Abiding in Christ in a World of Self-Love

Abiding in Christ in a World of Self-Love

Self-care, self-talk, self-esteem, and the like can only take us as far as the self will go, and they will only be as dependable as the self can be—which is to say, not very dependable at all. But when we find our value, our confidence, our joy by turning our gaze to the Savior who died for us and welcomed us into His family, then we will have hope “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19). 

In the psychological realm, the word of our age is self. From self-care to self-talk to self-esteem, hardly a day passes when broadcasts, podcasts, podiums, and even pulpits fail to remind us that our fundamental problem is a dearth of self-regard. And the answer, we are told, lies in telling ourselves that we are lovable: “It doesn’t matter what I do. It doesn’t matter who I am. I am a lovable person.”

Despite this emphasis within our culture, it is a startling fact that the Bible contains no positive, explicit teaching about self-regard as it is propounded by our contemporaries. It is totally absent! And if we believe that the Scriptures contain “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), then we need to be prepared to see how God’s Word adjudicates the emphases of our culture rather than passively allowing those emphases to govern our understanding of the Scriptures.

The fact is that we are living in a culture which prescribes as a cure what the Bible describes as a sickness: “In the last days there will be times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self” (2 Tim. 3:1–2). In an age of anxiety and despair, the self-regard the world promises will help us ultimately only adds to the difficulty. Christ, too, promises us confidence, assurance, contentment, and, yes, love—but none of these is a gift that we can grant ourselves from the well of our own resources. Instead, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:5, “each one will receive his commendation from God.”

In what follows in 1 Corinthians 4:6–7, Paul addresses the dangers of self-regard and, through a series of questions, seeks to reframe the Corinthians’ thinking accordingly. Whereas self-love endangers Christian communion by causing people to put themselves before others, Christian love engenders a spirit of humility before God, who is the source of our being, our value, and our joy.

The Problem: Pride

“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” (1 Cor. 4:6)

The first-century Corinthian believers to whom Paul wrote had a problem with pride. They were proud of everything. They were proud of their intellects, and they were proud of their teachers. Even those spiritual gifts that God had given became an opportunity to puff their chests up as they walked about. It was a dreadful problem within the church—and where that kind of wrong perspective persists, disunity establishes a stronghold among God’s people.

To this point in the letter, Paul has been addressing the problem of factions and favoritism in Corinth, where some said, “I follow Paul,” and others, “I follow Apollos” (1 Cor. 1:12). He and Apollos were not agitators of disunity. Both preached the same Gospel! But in a trumped-up opposition between the two preachers, many of the Corinthians found an opportunity to express their own “jealousy and strife” (1 Cor. 3:3), which came from a sense that they were wise in themselves (1 Cor. 3:18).

Thus Paul set out to correct the Corinthians by teaching them that “the word of the cross is … the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The wisdom of the world says that we ought to lift ourselves up—that we ought to look within ourselves for encouragement and strength. But the wisdom of God is to glory in the cross—to marvel at the humiliation and death of Christ.

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