you are-- the Bible would encourage you to examine yourself to see if you're thinking, acting, and living as a disciple of Christ should. But if you are a disciple of Christ, your life should reflect this attitude of Jesus. Paul said directly, before what we just read in verses three and four, the same chapter, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more signet significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others."
"First of all, remember who you are."
So what do we have here? We have the opposite of self-centeredness. Counting others more significant than ourselves and looking not only to our own interests but to the interests of others. That's what it means to be a Christian. Self-centeredness was a problem for the believers who belonged to the church at Philippi. But it's a problem for the believers who belong to the church, Grace Community Church of Berea. And because of your tendency towards self-centeredness, what steps can you take to win or to defeat the enemy of joy, which is your self-centeredness? First of all, remember who you are. Remember who you are. This comes from verse one. "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons." Now, there's a tendency because the Apostle Paul uses very similar greetings in many of his epistles, there's a tendency to think that we kind of know it all when we read those greetings and so we just kind of blow by them, as it were. But this is more than just a greeting. As we study the book of Philippians very carefully, we will see right from the very beginning that the Apostle Paul is setting the tone for the entirety of the letter. In other words, there is a problem that he is going to address, that needs to be addressed in the church. And so he very wisely and almost very subtly sets the tone for correcting the problem, right from the very beginning of his letter. And he does it in his greeting.
There was a problem with self-centeredness in the church. You say, wait a minute, I've always been told that the book of Philippians is about joy. It is about joy. But until they could experience that joy, the problem that was preventing them from experiencing the joy had to be dealt with. And here's the problem we have as Christians, we want the joy but we don't want the pain of dealing with the problem that's keeping us from joy. Say are you sure about this? Well just go read Philippians 2:3-4, we just read, chapter two verses 14-15 and chapter four, verses 2-3, and you'll see the struggle that was taking place in the church. So Paul knows in order to solve the problem of our self-centeredness, there must be a change in our thinking, there must be a change in our thinking. And in this instance, they needed to understand who they were in Christ. This is such a familiar theme in Paul's writings. We saw this time and time again in the book of Ephesians. It is so important for you and me to understand who we are in Christ, what our identity is in Christ.
Paul, now think about this, Paul had the authority as an apostle to simply write to them and say, "stop it". Did he not? He was an apostle, a divinely appointed apostle. He had the stamp of authority from the Lord Jesus himself. He had every right to open up his letter to them by simply saying you're being self-centered, stop it. But he didn't do that, did he? He eventually points out the problem and he offers solutions to the problems. But he doesn't just force his authority upon them and say, you've got to stop doing this. Now, don't get me wrong. There are times when you have to do that. If you're a parent, if you've been a parent for 10 minutes, you know there are times when you have to do that. But that's not always the best approach and that's not the approach that Paul takes here.
So Paul does want them to stop being self-centered, but he understands that the root of their problem is twofold. First of all, they had a problem with their will. They were expressing their self-centeredness in their actions. But he also understood that the reason they had a problem with their will was because they had a problem with their mind. They were thinking incorrectly about themselves. They were not seeing themselves for who they truly were. I'll say it again. They had an identity problem. And still today we have the same problem. We have to constantly battle to remind ourselves of who we are as Christians. So Paul opens a letter to them with a reminder of their identity. Now he does so by way of example. He describes to them how he and Timothy understood themselves. He and Timothy were more than co-authors of the book.
You know, the typical method of Bible study is an excellent method of Bible study. I use it every week. You ask those interrogative questions who, what, when, where, why, and how. And so we begin, we open up our Bibles to the book of Philippians. And we say okay, let's ask the first question: who? Oh, Paul and Timothy. Oh, they must be the guys who wrote the book and there's truth in that. But that's not how Paul describes himself here, is it? He doesn't describe him and Timothy as co-authors of the book. What does he say? He says, well, they were servants of Jesus Christ. They were servants of Christ Jesus. In other words, Paul didn't set himself apart by letting them know that he was an apostle and that he had been granted a unique position of authority by the Lord Jesus. No, he goes directly to the identity that all Christians share. He's not setting himself apart in any way, shape, or form though he had the right to. He very well could have said, Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus. He does identify himself that way in other of his writings, but in this instance, because there was a problem of self-centeredness, which self-centeredness can lead to what? Division, a lack of unity.
So from the very beginning, Paul says, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus". They share a common title, they were servants. Some translations say they were the slaves of Christ Jesus. In other words, he's wanting them to, he's setting them up right from the beginning saying, ‘this is what unites Timothy and me,’ and guess what? This is what unites all Christians, all believers at all times everywhere. This was a part of their identity. But you know what? This creates a problem for us. And here's the problem: who wants to be a servant? We like the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". Have you seen a game show lately "Who Wants to Be a Servant?" have you? No, that creates a problem for us. But the reality is, we all serve someone. Some unwittingly serve sin, some unwillingly serve sin, but we all serve someone or something. So here's what unites us as Christians. We are all servants of Christ Jesus. So Paul sets the tone for the letter by emphasizing that both he and Timothy were servants of Christ Jesus. They were not two individuals focused on doing their own thing. They shared a common bond of being bond-servants of Christ Jesus.
Now, next, Paul goes on to describe who the letter's written to. Now, certainly, he is writing to the church at Philippi. But I want you to notice he is extremely specific as to who he is actually addressing the letter to. He says "to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons." Now notice Paul didn't say to the saints, he says “to all the saints” (emphasis added). The letter is for all of them. He's not addressing an individual, nor is he addressing some specific or unique group of people within the church. He is addressing the church as a whole. He's addressing the church as a complete unit. Which leads me to say this: there should never be competing factions inside the church. Everyone should share the common goal, the common vision of seeing God glorified through the preaching of his word, through the evangelization the evangelizing of the last, the discipline of the saints, loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
So when Paul writes to the saints in Christ Jesus he's reminding them of their identity. And this is important because churches are made up of different kinds of people aren't we? There are people of all kinds of different ages, there are people from different backgrounds, there are people from different countries, there are people of different educational backgrounds or people from different economic backgrounds. And if we're not careful, those things, not only can divide us, they will divide us. So what is it that creates unity in the church? By remembering that we all share a common identity. That we all share a far more important identity than where we were born, or what we do for a living, or how many degrees that we hold. The most important identity that you and I share is our common identity of being in Christ. We are servants of Christ, we are saints in Christ Jesus. By the way, you can't be a saint unless you are in Christ Jesus. So there's a vastness in Christ, for all who come to him by faith, but in that vastness, there's also an intimacy, a closeness, that many in the world desire to have, but you know what, they are seeking it in all the wrong places. So the first step to victory over your self-centeredness is to remember who you are. You’re servants of Christ Jesus and saints in Christ Jesus.
"The second step is to remember how you became who you are."
The second step is to remember how you became who you are. Remember how you became who you are. So how did you become a servant of Christ Jesus and saints in Christ Jesus? Two things I want to highlight: by the love of God and the love of others. Look at verse 2 Paul writes, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father in the Lord Jesus Christ." Now again, Paul does use these words as a form of greeting, but there is a profound reality behind his words. Ask yourself this question. How did you become a Christian? Or take it one step farther? How does anyone become a Christian? By good works? No. Self-effort? No. Self-righteousness? No.
I was here one day, it was Wednesday afternoon, we were getting ready for the frozen ice guy to show up. Now I was in my office study and we have a doorbell and it was about 3:45 or so and the doorbell rang. And it always kind of, I gotta be honest, it kind of freaks me out when the doorbell rings and I'm here by myself. And so the brave soul that I am, I snuck out here and looked out the window to see who was out the door, Amen? If you wonder why it takes a while to get to the door, I'm checking you out, Amen?
So anyway, and I saw there was a car there in a parking lot and it, you know, it had all four tires and they were all inflated and there wasn't a bunch of rust so I figured, “well, I'm probably okay to go down, check this out.” So I went down and there was a young guy standing there at the door and he had his mask on. And so I just cracked the door open a little bit. And he said, “I need you to come with me right now and do an intervention.” Okay, that's a first for me. So I said, “well, what's the problem?” “It's my roommate, he has stolen $10 from me, and he has got these posters on his wall.” And he said, “You know that clown “It”? And I'm like, “no, I don't. I don't know the clown It.” But he said “it's from a movie and it's a demonic poster.” And then he describes some other poster. He said, “I need you to come right now and do an intervention with me” and I'm thinking, hmm, “I really gotta study,” you know. So I started talking to him. And he said that he was Catholic. And he said, “I've told this guy that, that he needs to, you know, he needs Jesus.” And he's going on and on.
And all of a sudden, it just came down to his works. He kept talking about his works. His works. “I try hard. I tried to do the best that I can.” The whole time I'm praying to the Holy Spirit, show me what to say. And the Holy Spirit was just like, ‘hammer him on those works.’ So I just kept going back to his works. “Not by works of righteousness, which we have done,” (Titus 3:5) right? “For by grace are you saved through faith and that knowledge of yourself, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) ”How good is good enough?” I just hammered and hammered and hammered on that, and I could see him stop and he would think, and he would think, and he would think, and he tries to come up with another answer. And the Holy Spirit would give me another verse and I would just lay it to him. About that time Sherry pulled in the parking lot, and I'm trying to give her the high sign, “Stay back,” you know, and she did, she did a good job. Well, it distracted him for just long enough where he said, “I think this is a good time for me to leave.” And I said, “I'm gonna pray for you, I'm gonna pray for you right now.” One of the first things he said to me when he came to the door was he said, “I'm a Catholic and Father so and so down at the Catholic church, he won't help me.“ So he ends up here of all places. “Luck,” right? So I said to him, “do you think that you just showed up here by accident? Or that God brought you right to this door?” And that's what I left him with. Say, ‘wait a minute, you didn't tackle him and get him to pray the sinner's prayer? You didn't twist his arm?’ No, no, because that's all the Holy Spirit had for me that day. Remember how you became who you are. By grace. I told the young man I said “it was God's grace that brought you here.”
So Paul reminds us that the only reason we are servants of Christ Jesus and the only reason we're saints in Christ Jesus is because of the grace of God. And by the way, Paul reminds them and us in verse seven that we're all partakers of grace. Paul's an apostle of grace. Paul and Timothy are servants of grace. We are servants because of grace. By the way, if your Lord and Master saved you by grace, what kind of Lord master do you think he will be? A gracious one. He's the Lord and Master of grace. We are all saints because of the grace of God, we are united together by the grace of God. If there's one word that captures the heart of the gospel, it is grace. Therefore, if you were saved by grace and not through any effort of your own, then there is no room for self-centeredness in Christ. What did you bring to the table?
So you became a servant of Christ Jesus and a saint in Christ Jesus by the love of God. What is John 3:16? "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." But you also became a saint through the love of another. It may have been a group of people such as a church or may have been just one person who in love reached out to you with the gospel.
I was reviewing this morning I couldn't help but think of my own dad. A young preacher came to our house and led my dad to Christ. One man. He loved my dad enough to show up and knock on the door.
And, by the way, it was with one person that pretty much how the church at Phillippi began. The Church of Phillippi began when the Apostle Paul and Silas took a missions trip. And they “found” a group of ladies gathered on the riverbank. Paul preaches the gospel to them and one of the ladies named Lydia, the Bible says God opened her heart to believe the gospel. But you know, here’s what I was thinking about. Paul loved her enough to take the gospel to her. Paul loved her enough to take the gospel to her when he had the opportunity. He did what? By the way, what were the people doing, what were these group of ladies doing at the riverbank? They were worshipping God. How many of us would have said, Oh, they must be Christians. Look at them, they're worshiping God. We don't want to bother them, right? Go read the book "The Unsaved Christian".
Paul, in love, goes to them and says, hey, let me tell you about the one true God. Let's make sure you're worshipping the right God. See, that was an act of love. Paul loved her enough to take the gospel to her. By the way, none of us are self-made Christians. A lot of people like to boast about their self-made person. I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps. But the Christian who understands the gospel should never ever make that claim, they can never make that boast. Why? Because the Bible says he saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the wash of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit. See, the key to victory over our self-centeredness is to remember that you were saved by grace. That you were saved because God was merciful. The key to victory or self-centeredness is to remember the words of Jonah "salvation belongs to the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). And what is the result of our salvation? We have peace with God. Nothing but the grace of God can give us peace with God. But we must always remember that peacemaking has its price. What was the price that God paid in order that we might experience peace? It was the death of Christ. So the second step to victory in overcoming our self-centeredness is to remember how you became who you are. You are who you are, by the grace of God, a grace that came to you by the love of God and the love of others.
"The third step is to remember who you will one day be."
Number three. The third step is to remember who you will one day be. Remember who you will one day be. Say, well, who will I be one day? If you are in Christ, you will be exactly like Jesus. I like that. I need that. So as we recognize our tendency to be self-centered, we need to remind ourselves that the reason we needed to become a Christian in the first place was that the person that we were was not the person that we needed to be or wanted to be, or most importantly, wasn't acceptable to God. Paul teaches us in Romans that God saves us to conform us, to mold us, to shape us into what? What we want to be? No. To the image of his son, into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Be honest with yourself. If you've taken the time to read the gospels, if you know anything about the life of Jesus at all, and you read the gospels, let's say you read the gospels and you see how Jesus interacted with people, how he served people, how he sacrificed for people, who would you rather be like? Would you rather be like who you are or who he is? See, but you can't be like Jesus through your own effort. This is the ongoing problem of humanity. This is the ongoing dilemma of humanity. We want to live out the ethics of Jesus, which is admirable, which is commendable, but frankly, it is impossible. But we want to do so apart from the power of Jesus.
So how will you become like Jesus? Two things: by the prayers of others and by the provision of Christ. Verses 3-11 Paul, thank God for them. And he prays for them. And when he prays for them, he prays with joy. Now, why does he thank God for them? And what is it that allows him to pray for them with joy? Well, he tells us, I believe it's in verse five, because of their partnership in the gospel. Now, the word partnership in this context means fellowship. But it doesn't mean fellowship in the way that we understand fellowship today. The way that we understand fellowship today is we'll have a coffee and a cookie, and we call that fellowship. And there's nothing wrong with that. I like that kind of fellowship. I'd rather have a Diet Pepsi and a cookie, but that's beside the point. There's nothing wrong with fellowship. There's nothing wrong with us as believers sharing aspects of our lives together. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. We need to do that. But when Paul uses the word partnership, and it means fellowship in this context, what he actually means is... I like what D.A. Carson says "Christian fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel.” In other words, they set aside their own personal agendas. They realize the futility of their own personal agendas and they became true partners with Paul in the work of the gospel. And when we're all working for the same cause when everyone in the church is working for the same goal, there's no room for nor is there any need for self-centeredness. In fact, there won't be any time for self-centeredness when we're all working together. When we're all partners in the Gospel. Paul prays for them and he thanks God for them and he prays for them with joy, as he remembers how they rolled up their sleeves and they worked hard to advance the gospel. So I have to ask you, are you doing that?
I'm sad to say that there are some in our church that when I think of you, you don't bring me joy. I don't know what you're doing. I don't see you rolling up your sleeves and working to advance the gospel. And if you're not working to advance the agenda of Christ, then whose agenda are you working to advance? Their partnership in the Gospel brought Paul joy but that was not all that brought him joy. When he thought about God's ongoing, continuing unstoppable work in their lives, he thanks God for them. Look at verse six, "And I'm sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Do you know what Paul's saying here? One thing that he is saying is, you know what, I have this great confidence that you are not going to become heretics, that you're not going to fall away from the faith. Paul experienced that. If you've been in the church, any length of time at all, you've experienced that. You've seen people who profess to be believers and they walk away from the faith, they leave the faith. He was sure their conversion was genuine. And because their conversion was genuine he knew that they would persevere. When they were persecuted, they wouldn't give up the faith. He wouldn't open up a social media feed one day and read Twitter or Instagram and see where you have renounced your faith and that you don't believe in God anymore like, we've had so many, “Christian” celebrities and singers and pastors, frankly, who have done that in recent months. Can I tell you this? It's not that they stopped believing in God, they never believed in God in the first place. They're just now being honest with us. I commend them for their honesty. But please, please don't throw off all of your objections like you're the first person in the world who has ever had an objection. And so what do you do? You leave the one who can answer your objections because you have the objection, but you don't believe in him. A futile way of living.
Paul was confident that Philippians had genuine faith in God and they would endure whatever came that way. And because their faith was genuine, he was sure that one day they would be pure and blameless and filled with the fruit of righteousness. So Paul prays for them. And he prays that their love would abound more and more. He's praying that they and you and I would have a specific kind of love. It's a love that is willing, now get this, a love that is willing to be inconvenienced, and to endure the heartache that comes when we place the needs of others above our own. That's the kind of love he prays we would abound in. So well how can I become this kind of person? Well, you can become this kind of person as you meditate on how God loves you. How God has shown you love through Jesus Christ. You can become the kind of person who puts others first, who looks out for the best interest of others when you realize that's God's plan for you.
It saddens me to see Christians that are so unhappy and frustrated. And yet they're so self-centered. They never think of anybody else. It's all about them. Why do we have such stupid fights in churches? Some don't like the color of the walls, some don't like the color of the pews. Some don't like the fact that the preacher wears a tie, some don't like the fact he does wear a tie. Some don't like the fact that they have drums on stage, and on and on and on it goes. It's all self-centered. It's all self-centered.
I was telling Osiel, about a problem a young pastor was having in his church. You don't know any of the details and so don't worry about it. But here's the problem the young pastor was having. He was getting pushback because he's wanting to make really wholesale changes in the church and he's not been the pastor of the church all that long. So what's the problem? He hasn't earned the right to make those changes and you know what he's doing? Well, he doesn't recognize it, he is totally so self-centered. In essence, what he's saying is, “you old folks”-- and this church is characterized by a lot of older people-- in essence, what he's saying is “you old folks don't really know anything. You don't know up from down. You don't know this 2020. You don't understand how the church works in this modern age.” Baloney. They built that church, young man. You wouldn't have a job if they hadn't done what they have already done young man. Learn some humility. Do not be so self-centered as to think it's either going to be my way or the highway. Young man it's probably going to be the highway. Okay?
Self-centeredness, it's a problem. It can wreak havoc in churches, it can wreak havoc in families, it's wreaking havoc in our culture. It's like the book of Judges, every man is doing that which is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Isn't that just an Old Testament way of saying to you're self-centered?
So I began by asking if there are any people who are more self-centered and self-absorbed than celebrities, athletes, and politicians. Well, the reality is, yes, it's you and me. We're all self-centered. But part of our salvation is being saved from the enslaving power of our self-centeredness. Our battle with self-centeredness is ongoing but it is winnable as you and I remember those three things: who we are, how we became who we are, and who we will one day be.