“If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself.”
1. How did Jesus set a perfect example of self-sacrifice?
WHEN Jesus was on earth, he set a perfect example of self-sacrifice. He put God’s will above his own desires and comforts. (John 5:30) By remaining faithful to death on the torture stake, he proved that there was no limit to what he was willing to sacrifice for others.
2. How can we have a spirit of self-sacrifice? Why should we have it?
2 As followers of Jesus, we too need to show the spirit of self-sacrifice. What does it mean to have a self-sacrificing spirit? It means that a person is willing to give up his own interests in order to help others. In a way, it is the opposite of selfishness. (Read Matthew 16:24.) Being unselfish can help us to put the feelings and personal preferences of others above our own. (Philippians 2:3, 4) Jesus taught that unselfishness is at the heart of our worship. How so? Christian love motivates us to have a self-sacrificing spirit. This love is what true disciples of Jesus are known for. (John 13:34, 35) Think of the blessings we have because we are part of a worldwide brotherhood that shows the spirit of self-sacrifice!
3. What might weaken our self-sacrificing spirit?
3 Still, we face an enemy that can slowly weaken our self-sacrificing spirit. That enemy is our tendency to be selfish. Think about how Adam and Eve were selfish. Eve showed a selfish desire to be like God, and her husband showed a selfish desire to please her. (Genesis 3:5, 6) After turning Adam and Eve away from true worship, the Devil continued to tempt people to be selfish. He even tried this with Jesus. (Matthew 4:1-9) In our day, Satan has been successful in misleading most people, and he influences them to show selfishness in many ways. If we are not careful, the selfish attitude of this world could affect us too.
4. (a) Can we remove selfish tendencies? Explain. (b) What questions will we discuss?
4 Selfishness may be compared to rust. If an iron object is exposed to air and water, it might begin to rust. Ignoring rust is very dangerous because if it is allowed to spread, it can cause a structure to collapse. Similarly, although we cannot remove our imperfection and selfish tendencies, we must continue fighting these tendencies. If we are not careful, our self-sacrificing spirit will be ruined. (1 Corinthians 9:26, 27) How can we recognize signs of selfishness in ourselves? And how can we improve our self-sacrificing attitude?
USE THE BIBLE TO CHECK FOR SELFISHNESS
5. (a) How is the Bible like a mirror? (See opening picture.) (b) When checking ourselves for selfishness, what must we avoid?
5 Just as we can use a mirror to check how we look, we can use the Bible to check our personality and correct any flaws we might find. (Read James 1:22-25.) However, a mirror will help us with our appearance only if we use it properly. For example, if we look at a mirror too quickly, we might not notice a small but serious flaw in our appearance. Or if we look into a mirror from an angle, we might see the image of someone else. In the same way, to use the Bible to check ourselves for a problem such as selfishness, we should do more than just read it quickly or use it to see someone else’s flaws.
We can use the Bible to check our personality
6. How do we continue in the perfect law?
6 For example, we could read God’s Word every day and still not see selfish tendencies that are growing inside us. How is that possible? Think about this: In the illustration of the man who “looks at himself” in the mirror, James used a Greek word that means careful examination. So the man was looking carefully in the mirror, but there still was a problem. James continued: “He goes away and immediately forgets what sort of person he is.” Yes, he turned away from the mirror without doing anything about what he saw. In contrast, the successful man not only “peers into the perfect law” but also “continues in it.” So instead of forgetting the perfect law of God’s Word, he “continues in it,” or continues to follow its teachings. Jesus made a similar point when he said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples.”
7. How can we use the Bible to check for selfish tendencies?
7 So to fight against selfish tendencies, you must first read God’s Word carefully. That may help you to see what you need to improve. But you need to do more than that. Do some research. When you are reading a Bible account, imagine that you were there. Ask questions such as: ‘How would I have acted in this situation? Would I have acted in the right way?’ Most important, after you meditate on what you have read, do your best to apply it. (Matthew 7:24, 25) Let us see how the accounts of King Saul and the apostle Peter can help us to maintain a spirit of self-sacrifice.
KING SAUL’S WARNING EXAMPLE
8. When Saul began ruling as king, what attitude did he have? How did he show this attitude?
8 King Saul is a warning for us about how selfishness can ruin our spirit of self-sacrifice. When Saul began ruling as king, he had a modest and humble opinion of himself. (1 Samuel 9:21) He humbly chose not to punish some Israelites who spoke badly about his rule, even though they were challenging the authority God had given him. (1 Samuel 10:27) King Saul accepted the guidance of God’s spirit by leading Israel in a successful battle against the Ammonites. Afterward, he humbly gave Jehovah the credit for the victory.
9. How did Saul start to become selfish?
9 Later, Saul allowed selfish thinking and pride to grow in his heart, just like rust that weakens metal. When he defeated the Amalekites in battle, he cared more about his own desires than about obeying Jehovah. Saul greedily kept the Amalekites’ possessions instead of destroying them as God had commanded. Saul was so proud that he even had a monument built for himself. (1 Samuel 15:3, 9, 12) When the prophet Samuel told him that Jehovah was displeased, Saul made excuses and focused on the part of Jehovah’s command that he did obey. He even blamed others for his error. (1 Samuel 15:16-21) Pride made Saul care more about his reputation than his friendship with God. (1 Samuel 15:30) How can we use Saul’s example as a mirror to help us keep the spirit of self-sacrifice?
10, 11. (a) What does Saul’s experience teach us about maintaining a self-sacrificing spirit? (b) How can we avoid following Saul’s bad example?
10 First, Saul’s experience teaches us not to become too confident in ourselves. A self-sacrificing spirit does not come automatically, so we must constantly work on it. (1 Timothy 4:10) Remember that Saul started off well and pleased God for a while, but he did not work hard to remove selfish tendencies that he began to have. Eventually, Jehovah rejected Saul for his disobedience.
11 Second, we should not focus only on what we are doing well and ignore the things we need to improve. This would be like using a mirror to admire our new clothes while not noticing some dirt on our face. Even if we are not proud or overly confident as Saul was, we should avoid any tendency that could make us follow his bad example. If we receive counsel, let us not be like Saul and make excuses or blame someone else. It is much better to accept counsel willingly.
We should not focus only on what we are doing well and ignore the things we need to improve
12. How could the spirit of self-sacrifice help us if we were to commit a serious sin?
12 However, what if we were to commit a serious sin? Saul wanted to save his reputation, and this kept him from repairing his friendship with Jehovah. In contrast, a spirit of self-sacrifice could motivate us to get help no matter how embarrassed we may feel. (Proverbs 28:13; James 5:14-16) For example, one brother began viewing pornography at the age of 12, and he continued to do so secretly for more than ten years. He says: “It was very hard to admit to my wife and to the elders what I’d been doing. But now that I have admitted it, I feel that a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders. Some of my friends were disappointed when I was removed as a ministerial servant, as if I had let them down. Yet, I know that Jehovah is more pleased with my service now than when I was watching pornography, and his view is the one that really matters.”
PETER’S ENCOURAGING EXAMPLE
13, 14. How did Peter show selfish tendencies?
13 The apostle Peter was self-sacrificing while he was being trained by Jesus. (Luke 5:3-11) But he still had to fight selfish tendencies. For example, he became angry when the apostles James and John asked Jesus for honored positions in the Kingdom of God. Maybe Peter thought that he should get one of those positions because Jesus had already said that Peter would have a special role. (Matthew 16:18, 19) Jesus warned James, John, Peter, and the rest of the apostles not to be selfish and act as if they were better than their brothers.
14 Even after Jesus tried to correct Peter’s thinking, Peter still showed selfish tendencies. When Jesus told the apostles that they would abandon him for a short time, Peter made the others look bad by saying that he would be the only one to stay faithful. (Matthew 26:31-33) He should not have been so confident in himself, because that same night, Peter failed to be self-sacrificing. He protected himself and denied knowing Jesus three times.
15. Why does Peter’s example encourage us?
15 Even though at times Peter struggled and failed, his example encourages us. Because of his own effort and the help of God’s holy spirit, Peter was able to overcome his selfish tendencies. He later showed self-control and self-sacrificing love. (Galatians 5:22, 23) He endured many trials that he might not have been able to endure before. For example, when Paul gave Peter strong counsel in front of other people, Peter kept a humble attitude. (Galatians 2:11-14) After receiving that counsel, Peter did not hold a grudge and feel that his reputation was damaged. He continued to speak about Paul as his “beloved brother.” (2 Peter 3:15) Peter’s example helps us to improve our spirit of self-sacrifice.
16. How can we be self-sacrificing in difficult situations?
16 Think about how you react in difficult circumstances. When Peter and the apostles were thrown in prison and beaten because of their preaching, they were happy “to be dishonored” as followers of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) You too can use persecution as an opportunity to imitate Peter and be self-sacrificing like Jesus. (Read 1 Peter 2:20, 21.) This attitude could even help if you received discipline from the elders. Instead of becoming offended, follow Peter’s example.
You too can use persecution as an opportunity to be self-sacrificing like Jesus
17, 18. (a) What questions could we ask about our goals? (b) What can we do if we notice a selfish tendency in our heart?
17 Peter’s example can also help you to set goals in your worship to Jehovah. You can work toward these goals in a self-sacrificing way. But be careful that you do not set goals because you want to be important. Ask yourself: ‘Why do I want to improve or do more for Jehovah? Is it because I want praise from others or more authority, as James and John wanted?’
18 If you notice selfishness growing in your heart, ask Jehovah to help you to correct your thinking and feelings. Then work harder for Jehovah’s glory and not your own. (Psalm 86:11) You can also set goals that will not bring attention to yourself. For example, you can try to improve in showing a quality of the fruitage of the spirit that is difficult for you. Or if you work hard to prepare your meeting parts but do not like to clean the Kingdom Hall, you could set a goal to apply the advice at Romans 12:16.
Remember that we all are imperfect
19. What can we do so that we do not become discouraged by what we see in the mirror of God’s Word?
19 When we look carefully at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word and see flaws or selfish tendencies, we might become discouraged. If that ever happens to you, remember the successful man in James’ illustration. James did not mention how quickly the man fixed the problems he saw or even that he was able to correct every flaw. But James did say that the man continued in “the perfect law.” (James 1:25) The man remembered what he saw in the mirror and kept working to improve himself. So keep a positive view of yourself, and remember that we all are imperfect. (Read Ecclesiastes 7:20.) Jehovah is willing to help you in the same way that he has helped so many of your brothers. If you follow the teachings in the Bible and continue to show the spirit of self-sacrifice, you will have God’s approval and blessing.