The apostle Paul begins his list describing the characteristics of people who make up the “perilous times” of 2 Timothy 3 with the phrase “lovers of self.” Does this not sum up the Facebook generation? For many, posting is all about drawing attention to themselves, their lives, and their opinions. It’s all about making them look good. I have not been immune to this temptation myself.
A couple weeks ago I wrote a response to a Facebook post and later regretted it. I discovered too late that my reply was a mistake and misunderstood. I soon realized that any attempt to explain my words would only make matters worse and increase the anger of the responses I had already received.
While such self-promotion as I exhibited has been around ever since the time of Paul, it describes our current day more than ever before. Part of the current day problem is that everyone now has many more opportunities to express their feelings and ideas in an anonymous way without having to answer for anything they say.
What also makes matters far worse today is that so many have replaced a love of God with love for themselves.
A multitude of books and psychoanalysts today encourage people to love themselves and express everything that come to their minds. This, they claim, is the essence of a healthy emotional state. The disastrous results of such encouragement manifest themselves in broken relationships, quarrels, a lack of trust in people as well as in what we read, and a total lack of respect for the opinions of others.
Let’s begin by looking a little closer at why Paul chose this trait first in describing “perilous times.”
Lovers of Self
“Lovers of self” is the first characteristic that Paul lists in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 and as such it sums up well all the qualities that follow. In his commentary on 2 Timothy, William Barclay states that this “self-loving” is “the basic sin, from which all others flow.” He went on to say that once a person makes self the center of everything, “human relationships are destroyed, obedience to God and charity to men both become impossible.”
People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.
This becomes evident through the other items on Paul’s list such as pride, a lack of “self-control,” “conceit,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Such an inward focus of life is the capstone of many of the ills that beset people today. People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.
When such self-love defines a person, many other problems ensue including his or her inability to effectively relate to other people or to worship God in any meaningful way. It also leads to depression and increased anxieties when people do not respond to us in the way we would like.
The Antidote Begins with a Renewed Mind
How do we counter this tendency of focusing our dependency inward rather than upward?
The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.
I believe it starts with remembering that as believers we have the powerful Holy Spirit living inside us. When we walk with the Spirit, we experience victory over the lure to see ourselves as the center of our universe (Rom. 8:1-11). Later in Romans, Paul describes the transformation that takes place in us as the renewing of our minds (12:2). The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.
I love the verses that follow in Romans 12:3-8. Self-loathing is not the antidote to self-centeredness. Rather, as the Spirit renews our thinking we increasingly see our gifts, and talents as something bestowed upon us for the purpose of serving others, particularly those in the body of Christ. These special abilities come from the Lord, not us, and as such they are not a cause for boasting in ourselves.
We are to have the mindset of verse 3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The gifts and ministries the Lord gives to us vary greatly, but they all come from Him and the same Spirit for the purpose of building up others in the body of Christ or reaching the lost.
The Lord never intended for us view ourselves as superior to fellow believers because of our gifts or based on the degree to which the Holy Spirit manifests Himself through us. Instead, He intended our focus is to be God-ward with our thinking constrained by how we can serve and bless others.
We do not need someone to teach us how to love ourselves; that comes naturally. We do need, however, the power of the Holy Spirit to look for ways we can benefit others with the gifts and abilities He has given to us.
This is not a “poor me” or false humility. It’s certainly not self-hatred.
This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.
Instead, it’s looking at our lives as God does. It’s putting Him first rather than ourselves and serving others with gifts the Spirit entrusts to us. It’s being confident, not proud, recognizing that our competence in ministering to others comes solely from the Lord (2 Cor. 3:4-6).
We can be confident because of the gifts God gives to us and the working of the Holy Spirit through us to bless others. This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.