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Getting the “I” Out of Your Eye

 

                    




                                Getting the “I” Out of  Your Eye 



Love . . . is not self-seeking.



                                            1 Corinthians 13:4–5 niv


Get your self out of your eye by getting your eye off your self.

Quit staring at that little self,

and focus on your great Savior.

There is a malady that makes the Black Plague appear as mild as the common cold.

Tally the death tolls of all infections, fevers, and epidemics since the beginning of time, and you’ll still fall short of the number claimed by this single infirmity.

And, forgive me for being the one to tell you, but you are infected. You suffer from it. You are a victim—a diseased carrier. You have shown the symptoms and manifested the signs. You have a case of—brace yourself— selfishness.


Don’t believe me?

Suppose you are in a group photo. The first time you see the picture, where do you look? And if you look good, do you like the picture? If you are the only one who looks good, do you still like the picture? If some are cross-eyed and others have spinach in their teeth, do you still like the picture? If that makes you like it even more, you’ve got a bad case.

What about the physical manifestations?


Clutching hands. Do your fingers ever wrap and close around possessions?


Protruding teeth. Do fangs ever flare when you are interrupted or irritated?

Heavy feet. When a neighboring car wants to cut in front of you, do you sense a sudden heaviness of foot on the accelerator?

Extended shoulder. Any inflammation from patting yourself on the back? And your neck. Is it sore from keeping your nose in the air?

But most of all, look into your eyes. Look long into your pupils. Do you see a tiny figure? An image of a person? An image of you?

The self-centered see everything through self. Their motto? “It’s all about me!” The flight schedule. The traffic. The dress styles. The worship styles. The weather, the work, whether or not one works—everything is filtered through the mini-me in the eye.

Selfishness.


Such a condition can be fatal.

Listen to the words of James. “Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things” (James 3:16 CEV).

Need proof?

Let’s examine one newspaper. Today’s edition. How many examples of selfishness will we find in the first few pages?

1.    A teenage girl died in a car wreck. Her boyfriend was challenged toa race on a city street. He took the dare and wrapped the car around a telephone pole.

2.    The largest petroleum company in the world has filed for bankruptcy. Executives allegedly knew the ship had leaks but told no one until they had time to make huge profits.

3.    A prominent citizen is put in jail for child pornography.


Selfishness is to society what the Exxon Valdez was to scallops and sea otters—deadly. Is it any wonder that Paul writes: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4 NASB)?

At first glance the standard in the passage seems impossible to meet. Nothing? We shouldn’t do anything for ourselves? No new dress or suit. What about going to school or saving money—couldn’t all of these things be considered selfish?


They could, unless we are careful to understand what Paul is saying. The word the apostle uses for selfishness shares a root form with the words strife and contentious. It suggests a self-preoccupation that hurts others. A divisive arrogance. In fact, first-century writers used the word to describe a politician who procured office by illegal manipulation or a harlot who seduced the client, demeaning both herself and him.


 Selfishness is an obsession with self that excludes others, hurting everyone.


Looking after your personal interests is proper life management. Doing so to the exclusion of the rest of the world is selfishness. The adverb highlighted in verse 4 is helpful. “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Desire success? Fine. Just don’t hurt others in achieving it. Wish to look nice? That’s okay. Just don’t do so by making others look bad. Love isn’t selfish.

I was. And I made a mess of things in the process.


A couple of Mondays ago I intended to dedicate the day to sermon preparation. But an urgent call changed everything. No problem, I told myself, I’ll start on Tuesday. Kind people had other ideas. A project had been moved up, and some correspondence needed to be read. Then some bills needed to be paid, and—oh, yes, I forgot about the luncheon. It wasn’t the agenda I had in mind. But there was always Wednesday.


On Wednesday the staff meeting went long. I drummed my fingers, but no one took the hint. I cleared my throat and wound my battery-run watch, but no one noticed. Finally the meeting ended, and I could study. “Don’t forget to call so-and-so,” I was reminded as I left the room. “He’s leaving in an hour.” So-and-so was in a good mood. A chatty mood. I was in a fast mood. A focused mood. Sunday was coming, and the clock was moving. I had the Lord’s work to do, and people were in my way.

Finally at midafternoon I sat down. The phone rang. It was my wife. She was in a disgustingly good mood. “See you at the ceremony?” she reminded.


“Ceremony?”

“Andrea is graduating from middle school today.”

What a dumb day to schedule a graduation ceremony. Everyone knows that diplomas wilt on Wednesdays. “And,” she continued, still nauseatingly happy, “could you pick up Jenna from school and bring her home?”


Does this woman not know my calling? Is she unaware of my place in history? Hungry souls need my study. Emaciated minds await my insights. The angels themselves are lining up to grab the front-row Sunday seats— and she wants me to be a chauffeur. “Okay,” I growled, not disguising my displeasure.

I was upset. And because I was upset, I chided Jenna for not hurrying to the car.

I was upset. And because I was upset, I forgot to be thankful at the graduation service.

I was upset. And because I was upset, I said, “Let’s go, Andrea,” instead of saying, “Way to go, Andrea.”

I was upset. My day hadn’t gone my way. The little Max in my eyes had grown so large I couldn’t see anything else.


Apparently God was determined to change all that. At 5:00 P.M. on Wednesday, some fifty-six hours later than I intended to start my preparation, I opened my Bible to read the text of the week and found the very words we’ve been studying.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3–4 NASB)

Remember the passage that describes the Word of God as a sword? I was impaled. As a doctor pronounces a disease, so the passage declared mine. Selfishness. Because of the little me in my eyes, I couldn’t see my blessings.

Love builds up relationships; selfishness erodes relationships. No wonder Paul is so urgent in his appeal: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (Phil. 2:3 NASB).

But aren’t we born selfish? And if so, can we do anything about it? Can we get our eyes off of self? Or, better asked, can we get the little self out of our eyes? According to Scripture, we can.

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind. (Phil. 2:1–2 NASB)

Paul’s sarcasm is thinly veiled. Is there any encouragement? Any consolation? Any fellowship? Then smile!

What’s the cure for selfishness?

Get your self out of your eye by getting your eye off your self. Quit staring at that little self, and focus on your great Savior.

A friend who is an Episcopalian minister explains the reason he closes his prayers with the sign of the cross. “The touching of my forehead and chest makes a capital ‘I.’ The gesture of touching first one shoulder, then the other, cuts the ‘I’ in half.”


Isn’t that a work of the Cross? A smaller “I” and a greater Christ? Don’t focus on yourself; focus on all that you have in Christ. Focus on the encouragement in Christ, the consolation of Christ, the love of Christ, the fellowship of the Spirit, the affection and compassion of heaven.


If Christ becomes our focus, we won’t be like the physician in Arkansas. He misdiagnosed the patient. He declared the woman to be dead. The family was informed, and the husband was grief-stricken. Imagine the surprise of the nurse when she discovered that the woman was alive! “You better tell the family,” she urged the doctor.


The embarrassed physician phoned the husband and said, “I need to talk to you about the condition of your wife.”

“The condition of my wife?” he asked. “She’s dead.”

The doctor’s pride only allowed him to concede, “Well, she has seen a slight improvement.”

Slight improvement? Talk about an understatement! Lazarus is walking out of the tomb, and he calls that a “slight improvement”?


He was so concerned about his image that he missed an opportunity to celebrate. We laugh, but don’t we do the same? We’ve gone from cremation to celebration. We deserve a lava bath, but we’ve been given a pool of grace. Yet to look at our faces you’d think our circumstances had made only a “slight improvement.” “How’s life?” someone asks. And we who’ve been resurrected from the dead say, “Well, things could be better.” Or “Couldn’t get a parking place.” Or “My parents won’t let me move to Hawaii.” Or “People won’t leave me alone so I can finish my sermon on selfishness.”


Honestly. We worry about acid rain in silver linings. Do you think Paul might like to have a word with us? Are you so focused on what you don’t have that you are blind to what you do? Have you received any encouragement? Any fellowship? Any consolation? Then don’t you have reason for joy?

Come. Come thirsty. Drink deeply from God’s goodness.

You have a ticket to heaven no thief can take, an eternal home no divorce can break.

Every sin of your life has been cast to the sea.

Every mistake you’ve made is nailed to the tree.

You’re blood-bought and heaven-made.

A child of God—forever saved.

So be grateful, joyful—for isn’t it true?

                                        

                                           What you don’t have is much less than what you do.


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