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Self-Interest — Right or Wrong?

Is it wrong to serve God with  your own self-interest in view? Many Christians believe that this is the case. They suppose that serving God for personal gain supplants serving Him for His glory — indeed, that serving God for any motive besides the glory of God alone is  carnality.

I passionately disagree with this teaching.  Far from condemning self-interest, the Bible everywhere encourages it — as we shall shortly see from numerous Bible passages. What it does forbid is rebellious self-interest (what theologians call self-will).  Self-will is seeking our own self-interest at the expense of the revealed will of God. In other words, pursuing things that we cannot pursue without disobeying the revealed will of God.

Failure to distinguish between legitimate self-interest and sinful self-interest is closely related to the error of confusing human nature and sin nature — both place things that are not sin in the category of sin. And both of these mistakes have significant consequences.  Both undermine the goodness of God by adding gnostic concepts to the faith.

The largest class of passages which encourage self-interest — some outright commanding it — are gospel passages in the New Testament.  And the most common motive that God employs to persuade men to follow Jesus is  the opportunity to obtain eternal life (Matt. 19:29, John 3:16, John 3:36, John 4:14, John 6:27, John 6:40,  John 10:28, John 12:25,  Rom. 2:5-7, Acts 13:48, Gal. 6:8, Tit. 1:2, 1 Tim 1:16, 1 John 5:11, etc.)

But other positive motives are mentioned too such as saving one’s soul (Mark 8:35), treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21), a mansion in heaven (John 14:1-3), a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17), hearing “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21), seeing God (Mat. 5:8), joy and pleasures forever more (Ps. 16:11), and being heirs of God and coheirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). The spiritual mind embraces such motives — the incredible gifts of the incredible Giver — with a passion. The worldly carnal mind rejects them like Esau who traded his birthright for a bowl of lentil bean soup. The religiously carnal mind (influenced by gnosticism) rejects them as materialism which is beneath the dignity of the spiritual mind.

We also find negative motives presented to man such as the fear of losing one’s soul (Mark 8:34-36), fleeing the wrath to come (Luke 3:7), escaping eternal hell fire (Matt. 25:41), and being shut out from the presence of God (2 Thes. 1:9).

I trust that it is obvious to all my readers that God regularly appeals to what we might call base motives in his efforts to persuade men to believe on Jesus and follow Him.  And the reason for this is downright practical. When the eyes of our heart are focused on the amazing THINGS laid up for us in heaven,  then the THINGS of earth look like cheap trinkets from the dollar store.

“Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.”


Lee W. Brainard

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