Sunday, September 28, 2008

Freedom from the Tyranny of the Self

My pastor just preached on Philippians 2:1-13 this week. Two big concepts from his sermon that really hit me concerned the purpose of the church and narcissism.

We often think that the purpose of the church is for us to reach self-fulfillment. For good or for ill, I have spent most of my life seeing the church's purpose in this way: God uses the church to grow me spiritually through the teaching, prayer, fellowship and discipline that I receive there, and then I become more Christ-like. While it is true that one of God's end goals is for all Christians to be more Christ-like, we must keep in mind that real Christ-likeness is not self-fulfillment. Real Christ-likeness is self-denial. Only when our selves take a back seat do we become more Christ-like. Only when the self dies to itself will I become more like Christ. We see this taught in Philippians 2:1-13: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus..." This the is the purpose of the church: to be used by God to make us more like Christ. Another way to say it: the purpose of the church is not for us to achieve self-fulfillment but self-denial.

This sermon was a well-needed attack against my narcissism. When I think the world revolves around me, I am in a dangerous place. When I begin to evaluate everything in life by how it affects me, I am revealing the bankruptcy of my soul. A quote from Christian mystic Thomas Merton illuminates this point: "To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell. Selfishness is doomed to frustration, centered as it is upon a lie. To live exclusively for myself, I must make all things bend themselves to my will as if I were a god." The purpose of the church is to declare war on my narcissistic tendencies. This war is fought for the good others, but for my own good as well.

An old hymn that I found recently expresses rather well a proper reaction to all this. I recommend checking out all the verses, but here's the first one. It's a good closing thought:

"O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my wounded soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be."

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