Is not Self-seeking.
Nothing is more natural to us than to look out for ourselves. We do it all the time, and sometimes it is even good for us. We prepare our meals keeping our fingers away from the sharp edge of the knife; we look both ways before crossing the street; we don warm clothes in winter and sunblock in summer. But paradoxically, nothing is more of an obstacle, barrier, and impediment to love than looking out for ourselves.
The writer of I Corinthians 13 has been scrutinizing the notion of love. He has been examining, defining, and virtually dissecting every facet of love for those who care to listen. The ancient text was written specifically to new believers in the Greek city of Corinth (c. A.D. 56), but also to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” He wants people to understand some hard lessons about love.
He has started by explaining that love is patient and kind, that it does not envy or boast, and that it is not proud or rude. Those were the kindergarten and elementary lessons on love. We need to work on those, but they are child’s play compared to what’s coming. Now the Apostle Paul propels us into graduate-level course work. Enough of the easy stuff; it’s time, he seems to suggest, to get down to the real labour of love—the nitty-gritty, ‘get your hands dirty or get out of the garden’ kind of love.
“Love…” Paul explains, “is not self-seeking.”
Adjectives for self-seeking are: self-esteeming, self-interested, self-important, self-serving, self-centred, self-absorbed, and self-obsessed. Read that list again slowly, thoughtfully and carefully. There are other adjectives that go even further, descriptors like egotistical and narcissistic—pathologic extremes of self-centredness—illustrating how destructive the tendency in us can become. But for now, let’s choose from the ‘self’ list one adjective that describes, at least to some degree, our own experience. Let’s put it under the microscope and see what the fuss is all about.
Paul warn us against self-seeking behaviours because in the long run, when we put self-interest ahead of others-interest and ultimately God-interest, we destroy ourselves. Our self was not made to bear the weight of our own inward focus. God created us to find our greatest fulfillment by centering ourselves on Him first, on others second, and on ourselves last. Reversing that order is counter-productive to our need for love. So why do we do it?
We do it because we fall for the world’s oldest lie. The deception is: “The only way to truly be happy is to look out for myself.” We won’t go into where that lie originates; that’s a story for another day. Self-seeking motives hide deep in the recesses of our souls, come imbedded in our very DNA, and cause at least three injuries to us.
Firstly, they are isolating. When we are making decisions based on how to ensure outcomes that benefit us, they are bound to segregate us from others—especially the ones who suffer from our benefitting. When we become preoccupied with our own issues (our external appearance, our social media standing, our finances, our passions, and even our sufferings and experiences as victims) we fail to concern ourselves with others. We become care-less in looking out for the weak, the hurting and the love-needy. We become self-determining islands of isolation, focused only on our self. And selfishness ultimately makes us unlovable, further reinforcing that isolation.
Secondly, self-seeking motives are disillusioning. The lie sets us up to believe that the more we attend to ourselves the better things will be for us in the long run. We begin making choices out of fear for our own happiness, but find happiness an elusive thing to grasp. The older we get, the more we realize the labours of our lives ending much differently than we had planned. The disillusionment that follows this disappointment is often nothing less than overwhelming. Look at any example from the world’s highest pedestals of success and we see the carnage of lives crushed with disillusionment.
And thirdly, the inner drive for self is, in the end, self-destructive. The lack of love for others makes us not greater ourselves, but lesser. Our souls shrivel; our thoughts become disordered; our words take on twisted deceptions; we lose our hold on truth and reality and our actions become self-limiting. The goal of creating ourselves into masterpieces results in a corrupted shell of the glorious individual into which God envisioned making us.
What is the solution? In a word, Jesus. Jesus taught, “whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s a bold statement. It’s an impossible task. But here’s the miracle: Jesus came down to earth to live a life of selfless servanthood toward His heavenly Father and to all of humanity—to you and me. He repelled all temptations of self-interest and sacrificed His very life at the call of the Father to deliver us. And He offers His own Spirit to empower us to live for Him and to be like Him. That’s the breath-taking solution, designed and modeled by Love Himself. Here’s our opportunity. Each day He awaits our invitation to begin or continue the process of learning to love.