By Pastor Glenn Pease
In the play "Lightnin" and old civil war pensioner got his monthly check. He showed it to his friends and said, "Look, see this signature, that's the President of the United States-big name. And you see this-that's the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury-another big name." Then turning the check over he pointed to the spot where he was to endorse it, and proudly added, "But you see there-is where I sign it, and its no good without my name." Every person wants to be important in some role in life, and to have their name count. Every person is, from the Christian point of view, of infinite value to God, and that is why Christ died for all men. He also wants his name to be supreme in our lives. He calls for total commitment, but this is difficult to gain because of the competition of the self. Life's greatest battle is between the self and the Savior.
Have you ever considered how certain persons become important to you? It is almost always because they satisfy some need. Ordinarily the plumber is insignificant to us, but when a water pipe breaks and our home begins to be flooded, we realize he is a very important person, and we seek to have him present as soon as possible. There is no one you are more anxious to see than him. He has suddenly become the most important person you can think of because he can meet a need in your life at that moment. He will fade back into oblivion again, however, as soon as he has met your need. He does not remain very long as number one on your list of persons whose presence is longed for. The same thing applies to the doctor, lawyer, pastor, mechanic, etc. each fills a need at particular points, but their importance is completely relative to the circumstances and needs of the self.
This means that the really number one person of importance is always the self, and everyone else becomes more or less important to us depending on what service they can render to our self. When Jesus is accepted on this same basis He becomes like all other important persons to us. He is a mere part time servant of our needs. When I need my car fixed I call the garage, and when I need sin forgiven I call on the Lord. But when my car is fine and I don't fell guilty, both the mechanic and the Lord are irrelevant to my life. This is the kind of religion American Christianity is becoming because we have failed to recognize, proclaim, and obey the basic requirements for being a disciple of Christ. He will never be truly Lord if we continue to keep Him in the same category as all others who render us service. It is right that all others should be relatively important, but Jesus demands absolute importance.
This can never be accomplished if the self remains in the number one position determining all values by their relationship to self-needs. In verse 24 Jesus lays down the requirements necessary to be fulfilled if He is to be truly Lord. He says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." The very fact that Jesus put self-denial as the first requirement indicates that man is basically self-centered, and this is the greatest hindrance to his being fully committed to Christ. There is just no doubt about it that each of us is our own worst enemy. The culprit who ruins most of our blessings and holds back our happiness in the Lord is none other than that infamous public enemy number one-the self. Self-centeredness becomes the essence of all sin and thereby the enemy of all blessing.
"Why are you looking so sorrowful Charley?" asked a friend. "Molly has rejected me," he replied. "Oh, cheer up, there are plenty of nice girls left." "It's not that," said Charley, "It's just that I can't help feeling sorry for the poor girl." Charley sounds considerably like the egotistical colleague that Fred Allen once referred to. He said the last time he saw him he was walking down lover's lane holding his own hand.
Most of us are not so obviously self-centered as this. We have learned how to decorate our conceit so that we think it is a virtue rather than a vice. Self-love plants a flower of deception by every weed in the garden of our life, and so we do not see it. The Bible warns us constantly not to judge others because we are almost always guilty of the very things we condemn in others, even though we do not see it. The Bible exposes us for what we really are so that we might see how deceptive our own heart is, and cease to rely on our self for guidance. When self is in control it is blind to its own sin. For example, Tommy was down in the dumps and his father said, "Why don't you go out and play with the Jenkins and Drake boys?" "Oh, dad," he said in a tone of disgust." "They are a whole year younger than I am." "Well," said the father, "Then about the Spear and Hanson boys? Won't they do?" "Yes, but they are so mean. Just because they are a year older than I am they won't play with me." The evil we see in others escapes us when it is in our self.
This is why we can never be a true disciple of Christ and an effective servant until we take self off the throne and allow Christ to be full time Lord of our lives. When we lose ourselves in submission in Him we gain the best for the self. If we resist and strive to maintain the self as the supreme guide, we will lose all that is best for the self. You gain the higher by letting go of the lower.
In verse 25 Jesus speaks one of His many paradoxes: "For whoever will save his life shall lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." This is contrary to our nature. Jesus is saying that the most effective kind of selfishness is to be selfless. That is positive selfishness. The way to arrive at the very goal we want for the self is to cease to live for self and live for Christ. Self- fulfillment can never come through selfish living. It can only come through the sacrifice of the self in obedience to Christ. The road of self-denial is the road to self-fulfillment. Could we only see the truth of this and obey it, all of Christianity would be relevant to us. Christ would be supreme, and the blessings of God would be poured out as He promised. We must resign as general manager of the universe and become servants of the real manager.
Abraham Lincoln passed by a neighbor in Springfield with his two boys who were crying and making a fuss. "What is the matter with the boys?" asked the neighbor. "Just what is the matter with the whole world," answered Lincoln. "I have three walnuts and each boy wants two." Lincoln was right, for selfishness is the major problem of the world and each of our lives. We bow so often before the golden calf of self-love. John Rae said, "Self-love is the mote in every man's eye." Good self-love is love that will deny self in order to do the will of God and meet the needs of others.
Ovid the ancient Latin writer said in his day, "Everyone was eloquent in behalf of his own cause." The same is true today, and it matters not how ridiculous the cause. We have a cause, which is to obey the command of Christ and take the Gospel into all the world. We can be selfish in our love for this cause because it is a cause in which there is sacrifice of the self for the love of others. We are to fight for this cause like soldiers marching to war. Paul writes in Phil. 2:25, "Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier." In II. Tim. 2:3 he urges Timothy to be, "A good soldier of Christ Jesus." As soldiers love their country and fight for its liberty, so believers are to fight for the kingdom of Christ. This will often call for self-sacrifice.
Elton Trueblood in his book The Company Of The Committed writes, "One of the most surprising facts about the early church was its fundamental similarity to a military band. This is hard for us to recognize today because the ordinary successful church of the 20th century is about as different from an army as anything we can imagine. Instead of being under anything resembling military discipline we pride ourselves on our freedom. We go and come as we like, as no soldier can do. We give or withhold giving as we like; we serve when we get around to it. Obedience is considered and irrelevant notion, and the theme of "Onward Christian Soldiers" is so alien to our experience that some churches avoid the hymn entirely."
The modern church and average Christian is AWOL. They have gone over the hill and forsaken the commander to follow the path of self-indulgence. If the church fails, it is because of the lack of infantry-a lack of soldiers of the cross. And if there is a lack of soldiers it is because people are not willing to deny the self and take up the cross to follow Jesus. If this is the case, it is because people have forgotten the meaning of the cross, and the meaning of Christ's infinite self-denial and self-sacrifice for them.
Our main problem with self-denial is that we do not see it as really positive selfishness. Self-centeredness is negative selfishness, for it really robs us of the best for the self. We tend to think that self-denial is all negative, but we need to see that it is like giving up a lesser pleasure for a greater one. The self is never happier than when it is doing the will of God. The cross was the greatest act of self-denial in the life of Jesus, but it was also His greatest joy, for He fulfilled the Father's plan and received the ultimate reward by being exalted to God's right hand. We need to realize that every time we deny ourselves for the sake of fulfilling the will of God we will reap a great reward for such obedience, and we are practicing positive selfishness.