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TEXT: Philippians 2:3-4
SUBJECT: Baxter on Selfishness #2
Last week, we began a study of Richard Baxter on Selfishness. The chapter is taken from his huge book, A Christian Directory, and aims to help us identity our selfishness, and by God's grace, to replace it with something better.
How do we do this? Much can be said here, but Baxter starts with obvious. If you want to resist your selfish desires, you have to realize how bad they are. Selfishness is not a minor sin or a small personal defect. Baxter says it is a radical sin that produces all others. And not only that, but it also leads to all the suffering and misery in the world. It corrupts you from the inside out and it's the hardest sin in the world to overcome. And that's why there are very few who even address it, no less put it to death.
This is where you start fighting your selfishness: by admitting that you are this way and that it is an awful way to be. This is Richard Baxter's first Directive.
Tonight, with the Lord's help, we'll take up two or three more of them. These are shorter than the first one, and so we can easily cover them all in one study, I believe.
If you want to combat your selfishness.
THINK OF HOW WONDERFUL LIFE WOULD BE WITHOUT IT.
"Consider often how amiable a creature man would be, and what a happy condition the world would be in, if selfishness were overcome! There would then be no pride, no covetousness, no sensuality, no tyranny or oppressing of the poor, no malice or cruelty or persecution; no church divisions, no scandals, nothing to dishonor religion or to hinder the saving progress of the Gospel; no fraud or treacheries, no over-reaching or abusing others; no lying or deceit, no neglect of our duty to others; in a word, no injustice or uncharitableness in the world".
We preachers have a way of overstating the case. I think Baxter has done that here-but only a little. I don't believe a sinless world (under the curse) would be a perfect world. There is such a thing as an honest difference of opinion and mistakes will be made by the best men. Not every problem is the direct result of selfishness.
But having said this, I still believe Baxter was right: the world would be amazingly better-off without selfishness.
Think of what selfishness does to you.
Turn all of this around and what would you have? You'd have the Real You-the you God wants you to be. Instead of scarfing down everything not moving, you'd eat all you need and give the rest away. Instead of loafing around bored with nothing to do, you'd put your spare time to a better use-to praying, for example, or maybe visiting the sick. You'd help your wife-with a good attitude. You'd enjoy your kids and be the parent they need. You'd be the kind of worker employers want. You'd be a blessing to the church.
You can be all these things. But only if you aren't selfish.
I hate the Glamour Industry! Because of what it does to women-and especially to little girls. It promises that they can look like models! They can't! Not even the models look like models in real life! But under this power, pretty girls start feeling ugly and normal sized women feel fat. They buy more, they starve more, they work out more, but they don't receive the promise.
Because the promise is a lie. The image being sold is only an image.
But holiness is not an Image-it's the real thing. By identifying your selfish ways and repenting of them, you can look like the Lord Jesus Christ. Not perfectly, of course, but there will be a resemblance, a family likeness.
If you want to overcome selfishness, think of what you would be if you did. That's encouraging!
"Judge of good and evil by sober reason, and not by brutish sense. And then oft consider if there is not a better goal than your selfish interest? Of whether the good of others and the glory of God are not more excellent than your own desires. Sense leads men to selfishness and private designs, but true reason leads men to prefer something better".
The Puritan uses two words somewhat differently than we're used to. By reason, he doesn't mean human thought without God's Word. He means thought under the leadership of God's Word. And, by sense, he doesn't mean our faculties like sight or hearing, but something like feelings or desires or urges.
In choosing how to spend our time or money, he wants us to act on truth and not on feelings! What's best rather than what I want to do!
This is a hard one! Our minds may be controlled by our desires. We don't want to admit that we're doing something simply because we want to-that sounds selfish. So we put our minds into the service of our wishes. We think and twist and turn the truth until we come up with a reason for doing only what we want to do. The Bible says
"Every man did what was right in his own eyes".
Right because he wanted it to be right.
If we're going to act on wisdom instead of desire, we have to do three things:
We all despise lawyers who mangle the Law to get the verdict they want. I have a book at home that does the same thing to the Bible. Starting with the Word, "For the husband is the head of the wife", the author makes it say precisely the opposite! All with a pretended devotion to the Bible!
If we don't approve of this kind of thinking in lawyers and scholars, let's not approve of it in ourselves! Rather than deciding what we want to do and then looking for Bible verses to justify it, let's find out what God wants us to do and turn our desires to that.
Charles Schulz wrote the comic strip Peanuts for more than fifty years-I think. In the one I remember best, we have Linus lying on the floor studying the Bible. His sister, Lucy walks in and asks him what he's doing. The boy says:
"Looking for verses to justify my preconceived ideas".
He was ruled by brutish sense rather than reason. We're open to that to-unless we work against it and trust the Lord to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves!
"Nothing but the grace and true love for God will conquer selfishness. Make out, therefore, by earnest prayer, for the spirit of sanctification".
I don't know what I can add to this one. Overcoming selfishness is a work too great for you or me or Mother Teresa or Socrates or Alexander the Great. No will, no brains, no history will make you unselfish. Only the Lord can do that. He does it in answer to prayer.
Do you pray for an unselfish life? It's not easy to do-if you're honest in your prayers. For, when you ask for it, you imply that you want it. But wanting to live for someone else instead of yourself is something we don't have the stomach for most of the time!
But pray for it we must. And if we feel hypocrisy in the prayer, confess it, and keep praying for a spirit of unselfishness.
SUMMARY AND CLOSE
Baxter has one more heading, but we'll save that until next week, the Lord willing. For now, let's remember the first four headings. If you want to be unselfish:
Unselfishness is not in these things, but the Lord will bless them in making us unselfish. We work hard for Him, but we put our trust, not in our efforts, but in Christ!
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