By Basilea Schlink
Egoists are the antithesis of what we were created to be. We were created and redeemed by the Lord who is eternal Love. Jesus has freed us so that we can love. And love always centres around the other person. Egoism is the opposite of love, because the egoist just centres around himself and is not at all sensitive to the other person and what he needs or desires. While love takes care of the other person and gives freely, the egoist is only concerned about whether his own ego is satisfied. He has to have his rights. His demands have to be satisfied, whether they have to do with health, comfort, free time, rights or respect. He only lives for his ego; he pampers it. And he is not interested in the trouble he causes others, the time and energy that he steals from them. Yes, and at times he even takes advantage of the people around him quite consciously, especially those who are beneath him, and uses them in such a way that their body, soul or spirit may be harmed.
The terrible part of this is that the egoist is living for himself and not for God, and also not for his neighbours whom God has given him. Instead of worshipping God, he is actually worshipping his own ego. It will be terrible when he awakes in eternity. He will be condemned by the sharp verdict: "Outside (outside of the city of God) are the idolaters" (Rev. 22: 15). An egoist, in his inconsiderate self-centredness, is in danger of stopping at nothing to satisfy his own demands, regardless of the damage he may cause his neighbours. Thus, in many different ways, he trespasses against the commandments of God and heaps judgement and misfortune upon himself. So we must learn to hate our egoism and conduct a serious battle of faith against it, in order to be redeemed.
Above all, it is necessary to recognize our camouflaged egoism in the light of God. We can camouflage our egoism, for instance, by loving our own family and taking care of them. Certainly this is actually a good thing. But if we are so interested in the rights and welfare of our family that we put others at a disadvantage, it is "family egoism". We are merely centring around an "extended ego". Another expression of this family egoism may be that parents, for the sake of more ambitious plans, try to hinder a child from following God's call to devote himself to full-time service in God's kingdom.
Egoism does not only make other people suffer and make us sin against them, it also damages our own soul. We feed it with everything that our ego desires so that there is no longer any room for divine life, for the indwelling of our Lord Jesus in our hearts. Then Jesus speaks these serious words to us; "You have the name of being alive, and you are dead" (Rev. 3: 1). If we believe in Jesus and still are ruled by egoism, we are leading an imaginary Christian life, and we belong to the hypocrites. When we gave our lives to Jesus, we gave Him first claim on our lives: "He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Cor. 6: 2).
But how many Christians have simply held on to their egoism when they became Christians and let it thrive in the spiritual domain? This cancerous growth very quickly permeates all our new spiritual interests: the yearning for quiet prayer time, for greater knowledge, for fellowship with other Christians, for preaching and worship services, and so on. Without realizing it, we go to meetings only for our own edification, not to join others in giving God the glory. Even back in the days of the early Church the Apostle Paul had to lament, "They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 2: 21). The "pious" egoist judges everything according to how much he gets out of it. He sings, prays, believes and lives a "spiritual" life for his own sake, but in doing so he falls into great hypocrisy. He only needs the Lord when He can do something for him. That is why he is insolent to the Lord when the Lord does not answer his demands, but disappoints his egoistical expectations.
The egoist is a misrepresentation of Jesus' disciples. This verse applies to him, "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14: 27). Therefore, he cannot belong to His kingdom. He is lacking an important element of Jesus' life and the life of all true disciples: sacrifice. Only where there is sacrifice is there true love. And whoever practices the opposite of love in his life will be outside the kingdom of heaven, which is a kingdom for those who love. The egoist who spares his ego, avoids sacrifice and is thus guilty towards love will not belong to Jesus and His kingdom, either here or in eternity.
Because we are all egoistically inclined, we must clearly realize that we have to be freed from this egoism no matter what it costs. The way to this involves a definite surrender of the will. We have to make a decision. Do we want to continue to assert ourselves, and give in to our demands, longing for their fulfilment? Or do we want to hate this "idol", our ego, and cease giving it anything to nourish it? Bo we want to do everything to help put it to death? If we say to Jesus, "I want to be Your disciple; I want to go the way of sacrifice with You", the first step has been taken. For Jesus can only free us from our bondage to sin, if we consciously surrender ourselves to God.
This way of dedication is clearly outlined in the Letter to the Philippians; "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others". Then Jesus' way of sacrifice is depicted: "Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who . . . emptied himself . . . " (Phil. 2: 4 ff). The more we can picture our Lord Jesus and the way He went and are amazed by His love which emptied itself for us, the more we will be able to hate our ego and our egoism. Then thanks and love for Him will urge us to claim His redemption and fight the battle of faith against this sin of egoism. That means that we have to praise the power of the blood over all the demands of our ego whenever they arise in us.
But it also means that every time an egoistic act overtakes us, we should really be compelled to repent. Every time we have sided with our ego and have tried to hold on to this or that, we should let go and in addition sacrifice as much as possible. In answer to our prayers for deliverance from our egoism God will demand many painful sacrifices, and then we must say, Yes. And we should devote ourselves especially to those whom we have harmed through our egoism and thoughtlessness. Then Jesus will prove who He is and what He can do. He can turn an egoist into a loving, self-sacrificial soul, to the glory of His name.