There are modifications, of course, for there are times when some of us think of others before ourselves, motivated by love, and greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friend, but it is the rarity of this selflessness which makes it remarkable.
In human religions, self is given a great place, not excluding nominal Christianity, which so often preaches that we must "yield ourselves" or "surrender ourselves," otherwise presumably God is powerless on our behalf. In effect this means that He is helpless until Almighty Self makes it possible for Him to act. This theology is a human method of salvation, a human remedy for sin, and like all human remedies the dose has to be repeated, and even then the patient does not recover. The result of occupation with self and sin leads to the cry in Romans 7-- "0, wretched man that I am, what shall deliver me from this body of death."
The real remedy, of course, lies in the utter rejection of self in all its ten thousand subtle forms and the pre occupation of heart and mind wholly with God and His Christ-- "They looked unto Him and were lightened."
Fortunately, in respect of salvation, He does not see us as ourselves, He sees us in Christ, and accepts us in all Christs merit.
Our personality, however, is not a thing to be despised, for each of us has been created an original" self," and no one else can take our place to fulfil Gods purposes for us. Gods purposes will always be fulfilled, and if we fail him, He uses other means, leaving us accountable for our failure. All ultimate authority resides in God, and, as John the Baptist expresses it, He is the Word of which we can be a Voice, and He is the Light for which we can be a Lamp.
It is instructive to pay attention to the way in which Paul speaks about "ourselves," for in so doing we shall get a true estimate of the proper values to be attached to self. If we take up his second epistle to the Corinthians there are to be found several illuminating passages where he uses the term. Probably more than anything else that he wrote this epistle reveals the personal attitudes and inward emotions of Paul during one of the most fruitful periods of his ministry. Incidentally, instead of the smiling, complacent, comfortable existence which is generally supposed to be the ideal of Christianity, at this time we find him full of fears within, distracted with fightings without, restless, sick and despondent! The consolation and comfort he received in his afflictions fitted him to comfort and console others, and this epistle reveals God in the light of His love, every word being charged with profound meaning.
Firstly, in the 9th verse of Chapter I, he says :-- "But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead."
We have never been told exactly what was the nature of Pauls splinter in the flesh, but it seems possible that at this time, while he was in Asia, not only was he in peril at the hands of men such as the Ephesian mob, but was also in the grip of a dangerous illness, so that the impression became acute that he was condemned to die, under sentence of death with no hope of acquittal. He could not know how much further Gods purpose would take him, and probably contemplated the hour of death as being imminent. And since he was in so great a danger and had so certain a prospect of death, he could put no trust in himself. The effect of this (as he certifies) was to cause him to put all his trust in God, Who certainly had the power to save him, and such a deliverance from the very jaws of death would be like raising the dead. So far as his own power was concerned, Paul was as good as dead--the power in which he trusted for deliverance is the same power that raises the dead.
But, apart from the historic record, there is significance here which illuminates the evangel which Paul preached, and in which we stand. All men are sinners, their very humanity dragging them down to death. Whether we would or not, we all sinned, and sins desert is death. In ourselves we received sentence of death. Supposing we still trust in ourselves, will that save us? Will it benefit us if we endeavour by good works to commend ourselves to God?
We know very well that it will not. But if we do not rely on ourselves but on God Who raises the dead, then in spirit we are raised also, and Christs death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection. This is acquittal from the death sentence.
In the first verse of Chapter 3 we find the word again, where Paul writes
"Do we begin again to commend ourselves?" He has been recounting the success of his labours, how God had always caused him to triumph, and he has contrasted himself with those who, like so many today, made the Word a matter of commerce and a means of gain. All this might have appeared to some readers to be self-commendation, but he makes it clear he did not seek their praise, and there is the impression that it hurt him to think that such a thought might be in their minds. His beloved Corinthians were the best possible recommendation he could have, the best credentials he possessed :-- "You are our letter, engraven on our hearts, known and read by all men."
Certainly, he implies, we have no need at all to commend ourselves.
And in the same chapter, four verses further on, he uses the word once more :-- "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think any-- thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God."
Paul would not have them imagine that this success of which they were the recommendation was in any way due to himself, or that his own strength had accomplished anything in his ministry. He well knew he had no such strength, but he knew also that "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens
me." He knew also that his own capabilities would never have led him into a knowledge of the evangel which he preached; all his success was to be traced to God, his sufficiency was of God. This should be our own attitude.
Relying on Him, His sufficiency supplies our in-sufficient, bankrupt selves. In every consideration of spiritual importance our own strength is worse than useless, and our own efforts a hindrance. But in God there is complete sufficiency for every need; inexhaustible, unsearchable riches on which to draw, and a sufficiency of grace, so that our weakness reveals the perfection of His strength.
And there is yet one more occurrence of this word, in verse 5 of Chapter 4, a most important one
"For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake."
Although there may be many questions as to what "the gospel" is about, to which there are many and varied answers from men, here is the true answer. It is concerned not with sin, or sinners or self, but the glory of Christ. If evangelism reached to this height it would be accorded more success. People are so anxious to ply men into "the kingdom" that they invent various crowbars to get them in, but the gospel is Gods power for salvation. All sorts of topics are preached on, from sanctification to sanitation (ever tinkering with man) while the gospel is concerning His Son. Efforts are made to bring men to Christ, but God would have us bring Christ to men. This is the way in which we can make ourselves the servants of others.
If we fall back upon God Himself, He will see to the "self" part of the business. He chooses and justifies and sanctifies in spite of all the hindrances we put in His way.
The preaching is "Christ crucified" to those who do not know Him, and "Christ glorified" to those who do. Christ should be first, and Christ should be last, and Christ should fill all between. It is not "I repented, I prayed, I was saved . . ." it should be a shout of triumph, "No longer I but Christ!"
If I had a hand in my salvation it must contain a flaw, but if Christ alone deserves the crown, like Him, it is perfect and immutable.
If we could come to forget ourselves, our sin, our failure, and everything concerned with ourselves and rest on Christ, He would see to it that everything else is attended to. He is the sufficiency for all our need, the Lord of our life and God of our salvation.
In one word can be offered all of that which is worth having--CHRIST.
This is the salutary lesson for us all to learn, from the newest convert to the most mature and experienced believer, and having learnt it, we should seek to constantly remind ourselves of it, for "self" is the most insidious underminer of all true spiritual values. There are some simple and familiar lines which well express this :--
Oh, the bitter shame and
That a time could ever be
When I let the Saviours pity plead in vain,
And proudly answered,
"All of self, and none of Thee."
Yet He found me--I beheld Him
Bleeding on the accursed Tree.
Heard Him pray 'Forgive them, Father,'
And my wistful heart said faintly
'Some of self, and some of Thee."
Day by day His tender mercy, healing, helping,
Full and free.
Sweet and strong, and ah! so patient, brought me lower,
While I whispered"
Less of self, and more of Thee."
Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, at last Thy love has conquered,
Grant me now my souls desire,
"None of self, and all of Thee."
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