Selfishness is one of the most universal human behaviours. It is also one of those things that people more easily see in others than in themselves. Most people are upset when the selfishness of someone else negatively impacts them. However, nearly everyone ignores or justifies their own selfishness. When people want to justify their selfishness, they often ask, “why shouldn’t I?” Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “why should I?” Why do something just because you want to?
The pictures above are a small sample of the many things that people commonly justify for no other reason than that it is what they want: vacations; unnecessary or expensive food and drink; entertainment; expensive cars and houses; cosmetics, jewellery and other decoration; killing unwanted children before they are born; pets; sports and leisure; violence and countless other things show that we care about ourselves far more than we care about others. We all know that if we would give up these things, we would be better able to care for others. There is one reason most people don’t: selfishness.
There is a radical alternative to this me-first way of life that almost everyone lives. It was presented by Jesus in a set of principles that can be summed up in the command, “love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
Most people like to think of themselves as kind and loving people. Many people like the principle of “love your neighbour” as long as it is kept vague and flexible enough to accommodate their own selfishness. However, few people really desire to love their neighbours to as great an extent as they love themselves. Jesus called us to a high degree of love for our neighbor. He also taught that loving our neighbour does not just apply to those people who live close to us or who are like us. He also taught that our love needed to extend even to those who want to harm and take advantage of us, to the extent that we can not even defend ourselves against those stealing from us or attacking us.
Jesus taught that our view of possessions needed to be dramatically altered to fit into his system. He taught that rather than accumulate things for ourselves here, like most people do, we should aim to sell what we have and provide for the needs of others.
Jesus also taught that our unselfishness must not only cover our actions but our thoughts as well. For example, he taught that not only is murdering our brother something we will be judged for but that we will be judged even for saying angry words to our brother. He taught that not only is committing adultery with another person’s spouse wrong but even desiring another person’s spouse is wrong.
Jesus taught that we should be so unconcerned with our own physical welfare that even if we had to chop off our own hand or tear out our own eye to stop ourselves from doing wrong, we should be willing to do that.
Jesus taught that even our motivations needed to different than the hypocrites, who do good to others as long as they get recognition from people around them. He taught that when we want to do good, we should do it in secret so that no one knows and God can reward us in the end.
Unfortunately, most people who claim to follow Jesus today have no interest in such a radical and costly way of life. Instead their lives are about as selfish as their neighbours of other religions and their non-religious neighbours. One of Jesus’ most famous commands is “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” This is a good example of where the difference comes between admiring what Jesus said and following what he taught. Many people, some who claim to be Christian and some who do not, say that they like this command that Jesus gave. How many people have you met who actually obey that command when it really costs them?
These principles that Jesus taught are the principles of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that Jesus brought to earth. This kingdom, which still exists today is a complete alternative to the kingdoms and nations of this world. It is without physical boundaries, national race or ethnicity. To most people, the principles of this kingdom are, at best, impractical and, at worst, utter foolishness and even dangerous. If you only look at what can be seen right now, that makes sense. After all, if Jesus’ teachings were really to be put into widespread practice, it would completely undermine our whole economic system. Our whole judicial system, which is based on the idea that we should defend our rights, would be threatened. Our whole military and defense system would be impossible to sustain if enough people were living by these principles of radical unselfishness.
Jesus taught something that makes such radical principles make sense. He taught that one day everyone who have ever lived would be brought back to life and stand before him to be judged for how they have lived. He taught that those who lived selfishly will be punished forever and those who have lived by Jesus’ principles of unselfishness will be able to live in his kingdom forever.
Most of humanity is engaged in a daily pursuit to accumulate what they can for themselves, to get as much enjoyment out of life as they can and to satisfy the desires of their physical bodies as fully as possible. It is a sad irony that this leads to so much worry and anxiety: worry about loss, theft, sickness, death or anything else that could interfere with the short opportunity each of us has in this life to please ourselves. This pursuit so often leads to depression when people realize that such selfish pursuits are not really making them happy or when old age or sickness prevents them from continuing to live life in the way they want. How sad it is that such a lack of joy and contentment will be rewarded in the end with everlasting punishment. How ironic that those who seemed so foolish in this life, who preferred to be wronged than to wrong another, who preferred to give than to receive, who intentionally denied what they wanted for the sake of others, will one day be the ones to receive entrance into an everlasting kingdom of peace, joy and love.
Jesus showed by his life that he was not presenting an empty philosophy but was willing to live what he taught. He spent much of his adult life traveling as a homeless man, constantly engaged in teaching and frequently healing the sick. Finally he allowed himself to be tortured and killed by his enemies, praying for mercy for them while he died. He descended down into the place of the dead and after preaching there he came back from the dead, showing that he had power over death and that he was the one chosen to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus not only called people to follow his example but he promised he would give them the power to do so if they trusted him enough to give up what they wanted and submit themselves to him.
If you are interested in finding out more about Jesus’ life and teachings or about the good message of the kingdom he taught about, read the books four of his early followers wrote to record his life and teachings. These books are called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (named after the men who wrote them). These books are contained in the Christian Bible.
For more encouragement to consider the radical principles that Jesus taught, visit www.jesussaid.info.