The natural question the selfish human heart asks is….Why should I?
I could roll out all the commands of Scripture to love one another, do good, be kind, but they are unlikely to actually do much to change us by themselves.
This is where I met a friend 15 years ago who changed my perspective and theology. I met him by reading his book entitled, Desiring God. John Piper’s basic point is that the Christian life is a personal pursuit of joy. All of us are wired to pursue personal happiness and this is not in itself bad or wrong. Adam and Eve before the Fall were wired for personal joy. What happened was that sin inverted where we think that happiness comes from. God designed us to find joy in Him and the joy of others. Our sin nature pursues joy in ourselves apart from God and others. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve pursued their greatest happiness in God and in fueling the happiness of each other. The moment they sinned, they found each other annoying, rudely blamed each other for the problem, and thought this selfishness will make them happy. Of course, it didn’t and it doesn’t for us either.
Think about it for a moment. How does it feel to be rude? How satisfying is blatant selfishness? What is the emotional aftertaste of irritability? Happy? Joyous? Our problem is not our pursuit of joy but where we think we find it. Why? Rudeness, selfishness, and anger seek personal happiness apart from the happiness of others and in doing so, apart from God as well.
Love does the opposite. Love seeks joy in the joy of others. Not apart from them but derived from their joy. This requires self-denial toward our own preferences so that the other person’s needs or desires can be met. This increases their joy, which if you love them, increases yours as well.
If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can. But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow-beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are… So that, not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. It is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness. –Edwards, Charity, p. 184.
Be rude and get what rude gives. Every day on the Dan Ryan. Be selfish and get what selfish gives. Seen every day in the business world. Be irritable get what irritability gives, isolation and loneliness.
Why should we love selflessly? Selflessness has gifts and joys far greater than selfishness can ever give. Not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. This is a little like the pride paradox. If you think you are proud, you might be humble. If you think you are humble, you are proud. Personal joy and selflessness are similarly paradoxical. To have what you want you give up what you want to get what you want. Personal joy comes by giving of one’s self for the joy of another by which God hardwired us to derive our greatest joy.
Love gets that and is motivated to maximize its own joy by deriving joy from the joy of others.
So ask yourself, what path are you pursuing in your pursuit of what you think will make you happy. Rude or considerate? Selfish or selfless? Quick to anger or patiently slow to get there?
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
© 2010 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s web site address (http://www.bethelweb.org/) on the copied resource.