Living No Longer for Ourselves
“[Christ] died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves.”—2 CORINTHIANS 5:15.
1, 2. What Scriptural command moved Jesus’ first-century followers to overcome selfishness?
IT WAS Jesus’ last night on earth. In just a few hours, he would give his life in behalf of all those who would exercise faith in him. On that night, Jesus told his faithful apostles many important things. Among them was a command regarding a quality that would prove to be an identifying mark of his followers. “I am giving you a new commandment,” he said, “that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:34, 35.
2 True Christians are to display self-sacrificing love for one another and put the needs of their fellow believers ahead of their own. They should not hesitate even to ‘surrender their soul in behalf of their friends.’ (John 15:13) How did the early Christians respond to the new commandment? In his famous work Apology, the second-century writer Tertullian quoted others who said of Christians: ‘See how they love one another; how they are ready even to die for one another.’
3, 4. (a) Why should we counteract selfishness? (b) What will we consider in this article?
3 We too must “go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) However, selfishness is one of the greatest obstacles to obeying the law of the Christ and ‘loving Jehovah our God with our whole heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves.’ (Matthew 22:37-39) Being imperfect, we are inclined to be self-centered. Add to this the stress of everyday life, the competitive atmosphere at school or in the workplace, and the struggle to make ends meet, and this natural tendency is intensified. This inclination toward selfishness is not on the wane. The apostle Paul warned: “In the last days . . . men will become utterly self-centred.”—2 Timothy 3:1, 2, Phillips.
4 Toward the last part of his earthly ministry, Jesus gave his disciples a three-step process that could help them to overcome selfishness. What was it, and how can we benefit from his instructions?
A Sure Antidote!
5. While preaching in northern Galilee, what did Jesus disclose to his disciples, and why was that shocking to them?
5 Jesus was preaching near Caesarea Philippi in northern Galilee. This peaceful, picturesque area may have seemed more suitable for leisure than for self-denial. While there, however, Jesus began to show his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the older men and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised up.” (Matthew 16:21) How shocking this disclosure must have been to Jesus’ disciples, for up to then they had expected their Leader to establish his Kingdom on the earth!—Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6.
6. Why did Jesus strongly rebuke Peter?
6 Peter immediately “took [Jesus] aside and commenced rebuking him, saying: ‘Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.’” How did Jesus respond? “Turning his back, he said to Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.’” What a contrast there was between the two outlooks! Jesus willingly accepted the self-sacrificing course God had assigned him—one that would lead to his death on a torture stake within a few months. Peter recommended a comfortable course. “Be kind to yourself,” he said. Peter undoubtedly had good intentions. Still, Jesus rebuked him because Peter had on that occasion allowed himself to be influenced by Satan. Peter had “not God’s mind, but that of men.”—Matthew 16:22, 23; footnote.
7. As recorded at Matthew 16:24, what course did Jesus outline for his followers to take?
7 Echoes of Peter’s words to Jesus can be heard today. The world commonly urges a person to ‘be good to yourself’ or ‘follow the course of least resistance.’ On the other hand, Jesus recommended a completely different mental attitude. He told his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) “These words are not an invitation to discipleship for outsiders,” states The New Interpreter’s Bible, “but reflection on the meaning of discipleship for those who have already responded to the call of Christ.” The three steps that Jesus outlined, as recorded in that scripture, are to be taken by believers. Let us consider each step separately.
8. Explain what it means to disown yourself.
8 First, we must disown ourselves. The Greek word for “to disown oneself” indicates a willingness to say no to selfish desires or personal convenience. Disowning ourselves is not just a matter of our occasionally forgoing certain pleasures; neither does it mean that we become ascetic or self-destructive. We no longer ‘belong to ourselves’ in that we willingly surrender our whole life and everything in it to Jehovah. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) Rather than being self-oriented, our life becomes God-oriented. Disowning ourselves implies a determination to do the will of God, even though this may go against our own imperfect inclinations. We show that we are exclusively devoted to God when we make a dedication to him and get baptized. We then strive to live up to our dedication for the rest of our life.
9. (a) When Jesus was on earth, what did a torture stake represent? (b) In what way do we pick up our torture stake?
9 The second step is that we must pick up our torture stake. In the first century, a torture stake represented suffering, shame, and death. Normally, only criminals were executed on a torture stake or had their dead bodies hung on a stake. By this expression, Jesus showed that a Christian must be prepared to accept persecution, contempt, or even death, since he is no part of the world. (John 15:18-20) Our Christian standards set us apart, so the world may ‘speak abusively of us.’ (1 Peter 4:4) This could happen at school, at our place of work, or even within the family. (Luke 9:23) Nevertheless, we are willing to endure the world’s contempt because we no longer live for ourselves. Jesus said: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:11, 12) Indeed, having God’s favor is what matters.
10. What is involved in following Jesus continually?
10 Third, Jesus Christ said that we must continually follow him. According to An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine, to follow means to be a companion—“one going in the same way.” First John 2:6 states: “He that says he remains in union with [God] is under obligation himself also to go on walking just as that one [Christ] walked.” How did Jesus walk? Jesus’ love for his heavenly Father and for his disciples left no room for selfishness. “The Christ did not please himself,” wrote Paul. (Romans 15:3) Even when he felt tired or hungry, Jesus put the needs of others before his own. (Mark 6:31-34) Jesus also exerted himself vigorously in the Kingdom preaching and teaching work. Should we not imitate him as we zealously fulfill our commission to ‘make disciples of people of all the nations, teaching them to observe all the things Jesus has commanded’? (Matthew 28:19, 20) In all of this, Christ left a model for us, and we must “follow his steps closely.”—1 Peter 2:21.
11. Why is it important that we disown ourselves, pick up our torture stake, and continually follow Jesus Christ?
11 It is vital that we disown ourselves, pick up our torture stake, and continually follow our Exemplar. Our doing so counteracts selfishness—a sure obstacle to displaying self-sacrificing love. Moreover, Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it. For what benefit will it be to a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul? or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”—Matthew 16:25, 26.
We Cannot Serve Two Masters
12, 13. (a) What was a matter of concern to the young ruler who asked for Jesus’ advice? (b) What counsel did Jesus give the young man, and why?
12 Some months after Jesus emphasized the need for his disciples to disown themselves, a rich young ruler came up to him and said: “Teacher, what good must I do in order to get everlasting life?” Jesus told him to “observe the commandments continually” and then cited some of them. The young man said: “I have kept all these.” The man was apparently sincere and had done his best to obey the commandments of the Law. So he asked: “What yet am I lacking?” In response, Jesus extended to the young man a unique invitation, saying: “If you want to be perfect [“complete,” New American Standard Bible], go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come be my follower.”—Matthew 19:16-21.
13 Jesus saw that for the young man to serve Jehovah whole-souled, he needed to get rid of the big distraction in his life—his material wealth. A true disciple of Christ cannot serve two masters. He “cannot slave for God and for Riches.” (Matthew 6:24) He needs a ‘simple eye’ that is focused on spiritual matters. (Matthew 6:22) Getting rid of one’s belongings and giving them to the poor is an act of self-sacrifice. In exchange for this material sacrifice, Jesus offered the young ruler the priceless privilege of amassing treasure in heaven—a treasure that would mean everlasting life for him and would lead to the prospect of eventually ruling with Christ in heaven. The young man was not ready to disown himself. “He went away grieved, for he was holding many possessions.” (Matthew 19:22) Other followers of Jesus, however, responded differently.
14. How did four fishermen respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow him?
14 Some two years earlier, Jesus had extended a similar invitation to four fishermen named Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Two of them were fishing at the time, and the other two were busy mending their nets. Jesus said to them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” All four ultimately abandoned their fishing business and followed Jesus for the rest of their life.—Matthew 4:18-22.
15. How did one modern-day Witness of Jehovah make sacrifices to follow Jesus?
15 Many Christians today have imitated the example of the four fishermen rather than that of the rich young ruler. They have sacrificed wealth and opportunity in this world in order to serve Jehovah. “When I was 22, I had to make a big decision,” says Deborah. She explains: “I had studied the Bible for about six months, and I wanted to dedicate my life to Jehovah, but my family were very much opposed. They were multimillionaires, and they felt that my becoming a Witness would bring them social disgrace. They gave me 24 hours to decide which I preferred—a life of luxury or the truth. If I didn’t cut off all contact with the Witnesses, my family would disinherit me. Jehovah helped me make the right decision and gave me the strength to carry it out. I have spent the last 42 years in full-time service, and I have no regrets whatsoever. By turning my back on a selfish, pleasure-oriented life-style, I escaped the emptiness and unhappiness I see among my family members. Along with my husband, I have helped over a hundred people to learn the truth. These spiritual children are much more precious to me than any material riches.” Millions of other Witnesses of Jehovah share her sentiments. What about you?
16. How can we show that we no longer live for ourselves?
16 The desire to live no longer for themselves has moved thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve as pioneers, or full-time Kingdom proclaimers. Others, whose circumstances do not allow them to share in the full-time ministry, cultivate the pioneer spirit and support the Kingdom-preaching work to the best of their ability. Parents show a similar spirit when they devote much of their time and they sacrifice personal interests in order to give spiritual training to their children. In one way or another, all of us can show that Kingdom interests come first in our lives.—Matthew 6:33.
Whose Love Compels Us?
17. What motivates us to make sacrifices?
17 Displaying self-sacrificing love is not the easiest course to follow. But think of what it is that compels us. Paul wrote: “The love the Christ has compels us, because this is what we have judged, that one man died for all . . . And he died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15) It is the love of the Christ that compels us to live no longer for ourselves. What a powerful motivation that is! Since Christ died for us, do we not sense the moral obligation to live for him? After all, gratitude for the depth of the love that God and Christ have shown us compelled us to dedicate our lives to God and become disciples of Christ.—John 3:16; 1 John 4:10, 11.
18. Why is a self-sacrificing course worthwhile?
18 Is living no longer for ourselves worthwhile? After the rich young ruler rejected Christ’s invitation and went away, Peter said to Jesus: “Look! We have left all things and followed you; what actually will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27) Peter and the other apostles had truly disowned themselves. What would be their reward? Jesus first spoke of the privilege they would have of ruling with him in heaven. (Matthew 19:28) On the same occasion, Jesus referred to blessings that every one of his followers could enjoy. He said: “No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time . . . and in the coming system of things everlasting life.” (Mark 10:29, 30) We receive much more than what we have sacrificed. Are not our spiritual fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children much more valuable than anything we have renounced for the sake of the Kingdom? Who had the most rewarding life—Peter or the rich young ruler?
19. (a) On what does true happiness depend? (b) What will we consider in the following article?
19 By his words and deeds, Jesus showed that happiness comes from giving and from serving, not from selfishness. (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:35) When we no longer live for ourselves but follow Christ continually, we find great satisfaction in life now and have the prospect of eternal life in the future. Of course, when we disown ourselves, Jehovah becomes our Owner. We thus become slaves of God. Why is this slavery rewarding? How does it affect the decisions we make in life? The next article will discuss these questions.
Do You Recall?
• Why should we counteract our selfish tendencies?
• What does it mean to disown ourselves, pick up our torture stake, and follow Jesus continually?
• What motivates us to live no longer for ourselves?
• Why is living a life of self-sacrifice worthwhile?
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“Be kind to yourself, Lord”
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What prevented the young ruler from following Jesus?
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Love compels Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve as zealous Kingdom proclaimers