As a rule, human beings are self-centered; it’s a characteristic of our sinful nature. Because of the fall in the Garden of Eden, we are born self-centered—a fact that explains but does not excuse the phenomenon. Jesus knew we would struggle with self-centeredness. This is why he gave us the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39).
Self-centered people are concerned primarily with their own desires, wants, needs, interests, and ambitions. Their motto might be “I look out for number one.” One of the reasons we admire people who sacrifice for the good of others—firefighters who rush into a burning building to save lives, soldiers who jump on a hand grenade to save their comrades, police officers wounded in the line of duty—is because they are exceptions. Their actions go against the norm.
For most people, overcoming self-centeredness is a struggle. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is and always will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge Christians are called to accept. Self-centeredness is not just a sin, it’s a root cause of other sins such as envy, jealousy, impatience, and ingratitude. Self-centeredness is the polar opposite of the fruit of the spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”
Amanda struggled with self-centeredness, a fact that caused her no end of problems. At work she was not a team player. She took credit for the work of others and blamed her team mates when projects didn’t go well. She constantly sought attention from her superiors, craved recognition, and lobbied for choice assignments while avoiding difficult or less glamorous projects. As a result, no one wanted to work with Amanda.
When a position opened up that would mean a promotion, Amanda pursued it aggressively and shamelessly. She went out of her way to impress her boss, the supervisor who would make the promotion decision. But Amanda didn’t stop there. She spread negative, inaccurate gossip about her principal competitor, and pressured fellow employees to put in a good word for her. When an opportunity to land an important new client for the company arose, Amanda refused the assignment because it would require her to be out of town for three days. She was determined to stay close to the boss so she could land the promotion.
When the promotion went to a colleague, Amanda was flabbergasted. She couldn’t believe it. An angry Amanda demanded an explanation from her boss as to why she was passed over. Monica, her supervisor, was forthright and to the point. “Amanda, you didn’t get the promotion because we need someone in that job who will put the good of the company first. That’s not you. Your approach to the job can be summarized in these words: It’s all about me. You have enormous potential, but are your own worst enemy when it comes to advancing your career. If you ever overcome your self-centeredness, you will go far.”
Later that night, Amanda sat on the balcony of her apartment ruminating over what Monica told her. She thought about Chris, her colleague who got the promotion. Chris was quiet and unassuming. She was quick to accept difficult, unglamorous assignments, help team members who were struggling with their work, and stand in for colleagues who needed time off for family responsibilities. Chris had accepted the out-of-town assignment that Amanda turned down and landed the new client. She brought meals to colleagues who were home ill, often spent her lunch hours listening to team mates who needed to talk, and mentored the less experienced employees in their department. The contrast between Amanda and Chris was stark.
Amanda made up her mind that night things were going to change. She decided to talk with Chris and find out what was behind her selfless approach to the job and life in general. Rather than counsel Amanda, Chris invited her to attend a Bible study at her church on applying Scripture to everyday life. The Bible study focused on applying Philippians 2:3. This verse reads, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
The Bible study was a moving, edifying experience for Amanda. She took the words of Philippians 2:3 to heart and began striving to replace her self-centered ways with selflessness. It took some time for her colleagues to accept that the new Amanda was real, but Amanda persevered and eventually won them over. It took more than two years, but the next time a promotion opened up, Amanda got it.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com