Altruism versus Egoism


A Study of Galatians 1:11-24

While altruistic motives drive some people to help others, egoism can just as easily be behind an apparent good deed. It is important to identify what motivates you when you offer help. Altruistically motivated people contribute positively to God’s kingdom. Those driven by egoism secretly seek as much gain for themselves as they do for the beneficiary of their help. Such people are missing the mark God has set for living according to His righteous standard. God sent Jesus into the world because, operating under our own power, we continue to miss the mark. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers believers the opportunity to start over with a new focus, direction and sense of purpose. Those who accept the offer abandon living for self, and commit to a life of service to Christ that blesses both God and His kingdom. When such people subsequently seek to help others, their motivation inevitably stems from altruism. Their former egoism is gone.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

Life is a gift that carries with it a responsibility to be a productive member of society and the kingdom of God. Fulfilling this responsibility is both personal and an expression of love and gratitude to God for the gift of life.

Productive members of society are a blessing because they give back. You can bless others …

financially: giving money not only to the poor or to charity, but also to friends, family, and strangers;

emotionally: giving support, and being there for others. This is also known as the ministry of presence;

psychologically: giving encouragement and letting people who are struggling know they will overcome their difficulties;

physically: giving of ourselves by sacrificing our time and talents to work with others. This is also known as the ministry of helps;

spiritually: giving prayer by praying either for – or on behalf of – others.

Indeed, there are numerous ways to bless others, but they all fall into one of these broad categories.

As we examine the idea of giving back, we might also ask what motivates people to want to help others. I believe altruism and egoism are the two main impulses.

Altruism is the unselfish regard for the welfare of others. Egoism is a preoccupation with the fulfillment of self-interest. Altruistic people look for opportunities to help others, and generally act in a manner that will benefit others. Conversely, those driven by egoism consider first how they will benefit from any assistance they are considering giving.

The dichotomy between altruism and egoism runs deeper than the definitions suggest, though they are both spirit driven, meaning they emanate from the heart and not the mind.

Altruism is open and transparent. The motives of an altruistic person can be seen clearly. A person might say,

– “I want nothing in return; I just want to make sure you are all right.”

Egoism is hidden and concealed. The motives of an egoistic person cannot readily be detected because they appear to be altruistic.

These powerful forces have the ability to either build up or tear down.

Altruism builds community by bridging differences and fostering oneness. Egoism destroys the foundation of community by eroding trust and creating hard feelings. Sometimes, victims of a person’s egoism may withdraw from society for fear of being hurt again.

In our text, the Apostle Paul confronts a group of individuals within the church who call into question his motivation for proclaiming the gospel and the manner in which he preaches it. Paul responds by pointing out that the gospel he preaches is not man-made. He says it was neither obtained from a textbook, nor did he stumble upon it. Rather, the gospel he proclaims came to him through divine revelation from Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

Paul makes it clear that Christ revealed Himself and opened Paul’s mind, spelling out the mysteries of the gospel.

There is nothing better than first-hand information. This was not a second-hand gospel that Paul received. It came directly from Christ. Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God, spoke directly to Paul. That is powerful!

Consider that Jesus Christ is speaking to us in every sermon, hymn, anthem, or song, and in every scripture passage.

After Paul thwarts the attempt to question his motivation and the gospel he preaches, the rabble-rousers apparently tried to resurrect his past.

Before his conversion, Paul was, without doubt, a most zealous Jew. Known then as Saul, he lived with one purpose: to extinguish the fledgling movement called “the way.” Nevertheless, something happened to the apostle on the road to Damascus. He met Jesus, who changed his life. Paul went from defending the traditions of his fathers to defending the faith bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary.

There are those today who defend the traditions of the church, but remain silent when the Christian faith is under attack. Indeed, there is a big difference between defending tradition and defending our faith. Defending tradition is fighting for and upholding long-standing rituals and practices. Defending the Christian faith is honoring the call that God has placed on the life of a believer by living in a way that reflects and reveals Christ to the world.

Paul did not blink when confronted. While he could have hidden behind his apostleship or skirted the issue of his past, he took on his antagonists.

Paul says that after he became a defender of the faith, God was pleased to reveal His son in him. In other words, when Paul spoke, people heard Christ. As Paul lived and moved, people saw Christ. The presence of Christ permeated every area and aspect of Paul’s life and being.

We also learn from our text that, as part of the process of receiving the gospel, Paul went to Arabia. The scholars believe that, during this period, Paul retreated for three years of study and meditation. This is crucial to not only receiving the Word, but to retaining it.

As we listen to the proclamation of God’s Word, it is wise to take notes and record those things that resonate with us. We should then reflect on what we heard God saying, and engage the LORD in dialogue so that we may incorporate the Word into our lives, carry it out, or request clarity.

Paul concludes by stating that, as he gave himself over to the service of Jesus Christ, he became a blessing to the kingdom of God.

The text offers four-steps we may follow to become a blessing to God’s kingdom:

Receive the gospel: We must do this before we can operate in truly altruistic fashion. To receive the gospel is to be open to it, to embrace it, and to interact with it. As we absorb the gospel, it can then minister to us by speaking to the depths of our soul. It is through the gospel that Jesus reveals Himself and the will of God to believers. Jesus Christ, our perfect example, teaches us how to pattern our lives after Him. Through the gospel, God calls us from the emptiness of living to please ourselves, and teaches us about the joy that accompanies self-sacrificial living and giving. Before his conversion, Paul lived and was defined by his accomplishments. His was motivated by the need for self-fulfillment. Once he had received the gospel, Christ showed him there is more to life than pleasing oneself.

Share your Journey: Everyone has a past. The Apostle Paul says, “You have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” We have all done things we are not proud of, and would feel mortified if they became known. However, believers need to recall that our previous way of life is only part of the story. Since we have received the Word, a change has come over us, and we are no longer the same person. The change is what others need to hear about. Paul did not try to keep his past a secret. Instead, he shared it. By acknowledging his past, it could not come back to haunt him or hinder his ministry. More importantly, acknowledging his past highlighted the power of the resurrected Christ. People who need to know Christ need to hear about how Jesus stepped into our lives, helped us put the brakes on, and sent us in a different direction. God may, in turn, use this to provoke other changes in our lives, or convince others of the need for change in their lives.

Give credit where credit is due: There are many self-help programs on the market today. There is some good stuff out there, but some is of low quality produced by people cashing in on the demand. Self-help programs can be problematic because they promote a false sense of self-reliance. Many people have success with one program, but struggle with another, and cannot understand why in light of their previous success. To be honest a self-help program saved my life. However, Paul says, “But when God … was pleased to reveal his Son in me …, I did not consult any man …” This is a powerful phrase. I struggled with numerous things before recommitting my life to Christ. But when God stepped in and revealed there is another way, it was only then that I was able to break the cycle. Turning our lives around is a two-part dynamic. The first part is when God steps in, and the second part is when we are ready. God does not force people to do anything against their will. God sends warning signs by speaking to us in various ways and at different times. But if we are not ready, we will not respond to His voice or the Word. For years, I saw the warning signs, but ignored them because I was not ready. I, like the Apostle Paul, realize today that whatever change has occurred in my life is the direct result of God in Christ stepping into my life.

Get busy: Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers.” Following Paul’s period of study and mediation in Arabia, he made himself available to God. Paul recognized that the only way he could express his love for God and Christ Jesus was to honor the calling placed on his life, and enlist himself in God’s service. Grateful believers have only one response when God calls them: “Here I am Lord.”

We all can come up with a thousand excuses why we cannot serve in God’s kingdom: job, family, time, health, and so on. But since we frequently tell God, “No,” why should He respond when we call on Him to intercede on behalf of our family, children, or our personal crises. If God is only good when we need Him, what good are we to God?

If we want to be blessed, then we need to understand that we have, first, to be a blessing to God and the kingdom of God. The truth is that ministry is tough work and not for the faint of heart.

I would argue that no sermon is bad; there are only bad listeners. I admit that, sometimes, you have to listen very hard to gain a nugget, but, within the Word proclaimed, there is a word for you and me.

From this point on, whenever the Word of God speaks to you, do not tell the minister it was a good sermon, but say rather,

– “I received the Word.”

Jesus said that, if we seek recognition and glory from men, such will be our reward. We can expect nothing additional from God.

As we reflect on the life of the Apostle Paul, we see a man who, like all saints, first had to face hell before arriving in heaven. However, Paul like those who went before him, learned a valuable lesson:

– If we want to be blessed, we have to become a blessing.

We become a blessing to God and His kingdom when we …

stop living for ourselves and start living for Christ;

allow Christ to set the agenda for our lives and order our steps according to His word;

spend time with Christ inquiring as to the direction He would have us go, and then actually move in that direction;

stand up for our faith, and do not allow those who do not know Christ or what he can do to malign our Lord and Savior;

let others know about the impact the risen Christ has made in our lives, and offer them an opportunity to meet our wonderful and glorious Savior.

If you do not know Jesus in the pardon of your sins, I would like to invite you to come to know Him and experience Him for yourself.

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and arose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer


Sunday 19 July 2009

May God Bless You

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