“I don’t want a brother.” These were the words my two-and-a-half-year-old son spoke to my wife just two days after meeting his baby brother for the first time. As an adult, I look at this statement as another one of those humorous yet blatantly honest things that kids say. Of course he doesn’t want a brother – for over two years, he was the star of the show! He had Mommy and Daddy all to himself. Everyone we met talked about how cute he was. He got all the toys. He got all the attention.
Now, everyone asks about the baby. Everyone wants to see the baby. Mommy and Daddy are constantly taking care of the baby – holding him, changing him, feeding him, washing him – and my son probably feels a bit like a “has-been!”
I’m sure as he grows older, my son will grow to love his brother. For now, however, his words are evidence of a basic trait of humanity: we love ourselves. He doesn’t want a brother because he wants to have all the attention himself.
This is not a feature that only humans born after 2010 have. All through history we see evidence of the fact that man loves himself. As Christians especially, we are well acquainted with this fact, because the Bible tells us that people are self-lovers. Paul said that “no man ever yet hated his own flesh” (Eph. 5:29). We are told in Judges that when Israel lacked true leadership, every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Lucifer himself fell because he sought to exalt himself above God. Sin entered the human race when Adam and Eve chose what they wanted above what God wanted for them.
Self-love is the oldest sin of humanity. Today, we find ourselves living in a culture where self-love is being openly and wholeheartedly embraced. As conservative writer Matt Walsh stated in his book The Unholy Trinity, “Self-worship has become the predominant religion in our culture”. Walsh further states that this becomes apparent when we view the broad-spectrum acceptance of sexual deviancy (homosexuality, transgenderism, etc.) in our society. After all, nothing elevates self to god-status more than to say that we can define our own gender or redefine the God-given institutions of marriage and family.
We all love self – yet God in His Word calls us to deny self. Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. He said that those who follow Him must deny self and take up the cross. Paul talked about our old man being crucified, dying daily, crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts. He emphasized the need to yield ourselves to the Spirit rather than to give in to the desires of the flesh (a.k.a. self) in Galatians 5.
As those in Christian ministry, then, our duty is to call a world in love with self into a love relationship with God. In a society that, as we’ve already discussed, is becoming more and more infatuated with self every day, what does this mean for us? Two things come to mind:
1. We must be selfless in our example.
As already stated, Jesus said that those who follow him are to deny self and take up the cross and follow him. Then He gave the supreme example of selflessness by surrendering His life. The only truly innocent Person who’s ever lived sacrificed himself to pay for the sins of all the guilty. He told us to deny self and take up our cross, and then He did it Himself.
Paul would later write to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Paul wrote often about the self-denying lifestyle he lived for the sake of the gospel. Paul called believers to deny self, and we see that he lived a life of sacrifice also. Certainly, if we are going to expect those to whom we minister to live self-denying lives, we should be leading the way as Jesus and Paul did.
Yet, I think many times, especially in America, it can be difficult to separate ourselves from our American idea of liberty. Because we live in a nation that allows individual liberty at a rate unparalleled in all of history, it can be easy to look at those liberties as so fundamental that we allow them to override our commitment to Christ without even realizing it. Our faith becomes personalized, as if our approach to ministry were some sort of buffet from which we may take what we like and discard that which we don’t. We talk about having a “personal relationship with Christ,” which is indeed Biblical, but it’s not like any other personal relationship in that we do not set the parameters. Christ has already set them in His Word. We are to obey Him regardless of what self thinks or feels. If others don’t see those in Christian leadership living disciplined, self-sacrificial lives, how can we expect them to take up the cross themselves?
2. We must be confrontational in our message.
Please keep reading; I’m not advocating that we scream in people’s faces that they’re going to Hell or that we become belligerent bullies that are always angry and rude. Unfortunately, many Christians have taken it to that extreme.
However, there’s a ditch on the other side also, and unfortunately it’s a ditch that I often would find myself in over the last several years. I became so fearful of confrontation and so focused on man’s way of thinking that I became almost apologetic in my approach to soul-winning or discipleship. I would beat around the bush in my approach or try to “not be a bother.” I wasn’t preaching heresy, but before I knew it, my goal was to leave a good impression with the person I was talking to rather than to confront them with the truth of God’s Word.
This is because I failed to recognize two aspects of self-love that are crucial for Christian ministers to acknowledge: 1) that I am a self-lover prone to allow my desire for acceptance to shape my conversation, witnessing, and preaching; and 2) every person whom God has placed in my sphere of ministry is a self-lover who needs confronted with the error of their self-love and called to a love relationship with God, and there’s really no way of doing that that’s 100% unobtrusive or non-offensive. You don’t have to be rude or arrogant about it – on the contrary, you should be passionate, loving, and caring about your approach – but at some point, you’re going to have to honestly reveal the truth of where their life lines up with God’s Word, and that’s not exactly unobtrusive. Whether it’s witnessing to an unsaved person, discipling a new believer, counseling with a church member living in sin, or preaching to a Wednesday night crowd, you’re still dealing with self-lovers whom God has called you to lead into a love relationship with Him, and that means bold confrontation done in love. Don’t fear it!
A few years down the road, my son will probably be having a blast playing with his little brother. But he’ll still be a self-lover, and as a parent, I’ll have to be confrontational at times in how I address that. Being in Christian ministry is no different.
Confronting people about their self-love is not comfortable, but we’re not called to live comfortable lives. In fact, this confrontation will lead to persecution, Christ said. This should not surprise us in a world so deeply in love with self. However, selflessness is the only option for a disciple of Christ. Let’s lead the self-lovers around us into a love relationship with God, both by our example and by our message.
 Walsh, Matt. The Unholy Trinity: Blocking the Left’s Assault on Life, Marriage, and Gender. New York: Image, 2017. p. 5.