Reviving the Spirit of Self-Sacrifice
“If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind.”—Luke 9:23.a
1. What did Jesus Christ say that indicated he was inviting others to enter into a life of self-sacrifice?
THE Founder of Christianity at one time said: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake day after day and follow me continually. For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake is the one that will save it. Really, what does a man benefit himself if he gains the whole world but loses his own self or suffers damage? For whoever becomes ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of man will be ashamed of this one when he arrives in his glory and that of the Father and of the holy angels.” Obviously, Jesus Christ was inviting others to a course of self-sacrifice when he said the above words, which are recorded in the Holy Bible at Luke 9:23-26.
2. What questions might one ask concerning that invitation?
2 But is not that invitation a little outdated? Why be interested in a course of self-sacrifice today when no one cares much about those who do and there is so much that this modern world has to offer and work for? Why should one “disown himself” when everywhere people are doing just the opposite, asserting themselves, and demanding more and more freedom? They want more of the good things this world has and feel they have the right to take these by force if not by other means. Why should not one seek to ‘gain the whole world’ or at least a good portion of it? Is it really true that following a course of self-sacrifice ‘for his sake’ could benefit such one to the extent of saving his life? The Bible and the recent history of true Christians provide some very encouraging answers. Even a person only mildly interested in spiritual things cannot help but be interested in the answers to these questions in view of the lack of honor, integrity and self-sacrifice in the world today.
3. What kind of world does one who takes up a course of self-sacrifice leave?
3 But is this world that bad? Is its course so bad that steering clear of it is so necessary? Yes, and it should not come as a surprise to anyone that the world as a whole is becoming more and more self-indulgent and materialistic. This state of affairs was foretold by one of the most reliable of prophets, the apostle Paul, and his prophecy is recorded at 2 Timothy 3:1-5: “But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.” All around us we see clearly now the fulfillment of this prophecy. In fact, to say simply that people are becoming more self-indulgent and materialistic is putting it mildly. It is actually the spirit of rebellion and anarchy that one sees everywhere.
4. Who are interested in self-sacrifice, and how was this foretold?
4 But are there some who are concerned with developing the spirit of self-sacrifice? Yes, Jehovah’s true servants are. This, too, was foretold. Psalm 110:3 says: “Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day of your military force. In the splendors of holiness, from the womb of the dawn, you have your company of young men just like dewdrops.”
5. What do they have that is worth sacrificing for?
5 There must be something that these Christians have in mind that is worth while sacrificing for today. There is. True Christians know that God’s kingdom has been established in the heavens and has been reigning for some time. In fact, we are a long way into the time of the end, and not too much time remains for this old system of things. When God, through his king, Jesus Christ, takes action to rid this earth of those who have no interest in doing things His way it will be too late for any more to come out into God’s place of safety. World events in fulfillment of Bible prophecy give sure indication that only a few years remain for this wicked arrangement of things. How could one, then, find something more worth while to make sacrifices for than God’s kingdom by Christ, encouraging those who have a love of righteousness to take a firm stand for that kingdom now? No better cause could be found!
6. Why be interested in learning the Bible viewpoint?
6 There is, then, a real need for reviving the spirit of self-sacrifice. The good news concerning that kingdom must be preached, and it takes faithful, zealous servants of God to do this. Appreciating what is involved in self-sacrifice will help one to continue in a faithful course. Self-sacrifice is by no means a mere formalism. We want to enter into the true spirit of it.
7. What is included and what is not included in self-sacrifice?
7 The sacrificing that we are talking about does not have to do with sacrificing someone else or something that belongs to someone else. We are talking about self-sacrifice. A mad dictator is willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands in order to gain his own selfish ends, often convinced that his cause is just. Rioters in so-called “free” countries who destroy property and life are guilty of the same thing. So are anarchists and revolutionaries. But the true Christian sacrifice is one of self, not improperly implicating or obligating others.
8. (a) What are some things that one ought to see clearly the need for giving up? (b) Why should they not be difficult to give up?
8 Sacrificing has to do with giving up things. To quite some extent it has to do with giving up things of a material nature that constitute an attraction to the flesh and that stand in the way of complete and unhindered service to Jehovah. Some of these material attractions or fleshly desires may lead to overindulging the sinful or fallen flesh, something either outrightly condemned in God’s Word or strongly counseled against. Eating and drinking excessively would fall into this category. Gambling, or becoming closely associated with gambling arrangements, would be another. Closely associating with those of the opposite sex when one is not free to do so or doing so in an improper way is still another. Giving up things not within our right is something that we can quite easily see the need of. Besides, they are usually harmful to physical or mental health. Abstaining from such things usually is not too difficult and is really basic to becoming a Christian.
9. What are some things that might not be so easy to give up or give less time to?
9 But what of those pleasures that simply constitute “normal” living? Is it not all right to live like other decent people in the neighborhood or country are living? After all, the Bible promises us an earthly paradise in which we can enjoy doing things that normal humans would naturally like to do. What is wrong with having a home that is large enough to be comfortable in, devoting some time to an educational hobby, watching the better television programs and keeping vigorous and healthy through things like swimming, boating, skiing and traveling? We will undoubtedly enjoy these things in God’s new order after Armageddon, so why not enjoy these clean and wholesome things now?
10. If these things are not wrong in themselves, then what might be the danger in them?
10 In themselves, these things are not wrong. It has to do with what is best, rather than what is permissible. Enjoyed properly, they can be very beneficial. It is simply a matter of having perspective. It is a matter of making the best possible use of the remaining time. One must be able to evaluate or appraise things so as to judge or decide what is truly worth while and most beneficial, and especially what is worthwhile activity in this day. What was it that was worth while in Noah’s day? Matthew 24:38, 39 says: “For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.” Jesus did not say that all of their activity was wrong in itself. It was just that they should have been listening to what God had to say to them through Noah, His “preacher of righteousness.” These “normal” things of life should not have filled their lives to the exclusion of God’s will for that day. Likewise, Jehovah has something much more important for us today to do than get involved excessively in normal pursuits of the world. Giving up such things probably constitutes one of the greater tests in self-sacrifice.—1 Cor. 7:29-31.
11. What is needed in order to maintain a balance in these matters?
11 One must be able to see in its true light what is being given up now as compared with the reward that is to be won. It reminds us of Esau. He was not a good judge of values. He was willing to give up his priceless birthright for some stew. (Gen. 25:29-34) Jesus did not have a place to lay his head but he adhered to a course of integrity and self-sacrifice in order to get the reward that had been promised him. He had perspective and a good sense of values. The apostle Paul also had good perspective. At Philippians 3:8 he wrote: “Why, for that matter, I do indeed also consider all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. On account of him I have taken the loss of all things and I consider them as a lot of refuse, that I may gain Christ.”
12. (a) What is another thing that one taking up Christianity will have to give up? (b) How does the apostle Paul prepare us so that we can have the right view?
12 There is another reason why the Christian life is one of self-sacrifice. It has to do with the view that those in the world will have of us when we become identified with Jehovah’s people. Everyone likes to be well thought of. Who likes to be looked down on, and especially when this is done in an unjust way? But one who makes himself prominent as a servant of God will not in this way enhance his prominence in this world. This is something he will have to sacrifice. It is not easy to bear, being looked down on; as described at 1 Corinthians 4:13, “we have become as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things, until now.” Note Paul’s description of the kind of person that will normally accept the truth and the view that the world as a whole has of those who are Jehovah’s servants: “For you behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God. But it is due to him that you are in union with Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, also righteousness and sanctification and release by ransom; that it may be just as it is written: ‘He that boasts, let him boast in Jehovah.’”—1 Cor. 1:26-31.
NOT EASY TO BE SELF-SACRIFICING
13. (a) Do some find it difficult to change? What is a better view?
13 Some find it difficult to make the change that will cause them to stand out as different from the world. They feel it is too much of a sacrifice. This should not be. Rather, seize the opportunity to show clearly just why you are different. These are opportunities, not obstacles! Those who are young and still in school will have many fine opportunities to stand up for what they know to be right and to provide an effective witness while doing so. Maybe you will have to abstain from styles, fads, parties, popularity or college. In doing so you will provide a refreshing example to some who might have a leaning toward righteousness. Mothers and housewives might not be fully accepted in a neighborhood, but that is not the important thing. The important thing is to stand uncompromisingly for the truth no matter what others may think or say. The same is true of fathers and husbands at their places of secular employment.
14. What happens to some in connection with self-denial?
14 Some, in fact, find it not only difficult but impossible to make the change. They will study with one of Jehovah’s witnesses for quite some time and then stop. They recognize that this is undoubtedly the truth, but they see what self-denial they will have to make and they feel that they cannot do this. Others have even taken the steps of dedication and baptism, served faithfully for some time and then have fallen away. It takes faithfulness in this course of self-sacrifice if one is to push on to maturity. The apostle Paul lost one of his traveling companions in this way. “For Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things.” (2 Tim. 4:10) What a shame for this to happen when such fine progress was being made!
15. Is it excusable when one falls from the course of self-sacrifice?
15 But whose fault really is it when one falls from the Christian course of self-sacrifice back into the worldly course of self-indulgence? Certainly not God’s. He has not allowed the temptations to become too great so that a fall was inevitable. To the contrary, 1 Corinthians 10:13 points out: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to men. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.” Jehovah helps, he does not hinder. There is no doubt that there are many things to tempt one from a course of self-sacrifice back into the materialistic world. But it is not God’s fault when it happens.
16. (a) When should training in self-denial begin? (b) How do some parents feel about this, and what is the best view?
16 At what age should one begin a course of self-denial? The sooner one starts, the better. Childhood is the best time. Parents who keep their children busy at worthwhile tasks in and around the home get the best results. It should be meaningful work that contributes to the family arrangement, and thus shouldering responsibility is learned. Some parents feel that because they had to work hard and had very little during their childhood they are going to see to it that it will be different for their children. They say that their children are not going to be deprived of things as they were. In their own childhood they wore shabby clothing, had poor or no equipment for recreation and play, and had very simple food along with long hours of hard work. But remember, it is not necessary to change all of this in order to benefit your child. Provide him with the needed clothing, be reasonable in recreation, give him wholesome food, but why eliminate the work? Too much leisure time is not at all good for a child. It provides poor training and background for a vigorous life of self-sacrifice and productive activity as a servant of Jehovah when he grows to manhood. It is not easy to overcome a habit that is deeply ingrained, and laziness certainly can become a habit. And the result? “The very craving of the lazy will put him to death, for his hands have refused to work.”—Prov. 21:25.
17. (a) Many parents that lived frugal lives in childhood feel how concerning it now? (b) What might well be the best thing a parent passes on to his child?
17 Actually many parents that had to work hard and had to do without some things when they were growing up are usually quite eager to tell about it now. That is because they now know that much of it was good for them and they are glad that they had that kind of training and conditioning. Proverbs 22:6 encourages: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” Disciplining your sons and daughters in a course of self-denial could well be one of the most valuable things they will inherit from you. And remember, your example will drive home the point of the verbal instructions you give.
18. (a) Of what did God warn the Israelites? (b) What can we learn from this?
18 It is not difficult to become self-indulgent again. God knew that the natural bent of imperfect man was downward. So, for the protection of his people, the Israelites, he forewarned them of what having material abundance in “the land flowing with milk and honey” might do for them. After the hardships of the forty-year trek in the wilderness they were told: “When you have eaten and satisfied yourself, you must also bless Jehovah your God for the good land that he has given you. Watch out for yourself that you may not forget Jehovah your God so as not to keep his commandments and his judicial decisions and his statutes that I am commanding you today; for fear that you may eat and indeed satisfy yourself, and you may build good houses and indeed dwell in them, and your herd and your flock may increase, and silver and gold may increase for you, and all that is yours may increase; and your heart may indeed be lifted up and you may indeed forget Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.” (Deut. 8:10-14) Yes, those who become materially rich can easily forget God. They can begin to rely on themselves instead of Jehovah and begin a downward slide that finds them out of the truth. That is one thing that Jesus had in mind when he said: “Truly I say to you that it will be a difficult thing for a rich man to get into the kingdom of the heavens. Again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:23, 24) It is necessary to be extremely careful with respect to acquiring material wealth if one is to continue faithfully serving Jehovah. Possessing much material wealth is not generally conducive to developing a good Christian spirit of self-sacrifice, just as God told the Israelites.
19. What is a good balance with respect to material possessions?
19 One has only so much time and so much energy. Using these two valuable commodities in accumulating or managing material possessions just crowds out spiritual matters. Not only is time used up and energy spent on material things, but the mind, during that time, is being occupied unprofitably. Spirituality is being built up only when the mind is busy with spiritual matters. Having less of this world’s goods, while at the same time having what is needed, can be a blessing in many ways. (Prov. 30:8) It usually allows more of our time, energy and thoughts to be occupied with Kingdom interests.
20, 21. If greater flexibility in service arrangements has been suggested, what does this indicate and what does it not?
20 But has not the Society in recent years recommended greater flexibility in our congregational service schedules and other service matters, saying that the congregations need not seek to make rigid rules and arrangements for publishers, but, rather, the brothers can engage in service when they personally decide it is best for them? Has it not been made clear that it is all right, for example, to make backcalls or conduct home Bible studies on Sunday mornings rather than adhere firmly to a schedule of house-to-house work the first thing Sunday morning? Does not all of this indicate that we do not have to push ourselves into the service when we do not feel like it and that the preaching and teaching work will get done somehow and we do not have to exert ourselves so strenuously?
21 When it is examined carefully, we will see that what has been suggested is not a slackening of the hand, but, rather, that things can be arranged to suit the individual publisher so that he can actually accomplish more, if he personally wants to. It allows for greater initiative in service to Jehovah, and Paul says: “For you know that it is from Jehovah you will receive the due reward of the inheritance.” (Col. 3:23, 24) Many servants of God, getting the spirit of the suggestions, have greatly increased both their time in the field service and also their effectiveness. Thus, we see that the need for exerting ourselves as dedicated Christians in a course of self-sacrifice is still with us; in fact, the need is actually greater.
22. What do we conclude with respect to the matter of self-sacrifice?
22 The course of self-sacrifice is not an easy one. It requires hard work and vigilance. But appreciating who it is that invites us to this course and the rewards that lie ahead, we agree that it is truly worth while. Their having the right view of it and appreciating the need for it will add to the blessings of those who shun the path of self-indulgence today.
a New English Bible, 1961.
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Childhood is the best time to begin a course of self-denial. Children should be given worthwhile tasks around the home