How to Maintain the Spirit of Self-Sacrifice
“If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself.”—MATT. 16:24.
1. How did Jesus set a perfect example of self-sacrifice?
WHEN Jesus was on earth, he set a perfect example of self-sacrifice. He put aside his own desires and comforts in order to do God’s will. (John 5:30) By remaining faithful to death on the torture stake, he proved that his spirit of self-sacrifice had no limit.—Phil. 2:8.
2. How can we display the spirit of self-sacrifice, and why should we do so?
2 As followers of Jesus, we too need to display the spirit of self-sacrifice. What does it mean to have a self-sacrificing spirit? Simply put, it means that a person is willing to give up his own interests in order to help others. In a sense, it is the opposite of selfishness. (Read Matthew 16:24.) An unselfish spirit can help us to place our feelings and personal preferences after those of others. (Phil. 2:3, 4) In fact, Jesus taught that an unselfish spirit is at the heart of our worship. How so? Christian love, which is part of the motivation behind self-sacrifice, is the hallmark of true disciples of Jesus. (John 13:34, 35) And think of the blessings we enjoy because we are part of a worldwide brotherhood that displays the spirit of self-sacrifice!
3. What might undermine our self-sacrificing spirit?
3 Still, we face an enemy that can subtly undermine our self-sacrificing spirit. That enemy is our tendency to be selfish. Recall how Adam and Eve manifested selfishness. Eve acted out of a selfish desire to be like God. Her husband manifested a selfish desire to please her. (Gen. 3:5, 6) After turning Adam and Eve away from true worship, the Devil continued to tempt people to be selfish. He even tried that approach when tempting Jesus. (Matt. 4:1-9) In our day, Satan has successfully misled most people, moving them to manifest selfishness in many ways. This merits our attention because the prevailing selfish spirit could rub off on us.—Eph. 2:2.
4. (a) Can we presently eliminate selfish tendencies? Explain. (b) What questions will we consider?
4 Selfishness may be compared to rust that develops on iron. If an iron object is exposed to the elements, it might begin to rust. The real danger lies in ignoring the rust, allowing it to develop to the point of causing structural damage or failure. Similarly, though we cannot presently eliminate our imperfection and selfish tendencies, we must be alert to the dangers involved and continue to fight such tendencies. (1 Cor. 9:26, 27) How can we recognize signs of selfishness in ourselves? And how can we to a greater degree cultivate our spirit of self-sacrifice?
USE THE BIBLE TO CHECK FOR SELFISHNESS
5. (a) How is the Bible like a mirror? (See opening image.) (b) When checking ourselves for selfishness, what must we avoid?
5 Just as we can use a mirror to check our physical appearance, so we can use the Bible to check our inner person and correct any defects we might find. (Read James 1:22-25.) However, only if we use it properly will a mirror help us with our appearance. For example, if we just glance at a mirror, we might fail to notice a small but significant blemish. Or if we look into a mirror from an angle, we might see the image of someone else. Similarly, to use the Bible to see a defect, such as selfishness, we should do more than read it casually or use it to see someone else’s faults.
6. How do we ‘continue’ in the perfect law?
6 To illustrate, we could read God’s Word regularly, even daily, and still not see traces of selfishness that actually are developing in us. How is that possible? Consider this: In James’ example of the mirror, the problem was not that the man failed to look carefully. James wrote that the man “looks at himself.” Here, James used a Greek word that denotes scrutiny or careful consideration. So in this case, what was the man’s problem? James continued: “He goes away and immediately forgets what sort of person he is.” Yes, he turned away from the mirror without acting on what he saw. In contrast, the successful man not only “peers into the perfect law” but also “continues in it.” Instead of leaving the perfect law of God’s Word behind, he persists in following its teachings. Jesus made a similar point when he said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples.”—John 8:31.
7. How can we use the Bible to check for traces of selfishness?
7 Therefore, to be successful in fighting traces of selfishness, you must first read God’s Word carefully. That may help you to identify areas needing attention. But you need to go further. Dig deeper by doing research. Once you have a Bible account clearly in mind, put yourself into it by asking such questions as: ‘How would I have acted in this situation? Would I really have acted in a right way?’ Most important, after you meditate on what you have read, strive to apply it. (Matt. 7:24, 25) Let us consider how we can use the accounts of King Saul and the apostle Peter to help us maintain a spirit of self-sacrifice.
LEARN FROM KING SAUL’S WARNING EXAMPLE
8. With what attitude did Saul begin his kingship, and how did he demonstrate this?
8 King Saul of Israel serves as a warning for us about how selfishness can eat away at our spirit of self-sacrifice. Saul began his kingship with a modest and humble view of himself. (1 Sam. 9:21) He refused to punish Israelites who spoke out against his kingship, even though he could have felt justified in defending his God-given position. (1 Sam. 10:27) King Saul accepted the guidance of God’s spirit by leading Israel in a successful battle against the Ammonites. Afterward, he humbly gave Jehovah the credit for the victory.—1 Sam. 11:6, 11-13.
9. How did Saul come to develop selfish thinking?
9 Later, Saul allowed selfish thinking and pride to develop, like corrosive rust. When he defeated the Amalekites in battle, he put his own desires ahead of obedience to Jehovah. Saul greedily took the spoil instead of destroying it as God had commanded. And Saul arrogantly built a monument to himself. (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 12) When the prophet Samuel told him that Jehovah was displeased, Saul tried to justify himself by focusing on the part of God’s command that he had obeyed and by blaming others for his error. (1 Sam. 15:16-21) Additionally, pride made Saul more concerned with saving face before the people than with pleasing God. (1 Sam. 15:30) How can we use the account about Saul as a mirror to help us maintain the spirit of self-sacrifice?
10, 11. (a) What does Saul’s experience teach us about maintaining a self-sacrificing spirit? (b) How can we avoid following Saul’s bad course?
10 First, Saul’s experience shows that we cannot be complacent, assuming that if we previously showed a self-sacrificing spirit, we will automatically continue to manifest it. (1 Tim. 4:10) Bear in mind that Saul did well and enjoyed God’s favor for a while, but he failed to root out selfish tendencies that began to take hold. Jehovah ultimately rejected Saul for his disobedience.
11 Second, we should beware of focusing only on areas in our life in which we are doing well, ignoring aspects that we need to work on. This would be like using a mirror to admire our new clothes while not noticing some dirt on our face. Even if we might not be as self-satisfied as Saul became, we should definitely work to avoid any tendency that may lead to the same bad course. If we receive counsel, let us take care not to justify our actions, minimize the problem, or shift the blame. Rather than be like Saul, it is much better to be open to counsel.—Read Psalm 141:5.
12. How could the spirit of self-sacrifice help us if we were to commit a serious sin?
12 However, what if we were to commit a serious sin? Saul wanted to preserve his reputation, and this kept him from making a spiritual recovery. In contrast, a spirit of self-sacrifice could help us to overcome embarrassment and get needed help. (Prov. 28:13; Jas. 5:14-16) For example, one brother began viewing pornography at the age of 12, and he continued to do so in secret for over a decade. He relates: “It was very hard to admit to my wife and to the elders what I’d been doing. But now that I have admitted it, I feel that a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders. Some of my friends were disappointed when I was removed as a ministerial servant, as if I had let them down. Yet, I know that Jehovah is more pleased with my service now than when I was watching pornography, and his view is the one that really matters.”
PETER OVERCAME SELFISHNESS
13, 14. How did Peter manifest selfish tendencies?
13 The apostle Peter displayed the spirit of self-sacrifice while he was being trained by Jesus. (Luke 5:3-11) Yet, he had to fight selfish tendencies. For instance, he was indignant when the apostles James and John schemed to gain prominent positions alongside Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps Peter thought that one of those seats should be for him because Jesus had already said that Peter would have a special role. (Matt. 16:18, 19) In any case, Jesus warned James and John, as well as Peter and the rest of the apostles, against selfishly trying to “lord it over” their brothers.—Mark 10:35-45.
14 Even after Jesus tried to correct Peter’s thinking, Peter continued his struggle with how he viewed himself. When Jesus told the apostles that they would temporarily abandon him, Peter put the others down and elevated himself by claiming that he alone would prove to be faithful. (Matt. 26:31-33) His self-assurance was unfounded, though, for that very night he failed to show a spirit of self-sacrifice. In what amounted to an effort to protect himself, Peter disowned Jesus three times.—Matt. 26:69-75.
15. Why is Peter’s overall example heartening?
15 Despite these struggles and failures, Peter’s life is a heartening example. With personal effort and the help of God’s holy spirit, Peter was able to overcome his misguided tendencies and display self-control and self-sacrificing love. (Gal. 5:22, 23) He endured trials that could be viewed as more severe than the ones he stumbled over earlier. He showed humility by how he reacted to a public rebuke from the apostle Paul. (Gal. 2:11-14) And after being rebuked, Peter did not hold a grudge, feeling that his status had been damaged by Paul’s reprimand. Peter continued to express love for Paul. (2 Pet. 3:15) Peter’s example can help us to cultivate a spirit of self-sacrifice.
16. How can we display the spirit of self-sacrifice in difficult circumstances?
16 Think about how you react in difficult circumstances. When Peter and the apostles were imprisoned and then flogged because of their preaching, they rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of [Jesus’] name.” (Acts 5:41) You too can view persecution as an opportunity to imitate Peter and follow in Jesus’ footsteps by displaying the spirit of self-sacrifice. (Read 1 Peter 2:20, 21.) This outlook could even help if you received needed discipline from the elders. Follow Peter’s example rather than take personal offense.—Eccl. 7:9.
17, 18. (a) What might we ask ourselves about our spiritual goals? (b) What can we do if we sense a measure of selfishness in our heart?
17 You can also benefit from Peter’s example when it comes to spiritual goals. You can pursue such in a way that reflects a spirit of self-sacrifice. Yet, be careful that this pursuit does not become a quest for prominence. So ask yourself, ‘Could my desire to improve or increase my service to Jehovah be tainted by a wish for more personal recognition or authority, as seemed to have been the case when James and John made their request to Jesus?’
18 If you detect a measure of selfishness in your heart, ask Jehovah to help you to correct your thinking and feelings; then work harder to concentrate on his glory instead of your own. (Ps. 86:11) You might also pursue goals that would not put you in the limelight. For instance, you might cultivate more fully some aspect of the fruitage of the spirit that you find especially challenging. Or if you prepare diligently for your meeting parts but have little interest in sharing in cleaning the Kingdom Hall, you could set a goal to apply the advice found at Romans 12:16.—Read.
19. What can we do so as not to be discouraged by what we see in the mirror of God’s Word?
19 When we look carefully at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word and see flaws, even evidences of selfishness, we might become discouraged. If that ever happens to you, reflect on the successful man in James’ illustration. James did not stress how quickly the man fixed the problems he detected or even that he was able to correct every blemish; rather, James says that the man ‘continued in the perfect law.’ (Jas. 1:25) He remembered what he saw in the mirror and kept working to improve. Yes, keep a positive view of yourself and a balanced view of your imperfections. (Read Ecclesiastes 7:20.) Continue to peer into the perfect law, and work to maintain your spirit of self-sacrifice. Jehovah is willing to help you, as he has helped so many of your brothers who, although imperfect, can and do have God’s favor and blessing.