1 Corinthians 13:5(2)

Sermon preached on February 21, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

A few years ago billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced that they're going to give away, most, if not all, of their fortunes in their lifetime. If my memory is correct they called on other billionaires to do the same. Last year Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that he would give away all of his fortune to charity.

Many people loved those announcements. The media was all over it. There was a lot of talk about curing diseases, helping the poor, and making life better for many people.

Last fall Mark Zukenberg of Facebook fame joined their number. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, in announcing the arrival of their baby daughter Max pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares over the course of their lives to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. At the time those shares were worth approximately $45 billion. The couple said they set up the initiative with the mission to,

"advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research, and energy…"

Again, there was an outpouring of adulation. But the Zuckerberg's initiative has also met with the criticism that his initiative is, to a certain extent, self-serving. The controversy stems from the initiative's status as an LLC, or limited liability company, rather than a nonprofit. One critic cried foul. He wrote on Twitter, (@ollieblog)

"Zuckerberg is not 'giving away' 99% of his FB wealth. He's 'donating' his FB shares to an LLC that he controls, for minimizing taxes,"

Some have said that the LLC structure lets Zuckerberg shift cash back to his own pockets. He doesn't have to report to a board of directors like he would with a nonprofit; in an LLC, he and any other owners are in control. James Kwak, associate professor at the University of Connecticut Law School said in a blog post,

"Essentially, Zuckerberg can do everything with the LLC's money that he can do with his own money,"

Kwak described the LLC approach as not so much a "giving pledge," but a "keeping pledge." He paraphrased the pledge this way,

"I pledge to keep all of my wealth and use a lot of it to make the world better place, as long as I get to define 'a lot' and 'better…'"

So Zuckerberg's announcement was not as altruistic as it first seemed.

But Bill Gates, Warren Buffet's and Tim Cook's announcements could also be criticized as self-serving. Why did they make a public announcement about their intent to give away their wealth? In Matthew 6:1–4 Jesus said,

"Be careful not to do your
'acts of righteousness' before men,
to be seen by them.
If you do, you will have
no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy,
do not announce it with trumpets,
as the hypocrites do
in the synagogues and on the streets,
to be honored by men.
I tell you the truth,
they have received their reward in full.
But when you give to the needy,
do not let your left hand know
what your right hand is doing,
so that your giving may be in secret.
Then your Father,
who sees what is done in secret,
will reward you."

In light of Jesus' words it seems that we can be self-seeking even when we give away money to the poor or to good causes. But we must not be like that.

Indeed, the apostle Paul tells us that an essential characteristic of love is that (1 Corinthians 13:5)

"it is not self-seeking,"

Yet our world knows little of this modesty. This past week there was an article in ComputerWorld magazine titled, "

"6 Tips to Improve Your Self-Promotion Skills"

It began,

"Successful self-promotion is critical in today's competitive, hyper-social work world… Your career success depends on your ability to promote yourself correctly."

People eat such advice up. Yet many people don't need advice on how to promote themselves. They're already experts at it. Many people in society are narcissistic and self-absorbed. Everybody knows it. Dave Barry is a columnist who is sometimes hilarious because he makes fun of what we are like. At the end of 2015 he had a column that made fun of selfies. As far as I know the word 'selfie' didn't exist until the rise of cell phones. But in 2013 it was named the Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year. Selfies are, as you know, pictures that one takes of oneself, or oneself and others, with or without with some great event or celebrity in the background. They used to show how important one is. But they're so narcissistic. They're way overdone. In that column, Dave Barry wrote,

"Of the 105 billion photographs taken by Americans this year, 104.9 billion consist of a grinning face looming, blimplike, in the foreground, with a tiny image of something — the Grand Canyon, the pope, a 747 crashing — peeking out in the distance behind the person's left ear."

Barry is joking but it's really no joke. On Thursday of this past week CNN ran an article called, "Death By Selfie". It noted that earlier this month a teenager in India was struck and killed while trying to take a picture of himself in front of an oncoming train. It noted that the economics site "Priceonomics" has combed through reports of deaths by selfies and found that since 2014 forty-nine people have reportedly been killed as a result of attempting to take selfies. Apparently it's very dangers to do it in high places as 16 people have died from falling off a cliff or a tall building. It's also dangerous to do it near water as 14 have drowned. Posing next to railway tracks has accounted for 8 deaths. All those deaths from taking selfies. It's perverse that we have become so self-centered.

But it's not just people in the world that are like that—self-centeredness is so engrained in our old nature that it even affects Christians and the church. John Calvin writes, (Institutes, 1541 ed, p. 793)

"Merely to obey the injunction not to be self-seeking would require us to do great violence to our nature, which spawns such self-love in us that it does not easily allow us to put our neighbor's welfare ahead of our own, nor indeed to forsake our rights and yield them to our neighbor."

The very fact that the Holy Spirit has to tell us this shows us how devoted to self we are. John Calvin writes, (1 Corinthians)

"From this we may infer, how very far we are from having love implanted in us by nature; for we are naturally prone to have love and care for ourselves, and aim at our own advantage."

A couple of weeks ago we saw from 3 John how the apostle John warned the church about, (3 John 1:9)

who loves to be first,"

Diotrephes was self-seeking. He cared more about himself than he did about others. He is held up as an example of what not to be like.

So we need to be very careful here and apply this truth to ourselves. It's easy to talk about Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Tim Cook and Mark Zukenberg about being too concerned with their self-interest when we ourselves are worse than them. Perhaps the reason God hasn't given us more money is because we've shown Him time and again that we don't handle it well—that we're too concerned with our self-interest and we squander it on ourselves.

The great truth our text teaches us is that

if we truly love others we must seek their interests.

We need to start putting our interests last and put the interests of others first. In 1 Corinthians 10:24 we read,

"Nobody should seek his own good,
but the good of others."

But who does that? We can look around ourselves and see very few that do that.

Now to help us see what this means in practice, let's consider the apostle Paul himself. What does his life show us about this.

First, how did he behave toward the Corinthian Christians?

Well, the first thing we see about Paul is that he refused to take any pay from them. The Corinthians were a new congregation, and Paul wanted to show them that he wasn't peddling the gospel for a profit, that his motives were sincere. Corinthian had lots of problems and there were self-proclaimed 'super-apostles' there. These super-apostles were a great danger to the church because they were false apostles. (2 Corinthians 11:13) One way that Paul exposed them was through their greed. He reacted to their presence by showing the Corinthians such love. In 2 Corinthians 11:7–12 he wrote,

"Was it a sin for me to lower myself
in order to elevate you
by preaching the gospel of God
to you free of charge?
I robbed other churches
by receiving support from them
so as to serve you.
And when I was with you
and needed something,
I was not a burden to anyone,
for the brothers who came
from Macedonia supplied what I needed.
I have kept myself from being
a burden to you in any way,
and will continue to do so.
As surely as the truth of Christ is in me,
nobody in the regions of Achaia
will stop this boasting of mine.
Why? Because I do not love you?
God knows I do!
And I will keep on doing what
I am doing in order to cut the ground
from under those who want
an opportunity to be considered equal
with us in the things they boast about."

Paul put their interests so far about his that he served them for free.

And how did the apostle Paul behave himself toward unbelievers?

In 1 Corinthians 9:19–23 Paul wrote,

"Though I am free and belong to no man,
I make myself a slave to everyone,
to win as many as possible.
To the Jews I became like a Jew,
to win the Jews.
To those under the law
I became like one under the law
(though I myself am not under the law),
so as to win those under the law.
To those not having the law
I became like one not having the law
(though I am not free from God's law
but am under Christ's law),
so as to win those not having the law.
To the weak I became weak,
to win the weak.
I have become all things to all men
so that by all possible means
I might save some."

In 1 Corinthians 10:33 Paul put it this way,

"even as I try to please
everybody in every way.
For I am not seeking my own good
but the good of many,
so that they may be saved."

Paul was putting his interests last in order to be a good witness, in order that others would see such radical living and through that come to know Christ.

In all these things Paul was putting others above himself. That's what we are called to do. In In Philippians 2:3–4 the Holy Spirit tells us to,

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition
or vain conceit, but in humility
consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look
not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others."

Paul tells us that it's not wrong to look after your own interests, but that your primary focus should be the interests of others. It's the exact opposite of what we normally do. Often we take care of ourselves so well that we often neglect others. John Calvin explains how it should be about our interests and the interests of others, (1 Corinthians)

"to seek one's own things, is to be devoted to self, and to be wholly taken up with concern for one's own advantage. This definition solves the question, whether it is lawful for a Christian to be concerned for his own advantage? For Paul does not here reprove every kind of care or concern for ourselves, but the excess of it, which proceeds from an immoderate and blind attachment to ourselves. Now the excess lies in this — if we think of ourselves so as to neglect others, or if the desire of our own advantage calls us off from that concern, which God commands us to have as to our neighbors."

It's so important that we obey this command. It's close to what the essence of love is about. Gordon D. Fee writes, (1 Corinthians, NICNT; p. 638)

"In some ways this is the fullest expression of what Christian love is all about. It does not seek its own; it does not believe that 'finding oneself' is the highest good; it is not enamored with self-gain, self-justification, self-worth. To the contrary, it seeks the good of one's neighbor or enemy…"

R.C.H. Lenski writes,

"True love is always unselfish. How easily said, how hard to attain! Selfishness lies at the root of a thousand evils and sins in the world and in the church: between rich and poor, capital and labor, nation and nation, man and man, church member and church member. Cure selfishness, and you plant a Garden of Eden."

Moisés Silva commenting on Philippians 2:3-4 and church unity, writes, (Philippians, BECNT; p. 87)

"The true obstacle to unity is not the presence of legitimate differences of opinion but self-centeredness."

We need to get rid of self-centeredness. The great problem with us is that we pay lip service to this command but we don't put it into practice very well.

But how can we do it? What are some things that can help us do it?

First, remember that your gifts and talents were given to you in order for you to be a blessing to others.

1 Corinthians 12:7 says,

"Now to each one
the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for the common good."

1 Peter 4:10 adds,

"Each one should use whatever gift
he has received to serve others,
faithfully administering God's grace
in its various forms."

John Calvin writes, (Institutes, 1541 ed., p. 793-794)

"Scripture seeks to impress this truth on us by insisting that every gift we have received from the Lord has been committed to us on this condition—that we use it for the church's common good. Such gifts are properly employed when they are freely and lovingly shared with our neighbor. To ensure that we share, no better or safer rule exists than when Scripture declares that God has given us his blessings on trust, so that they may be used for the welfare of others (1 Cor. 12:4-11). Scripture goes further, however, when it compares the gifts we all have to the properties of each limb in the human body. No limb functions solely for itself or for its own benefit. It works for the sake of the others, and receives no particular advantage except that which derives from the healthy functioning of the whole body. In the same way the believer should employ all his powers for his brethren's sake, making no special provision for himself but always taking thought for the general good of the church."

Or to put it even more starkly,

putting the interests of others about yourself is one of the primary reasons you are here on this earth.

2 Corinthians 9:10–15 puts it this way.

"Now he who supplies seed to the sower
and bread for food will also supply and
increase your store of seed and will
enlarge the harvest
of your righteousness.
You will be made rich in every way
so that you can be generous
on every occasion,
and through us your generosity
will result in thanksgiving to God.
This service that you perform
is not only supplying the needs
of God's people but is also
overflowing in many expressions
of thanks to God.
Because of the service by which
you have proved yourselves,
men will praise God for the obedience
that accompanies your confession
of the gospel of Christ,
and for your generosity in sharing
with them and with everyone else.
And in their prayers for you
their hearts will go out to you,
because of the surpassing grace
God has given you.
Thanks be to God
for his indescribable gift!"

Why are you here on this earth with the gifts you have been given? It's to benefit others. You are not to be thinking about your own interests but the interests of others.

Indeed, consider the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. Which group thought about themselves? It was the goats. Which group thought about others? It was the sheep. They were the ones that helped others because of their love to Jesus. The goats, what happened to them. The King said to them, (Matthew 25:41–43)

"Depart from me,
you who are cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared
for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and
you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me
nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and
you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes and
you did not clothe me,
I was sick and in prison
and you did not look after me."

This command is not optional. We need to put the interests of others above our own interests.

Secondly, this means that

you must evaluate your thinking.

What do you think about? Most people think about themselves, what they need, what they want. Our thinking can be very self-centered. We need to change that. Commenting on the similar passage Philippians 2:3-4, Moisés Silva says that both verbs there, (Philippians, BECNT; p. 87)

"continue to emphasize the mental disposition;"

Our mental process, our thinking has a lot to do with this. We need to change our way of thinking.

I remember a cartoon I saw years ago and the first box of the cartoon had a guy thinking about the girl he had just started dating. The caption had him wondering if she thought about him as much as he thought about her. The second box showed her thinking, (something like)

"I don't know if I like vanilla or maple walnut ice cream better."

She wasn't thinking about him at all. She was totally self-centered. That's the way that we are a lot of the time. We think about ourselves. We need to change that. We need to be thinking about others, considering their needs. John Calvin writes, (Comments on 1 Corinthians 10:24)

"Now, as the law of love calls upon us to love our neighbors as ourselves, (Matthew 22:39,) so it requires us to consult their welfare."

The third thing we need to do is

consider what Jesus did for us.

In Philippians 2:5–7 the apostle Paul told the Philippian Christians,

"Your attitude should be
the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness."

Romans 15:2–3 adds,

"Each of us should please
his neighbor for his good,
to build him up.
For even Christ
did not please himself but,
as it is written:
'The insults of those who insult
you have fallen on me."

Jesus did not seek His own good. Philippians 2:6f describe part of what Jesus did in order to save us. He did what was in our interest. (verses 6–8)

"Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and
became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!"

Jesus made himself nothing. Moisés Silva writes, (Philippians, BECNT; p. 105)

"the phrase is intended to encapsulate for the readers the whole descent of Christ from highest glory to lowest depths."

Why did He do it? In Mark 10:45 Jesus said about Himself,

"the Son of Man did not come
to be served, but to serve,
and to give his life
as a ransom for many."

When the devil tempted Him to turn the stones in bread, Jesus did not think of His interests so much, as ours. When He was on the cross and many mocked Him, and urged Him to save Himself and come down from the cross. Donald MacLeod comments. (Christ Crucified, p. 40)

"For Jesus, the force of the temptation must have been almost overwhelming. He had saved others, he could save himself. He could come down from the cross. He could end the agony: the excruciating thirst, the awful strain on his arms, the searing pain in his lacerated back. He could silence the roaring lions and the snarling dogs (Ps. 22:13, 16). He could end his silence, show who he really was, and let them see his glory."

But He did not. Why? Because He was thinking of us. He was not seeking His own interest—but the interest of lost, unworthy sinners.

It light of what Jesus did for us, if the King of Glory did not seek His own interests but made Himself nothing—how can you refuse to follow His example? We should not be able to. We need to stop seeking our own interests and seek the interests of others. Love is not self-seeking. May God give us grace to do so.