Reading 5 – Wednesday, December 11, 2019
“Seeketh Not Her Own”
By Idel Suarez, Jr., U.S.A.
Love “seeketh not her own…” 1 Corinthians 13:5.
The problem of selfishness
Robert Diller was a neighbor to Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, before the latter became Presi- dent of the United States. One day Mr. Diller saw Mr. Lincoln walking with his two sons, who were crying and wailing loudly. Mr. Diller inquired, “Why, Mr. Lincoln, what’s the matter with the boys?”
Lincoln replied, “Just what’s the matter with the whole world.” He then added, “I’ve got three walnuts, and each of my boys wants two of them!”1
What is wrong with the world? Simply, it is selfishness. Each seeks his own will, irrespective of the need and concern of others.
The great German reformer, Dr. Martin Luther, recognized the danger of selfishness that was engraved in the very fiber of every human being. He said, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope: SELF.”2
Is SELF the great pope of your life? Selfishness is part of the sinful human flesh. One of the two first words that children learn highlights their overbearing desire to please self–their ego. The first word is “no,” and the other word is “mine.” If a little girl sees something she likes, she says, “It’s mine.” If she can reach and grab it, she says, “It’s mine.” If she likes it, she says, “It’s mine.” If another child has it, then again she says, “It’s mine.” Sadly, many never grow out of this inclination. They just grow up to fulfill the ego’s creed. Do you know the ego’s creed? Here it is:
- “Think about yourself,
- “Talk about yourself,
- “Use the word ‘I’ as often as possible,
- “Expect to be appreciated and praised,
- “Insist on your own rights,
- “Never forgive criticism,
- “Demand agreement with your own views on everything,
- “Seek your own will always,
- “Do as little as possible for others. “Simply, be selfish.”3
Ironically, the first person learned in the grammar of any language is always “I.” The second person is “you.” The third person is “he.” Selfishness means to be inconsid- erate of others and “concerned with one’s own personal profit or pleasure,” or interest.4 It is the opposite of being selfless or unselfish, which has as its root the disregard of oneself and interest for the well-being of others.
“The sin which is indulged to the greatest extent, and which separates us from God and produces so many contagious spiritual disorders, is selfishness.”5 “Selfishness and worldli- ness” are “not consistent with Christian character.” It is not possible to be selfish and Christlike.6
Selfishness is a sin. It is transgres- sion of the tenth commandment. It seeks its own will, without any concern for the well-being of others, and only to satisfy the desires, passions, and instincts prompted by the sinful flesh or the old man. The selfish person walks on the rights of others to uphold his ego’s right at all costs.
I believe that selfishness is also at the root of many mental disorders that afflict our world today, the cause of marital dissatisfaction, and a culprit in interpersonal problems. At least two of the diagnostic criteria used to assess “narcissistic personality disorder” are related to selfishness:
- “Takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends;”
- “Lack empathy,” that is, such people are unwilling “to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.”7
Those who are selfish continually, consciously, or unconsciously “seek their own” will, interest, desire, and purpose. Thus, there seem to be two kinds of people on earth–those “who are continually thinking of their own rights, and those who are continually thinking of their duties; those who always insist upon their privileges and those who always remember their responsibilities; those who are always thinking of what life owes them and those who never forget what they owe to life.”8 Which are you?
A new language and credo
The apostle Paul, in writing to the Gentile converts in Corinth, knew their innate struggles with selfishness. They were suing one another in court. They were committing incest. They were speaking gibberish tongues to show off. They were dividing the church by siding with different cliques as followers of Apollos, Cephas, or Paul. So Paul, in at least three places in his letter, emphasizes that the Christian must not seek his or her own interest at the expense of others.
“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.” 1 Corinthians 10:24. This was a novel idea to the Greeks. They were taught from childhood to make a profit at any cost, even if it meant dishonesty in commercial dealings. Paul sought to teach them a new, better, “more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:31.
What do we seek? Jesus asked the two disciples who were following Him, “What seek ye?” John 1:38. The unconverted seek pleasure, friends, convenience, comfort, fame, wealth, and honor. But we, like the Greeks that came to Christ, need to say, “We would see Jesus.” John 12:21. Likewise, the world wants to see Jesus in you. This is what Paul wanted to teach his Corinthian friends and fellow believers. He wanted them to follow the love of Jesus. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” 1 Corinthians 16:22.
On a practical level, loving, selfless Christians remember others in their prayers. They pray for their needs, conversion, and well-being. Loving, selfless Christians praise God, not self. In church elections, they vote not for themselves, but for others. With their funds, they contribute to others’ needs, not just provide for themselves.
Since repetition is the mother of wisdom, Paul repeated the principle to “not seek your own” and gave a powerful Christian proof for doing so. He cited his own behavior as an example and the reason for it–the salvation of souls.
“Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:33.
Paul, in his language of love, defined love as the greatest of all Christian virtues. 1 Corinthians 13:13. Interestingly, he cited several behaviors in the negative to illustrate what a loving Christian would not do. He would not be selfish, described as “seeketh not her own.” 1 Corinthians 13:5. The New International Version reads, “It is not self-seeking.”9 Yet the clearest translation for this phrase is perhaps in the Revised Standard Version, which states, “Love does not insist on its own way.”10
Does this mean that it is wrong to seek one’s own development? Is it wrong to seek a job, to seek an education, or to develop a business? Is it wrong to seek a companion for marriage? No.
John Calvin, the great French reformer of the sixteenth century, clarified the meaning of “seeketh not her own.” He wrote: “If we think of ourselves so as to neglect others, or if the desire of our own advantage calls us off from” the concern of others, then, we are guilty of “seeking our own.”11
Calvin believed that, left to itself, selfishness springs up naturally. “We are naturally prone to have love and care for ourselves and aim at our own advantage.”12 It is contrary to human nature not to “seek your own benefit.” But, when God implants His divine love in us, then we “feel concern for our neighbors and their welfare.”13
Why is it wrong to just seek your own? It is because God has commanded us to be our brother’s keeper. In fact, He will not pour out the Latter Rain until His people learn to put loving concern for others in the place of selfish concern for oneself and one’s family. Without a Christ-like character, it is impossible to receive the final outpouring of God’s Spirit.
“God cannot pour out His Spirit when selfishness and self-indulgence are so manifest; when a spirit prevails that, if put into words, would express that answer of Cain–‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”14
“The ice that binds about souls that are frozen up with selfishness needs to be melted away, so that every brother shall realize that he is his brother’s keeper…. Then those who profess the name of Christ will aid others in the formation of a Christ-like character…. God’s love in the heart would melt away the barriers of race and caste and would remove the obstacles with which men have barred others away from the truth as it is in Jesus…. It will lead them to help the suffering, and enable them to be faithful shepherds going forth into the wilderness to seek and to save the lost, to lead back the perishing sheep and lambs.”15
A selfless life
“True love is always unselfish. How easily said, how hard to attain.”16
Yet even Plato, a vegetarian Greek philosopher of antiquity, taught that all good virtues are exemplified in God and that these can be imitated by His followers.
“Consider first that God … offers Himself to all as a pattern of every excellence, thus rendering human virtue … accessible to all who can follow God.”17
Plato spoke of human virtues, but Paul exalted divine virtues. Love is the greatest of all divine virtues. 1 Corinthians 13:13. It is not naturally part of the human soul but must be implanted by the grace of God and the actions of His Spirit.
The seeds of love are found in the gospel of Jesus, which Paul retold. Those seeds must be planted in the human heart and depend on the sunshine and rain from above.18 Without divine intervention, true, unselfish love cannot blossom or avoid withering away. The garden needs to be walled in by God’s law, and the weeds of the flesh must be uprooted. The garden needs continual care from below, by us, and from above, by God. Love is not a seed that will blossom, develop, and care for itself. No. As in the beginning with Adam (Genesis 2:15), we too are to be spiritual gardeners of the heart. Jesus, the second Adam, arose as the gardener (John 20:15), not just of the tomb of Joseph but also of every heart that pleads for the seeds of love. It is only when Christ is born in us that the true plant of love can spring up. It requires major upkeep on the part of God and on our part through His grace.
If we believe that Jesus is our Lord and God, we will imitate His example and allow the seed of love to develop in us as we become our brother’s keeper. We will live lives of unselfishness, self- denial, self-sacrifice, and self-control. We will not shun the inconvenience and discomfort that accompany sharing God’s love with others. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and These churches must be aroused…. Our religion requires self-denial, self- sacrifice, at every step. Jesus came down from heaven to teach us how to live; and while on earth He went about doing good. Those who are really representatives of Christ are working for the good of others. They delight in advancing the cause of God both at home and abroad. They are seen and heard, and their influence is felt, at the prayer meeting. They will try to supply the place of the minister, whose labors they cannot have. They do not seek to exalt self, or to receive credit for doing a great work, but labor humbly, meekly, faithfully, doing small errands or doing a greater work, if necessary, because Christ has done so much for them.”20
“We must guard ourselves against a love of self that will lead us to neglect to render obedience to the important instructions Christ has given. These lessons should be so impressed upon our minds that we will consider how our words and actions appear to those who behold them. We should studiously cultivate Christian courtesy at all times, which will keep us from neglecting that which is due to others…. If all who claim to believe the truth would practice the lessons of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, there would be a forward, upward movement all along the line. We are to love souls for whom the Saviour died, with the pure unselfish love He manifested when He became our sacrifice.”21
“Let heads of families look into their home life. Is this love exemplified in the family circle? Go farther in your self-examination: in your association with your brethren in church capacity, do you find unkindness, selfishness, or even dishonesty? Be sure that you examine and prove yourselves as Paul has directed: ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves.’ In the light of God’s word, search carefully whether you truly have the love of God in the heart.”22
Sundar Singh sought not his own
The story is told of an Indian convert named Sundar Singh. He was traveling with a Tibetan companion on a bitterly cold day. Snow was falling, and both were nearly frozen and getting sleepy. Suddenly as they neared a precipice, they beheld in the distance a man who had slipped over the edge, fallen, and was almost dead. Sundar suggested that they both help carry the wounded man to safety, but the Tibetan refused, claiming that they needed to save themselves. The Tibetan went on alone. Sundar sought not his own convenience or interest as the Tibetan.
With difficulty, Sundar managed to carry the dying man up a slope and onto his back. He struggled to go on for hours. Surprisingly, he came across another man in the snow who was frozen to death. It was the body of his Tibetan companion. Sundar went on, and as he walked through the snow the body of the man he was carrying became warm and his own body grew warm too through his exertions. At last, they reached a village, where they were taken into a house. They had survived. It was then that Sundar understood the
words of Jesus.23 “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:35. Sundar sought not his own interest, but the interest of the injured man. Did not Jesus do the same? Will you, too, “seek not your own” in the new year 2020?
In optometry, a vision of 20/20 is considered good eyesight. Therefore, may you see the mission of love that the Lord wants you fulfill in 2020. I pray that you will have that special heavenly, unselfish love that sees by faith and “seeketh not her own.”
1 Charles L. Wallis, ed., “Selfishness,” A Treasury of Sermon Illustrations (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), p. 255.
2 Walter Baxendale, “Fear of Self,” Dictionary of Anecdote, Incident, Illustrative Fact, Selected and Arranged for the Pulpit and the Platform (New York: Thomas Whittaker, Bible House,
1892), p. 525.
3 Walter B. Knight, Ed., Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), p. 615.
4 Oxford Dictionary, 1995, s.v. “selfish.”
5 Ellen G. White, “Christians to Represent God,” Counsels to the Church (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2004), p. 80.
6 Ellen G. White, “Promises to God Binding,” Counsels on Stewardship (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1940), p. 310.
7 Michael B. First, Ed., “Narcissistic personality disorder,” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), p. 661.
8 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1956), p. 135.
9 New International Version. In: The New Layman’s Parallel Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1981).
10 Revised Standard Version . In: Luther A. Weigle, Ed., The New Testament Octapla (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, n.d.), p. 977.
11 John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to The Corinthians, Calvin’s Commentary, vol. XX (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), p. 424.
12 Ibid., p. 423.
14 White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 52; Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, July 21, 1896.
15 Ellen G. White, The Southern Work [1891-1899] (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1966), p. 39.
16 R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of 1 Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 557.
17 Plutarch, Moralia, trans. Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson, Plutarch’s Moralia, vol. VII (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), p. 195.
18 C.S. Lewis, “Charity,” The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1960), p. 164.
19 Ibid., p. 169.
20 Ellen G. White, “Scattered Churches,” Review and Herald, September 6, 1881, par. 12.
21 Ellen G. White, “The Duty of Forgiveness,” Review and Herald, November 16, 1886, par. 8.
23 Walter B. Knight, Ed., Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), p. 617.