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TEXT: Matthew 16:24
SUBJECT: Baxter on Selfishness #3
Two or three weeks ago, we began the study of Richard Baxter on Selfishness. Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll finish it. The Puritan began by defining selfishness as a branch of covetousness-of wanting what isn't yours.
Selfish people want money or time or attention or praise or obedience they don't have coming to them. Everything we have belongs to the Lord and is to be used His way, not ours. This is a hard lesson to learn-and no one will learn it perfectly in this life. But we need to start learning it. And Richard Baxter can help us. Thus far he has given us several steps for combating selfishness in our lives.
All of these are very helpful, but his last heading is the most important. You may curtail or cut back on your selfishness by doing what he's said so far, but drastic change demands something more-something more than tips for unselfish living.
If you want to resist selfishness and become the sort of person God has called you to be, you must.
MEDITATE ON THE EXAMPLE AND TEACHING OF JESUS CHRIST.
Baxter's quote is a long one, but it's worth reading at length.
"Study much the self-denying example and precepts of your Savior. His life and doctrine are the liveliest representation of self-denial that ever was given to the world. Learn Christ, and you will learn self-denial. He had not sinful selfishness to mortify, yet natural self was so wonderfully denied by Him, for His Father's will and our salvation, that no other book or teacher in the world will teach this lesson so perfectly as He. Follow Him from the manger, or rather from the womb, to the cross and grave; behold Him in His poverty and contempt; enduring the contradiction and ingratitude of sinners, and making Himself of no reputation. Behold Him apprehended, accused, condemned, crowned with thorns, clothed with purple with a reed in His hand, scourged and led away to execution, bearing His cross and hanged among thieves. Forsaken by His own disciples and the world, and in part by Him who is more than all the world. And consider why all this was done and for whom He did it, and what lesson He purposed thereby to teach us. Consider why He made it so much a part of our religion to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.
.Were a crucified Christ more of our daily study, self-denial would be better known and practiced, and Christianity would appear for what it is and not watered down and abused in the world".
A PRELIMINARY WORD
Before we get to Baxter's big idea, I want you to note that an unselfish life is distinctly Christ-centered. On this point, many Christians have gone wrong.
A few weeks ago, I was listening to a sports talk program on the radio. The guest that night was Rashaan Salaam, a former professional football player. The interviewer asked him what he'd been reading lately and Salaam named a best-selling Christian book-which he liked very much and said helped him in his faith. This caught my attention, but as I listened to the rest of the interview, I found out Salaam is still a Muslim!
I won't name the book because I haven't read it, but I had to wonder: How can a Christian book make a man a better Muslim?
A few days later, I was talking to a friend about the book (which he had read and didn't like). I asked him where he got it and he named another man who is a member of the Apostolic Church-and denies the Divinity of Christ!
Again, I had to wonder: How can a Christian book be a great blessing to a man who doesn't believe that Jesus is God?
Then it hit me: the book, apparently, is full of Bible verses and Christian words, but it is not Christian at all! It only uses Jesus to make our lives better. In this way, it can be adapted to Muslims, to heretics, to anyone who wants to live a more disciplined and religious life.
Richard Baxter will have none of that! Sanctification is Christ-centered! Growing in grace doesn't mean doing morning devotions or giving to the church (or synagogue or mosque), it means growing more like Christ! Not "god" in a vague, undefined, fuzzy sense-but the God who is clearly revealed in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ!
There is much to admire in the self-denial of an athlete, a soldier, a scholar, or even a monk! But that discipline is only a re-arrangement of selfishness. To be rid of it, we need to live by faith and in the fellowship and obedience of Jesus Christ!
THE LORD AND SINFUL DESIRESDid the Lord say no to His sinful desires? No, He didn't, because He had no sinful desires-He was tempted, of course, but the temptations to sin were not attractive to Him. There was nothing in Him that wanted to lie or steal or commit adultery. He was no more tempted to murder-let's say-than you are to eat mud or to sniff a skunk or to roll around in poison ivy!
This makes His unselfishness more impressive. The things He said no to were not wicked things at all, but lawful things, things others could have with God's approval, but He couldn't. He accepted that without bitterness or disappointment.
EXAMPLES OF UNSELFISHNESS
Jesus Christ was an unselfish Man. Think of the things He could have had-but made do without.
He never married. Marriage is a good thing, and for most people, it is the best way to live. But Paul says (in I Corinthians 7), that marriage is also a distraction. The married woman-he says there-cares for the things of her husband, how she may please him, while the unmarried cares for the things of the Lord.
Now, was the Lord a Man? And, do you think that He might have enjoyed female company? And don't you think a wife might have comforted Him in a way Peter and James and John couldn't? And don't you think some women must have found Him highly attractive?
Yet He did not marry. Not because it was wrong to marry, but because it was better for God and others that He not marry. And-for God's sake and the salvation of the world-Jesus Christ said no to the natural and wholesome desires a young man has for the fairer sex. That is unselfishness!
He made the wrong friends. Selfish people are very careful about the friends they make. They look for the kind of people who can do something for them. They want to be with the in-crowd or with the higher ups. They think of friendship as a way of moving up in the world, of making contacts, of networking.
Our Lord went the other way. He looked for the kind of people who couldn't do something for Him. He wanted to be with the out-crowd and the lower downs. He thought of friendship as a way of moving down in the world, as a way of serving without reward, and often, without even a thank you!
With His gifts and charisma, He could have been the toast of the town! But He chose to be the friend of sinners and publicans. That is unselfishness!
He had no privacy. The Lord was the most public man in the world. Long before there was such a thing as the paparizzi, He was hounded by people in a way Elvis or the Beatles or Princess Diana couldn't imagine!
They all had mansions and limos and security guards and escape routes. But the Lord didn't. And nearly every minute of His time was barged in on by people wanting something from Him. At times, He slipped away, but not for long.
Yet, instead of forming a police line to protect Him or leaving the country or telling the people off or feeling sorry for Himself, He simply gave up His privacy. That is unselfishness!
He gave up the trappings of Lordship. Jesus Christ is-and always was-Lord of all! He was the King in the manger and the King on the cross. He never gave up His Lordship, for it was given to Him by His Father and so, it wasn't His to give up even if He wanted to!
But He gave up the privileges of Lordship. Kings demand respect; He let people walk all over Him. Kings are used to being obeyed; He let people ignore His commands. Kings lie in feather beds, He had no pillow, even! Kings eat sumptuously at table with Very Important Men; He ate a poor man's diet with fishermen and other Nobodies.
This is all over the Gospels, but especially at the foot washing. Just hours before He was betrayed, the Lord took a basin of water, wrapped a towel around His waist, and washed the disciples' feet as though He were the lowest servant in the house!
He did not lay aside the privileges of Lordship for those of.what? The scholar, the priest, the nobleman or some other dignitary. No, He traded them in for the privileges of a houseboy! That is unselfishness!
He died in shame. We often think of the crucifixion as a painful death-and of course, it was. But I'm not sure this is the Bible's take on it. I can think of other ways to die that might be as painful. I have a book at home called Olde Time Punishments describing the way Inquisitors (and others) tortured their victims. It's a bloody mess.
But the cross was a death uniquely shameful. To the Roman it signified the worst kind of crime. To the Jew, it stood for the curse of God. It was a horrendously shameful, embarrassing, humiliating thing to die this way!
Now, think about how much your dignity is worth to you. If you were out of work and the boss said he would hire you on the condition that you came to the office every day on all fours and barked like a dog, would you take the job? You'd rather starve than do that! Why? Because it's so humiliating!
Multiply that shame by infinity and you've got some idea of how humiliating it was for the Lord to die on the cross. Yet He did just that-of His own free will, when He could have gotten out of it at any time.
"He made Himself of no reputation.He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross".
That is unselfishness!
The example of our Lord Jesus Christ, then, is a powerful motive to living unselfish lives. When tempted to do what you want to do-rather than what it better for others-remember Him.
But not just His example, but also His command. The Lord did not live the way He did just so we would admire Him. No, He lived this way so that we would follow Him. That's what our text says, doesn't it? It commands us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses (daily) and follow Christ.
We are not the Lord, of course, and we're not required to follow Him in every detail of life. But when it comes to character, we are to be like Him. And this means we're to be unselfish.
As a closing remark, Watson says this kind of living will clear Christianity of all the abuse it has taken from unbelievers. The world has called the Church many ugly names-and some of them are right on. We have not lived up to our calling; we are too much like the world; we are guilty of the very things we condemn in others.
We don't need a new program-not even a good one. What we need is unselfishness: in you and in me. The world may not like what we are, but it cannot help respecting us. For the unsaved are also made in the Image of God and-even though they don't live up to it-they recognize unselfishness and secretly wish that they could be this way too.
Unselfish Christians bear powerful witness to the unselfish God we serve. That's Richard Baxter on Unselfishness.
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