3rd Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 12:3-16
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
Living in a house with young children I see it all the time. There’s one room in the parsonage where we try to keep most of our children’s toys. There’s a healthy amount of toys in that room: toy tractors, army men, dolls, stuffed animals, play kitchen stuff, trains, barbies, etc. And yet, even with such a variety of toys we have a recurring problem. Leave two children in there to play and at some point, at some time there will be screams, sometimes hitting, and always a flood of tears, screaming and crying. Why? Because one toy out of all the toys in that room has suddenly become exalted to the position of being THE most important toy in all the world! And neither child is about to give in and give up the chance to play with THE most important toy in all the world. Neither child is ready to miss out on the supposed happiness of playing with THE most important toy in all the world. So what’s going on? It’s one of those things that I never had to teach my children: how to be selfish.
And we might smile and shake our heads at blatant selfishness, but the reality is that it lives inside of each and every human being. It’s something that even complete unbelievers recognize. You will hear things especially among people who have succumbed to the lie of evolution talk about people and animals and they will refer to something called “the survival of the fittest.” And, in short, what that refers to is that in an evolutionary model it’s only those who are the fittest and the strongest who end up surviving. The weak and vulnerable will die off. It’s simply the means of developing or evolving into greater and more capable species. Now, there’s all kinds of things wrong with that that we could pick apart and not least of which it would be saying that death is an essential component of life. But, in a way there’s a point. Those who have come up with this “survival of the fittest” have simply observed life in this fallen and sinful world in which we live.
Human sin has affected humans and all of creation. Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Everything was right, everything was great, they enjoyed a perfect relationship with each other, they enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. They would have perfectly and completely unselfishly cared about each other – even more than themselves. But then it happened. The devil made the forbidden fruit alluring. And Adam and Eve purposefully chose to take care of themselves over listening to and obeying God. Make sense? God had wonderfully and graciously given them everything they ever could have possibly needed or wanted and then they turned the very means God established to give him honor and thanks with loving service by refusing to eat that forbidden fruit, into a means to selfishly take care of themselves. And ever since that point human beings have been plagued with sin and particularly this sin called selfishness. Adam and Eve shattered that perfect trust in God. And ever since then every human being has been born into this world with a gaping hole that needs to be filled and can only be filled by God alone. People long for what was lost in the Garden of Eden. People are longing for security, people are longing for protection, people are longing for significance and love. And without God we think we need to satisfy these longings on our own. And to the extent that we think we need to satisfy all our longings on our own we’re inherently selfish. And so what evolutionists label as the “survival of the fittest” is simply an observation of this world now corrupted with the sin of selfishness. I long for MY needs to be filled and as long as my needs are left unfulfilled I don’t care about you and your needs, in fact, I will use you or abuse you as much as possible to fulfill what I need. And the results? A world full of broken relationships, a world full of hurts, a world full anger, a world full of abuse, death and killing. In its very crass form selfishness turns life into a competition where everyone is trying desperately to get ahead and win but in the end no one wins and all that is left is a world full of hurt and disaster.
And that’s where it all begins. As long as my needs are left unmet or as long as I think my needs are left unmet I will be continually plagued by the sin of selfishness. At the very core of selfishness is a fear, a fear that if I don’t look after my needs, no one else will. When I think that I’m the only one who’s going to look after me, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-absorption, self-service invades my life.
A blatant example of this selfishness is in this text. King Solomon was great King David’s son and had started out his ruling right. He offered sacrifices to God and God came to him and told him to ask from him whatever he wanted. Solomon responded not for riches, fame, and honor, but unselfishly asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. God granted that request and gave him even more. Solomon lived in grandeur, built an awesome temple for God, built a royal palace, lived in luxury, but then he also abandoned that wisdom. He married many women and then turned his heart after false gods and idols. It got so bad that God determined to rip 10 of the tribes away from his family and give them to someone else. So, after Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took over. But the northern tribes of Israel weren’t totally on board. Rehoboam went up there and they asked for relief from the heavy taxes and harsh labor that Solomon’s grandeur demanded. And we can already tell where Rehoboam’s heart is when he asks for 3 days to think it over. He doesn’t really want to grant that request but he’s got to weigh his options. So he asks the elders, the wise and experience leaders who worked with his father, and they responded, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” But Rehoboam rejected their advice and listened to his peers who told him to tell them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” He’s not about to serve, he’d much rather be served. And what happened? The northern 10 tribes, the majority of the land of Israel essentially said, ‘Forget you! We don’t need you! We’ll be on our own!’ And Rehoboam lost well over ¾ of the kingdom.
Wow! We look at that and think, “How could you be so foolish? So dumb? How could he be so blind?” Well, the truth is, that’s exactly what selfishness does, it blinds. Getting his needs, his wants, his goals, his significance in life was more important to him than anyone else. And the same is true for us. The more needy I feel that I am, the more concerned about myself I become. Think about it this way. If I’m $15,000 in debt and I am selling my car to you how concerned do you think I will be that you get a good deal? I will probably be more concerned that I get the very highest price possible, regardless of whether or not my car is worth that much. But, on the other hand, if I’ve got plenty of money, actually more than I need, then there is a better chance that I won’t be so concerned about getting more for my car than its worth from you. The difference is based on how needy I am and it affects the way that I deal with you.
So much of our lives are so influenced by selfishness that we probably don’t even realize how much. Each of us tends to be motivated primarily by our own personal needs. We can see it in how easily we become annoyed or bugged or irratiated by other people. Perhaps we even begin to justify selfishness by saying things like: I’ve worked hard for this, I need time for myself, I deserve this. And it can even come in even more subtle ways, it affects the way we act towards others. We’re often nice to others so they will be nice to us. We try to please others so they will like us and we will feel good about ourselves. We work hard so that we can feel we did something important, so we can meet our needs, feel significant, etc. Selfishness can so infiltrate our lives that we don’t even realize to what extent. That’s why God can tell us in Isaiah that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Even the best things we do are likely still corrupted with selfish intentions and motivations!
So what do we do? How can we become unselfish? How can we be selfless? The truth is we can’t. The truth is: we can’t. Why? Because the more we try to become unselfish the more selfish we actually become. Because in trying to be unselfish we are still trying to meet our own need of being worthwhile or approved or favorable in God’s eyes!
So what can we do? All we can do is despair of ourselves and say with the apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” There is only one that can rescue us from the sin of selfishness. Since we can’t control the future we can’t guarantee that we will always have those basic needs of security, protection, significance, and love. That is, unless we know and trust in the One who does control the future.
Freedom from selfishness comes when we know and trust in our God who has and always will meet all our needs for security, protection, significance, and love. And He has in Christ! God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Because of Christ God looks at you and me no longer as sinful, selfish people. He sees us as what He has made us through the sacrifice of His own Son. Not only did Jesus bleed on the cross to wipe away every selfish act and every selfish motivation and intention that hoards our hearts, on that cross God exchanged our sinful selfishness for perfect selflessness. Since Jesus’ entire life was one of perfect selflessness and since God has transferred Jesus’ perfect life to you, He sees you like He sees Jesus. That means we can see ourselves not as self-centered, self-absorbed or self-serving people, but as redeemed children of God. We can live not to be served, but to serve others. We already have all that we need, we don’t need to prove anything to anyone, there’s nothing more we need for time and eternity.
God’s saved you from selfishness, He’s satisfied you by giving you the significance of being a son or daughter of the ruler of the universe, and He’s made you secure promising to supply all your needs, promising you His all-encompassing protection, and making you an heir of eternal life!
And it’s knowing that in Christ you already have all you need: significance, protection, security, and love, that you are released from selfishness and released to serve. And as we get to know God better we realize more and more how God has satisfied all our needs and we gain more confidence in who we are in Christ. And God opens our hearts to love others unconditionally as God has loved us unconditionally. God opens our hearts to see how we’ve been selflessly served by our Savior and we can selflessly serve other putting their needs before our own. You see, God opens our hearts to see that we’re sufficiently satisfied by our Savior and in need of nothing so we can give all that we have and are in service to God by serving those he puts in our lives. Amen.