Selfishness is THE major reason why believers do not follow Jesus and do not end up accomplishing the fulfillment of their ministries and service to the Lord. That may be a pretty harsh thing to say to start an article but IT IS TRUE. There are different ways that selfishness manifests itself in people’s lives. These are the excuses that we all use at one time or another for not following him. I want to look at them one at a time and see the application to our culture. This paper will be confronting, but prayerfully, it will show us (me, too) how to avoid these pitfalls.
Rather than starting with the negative, I want to first read the response that Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John had when Jesus called them to become fishermen of men.
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
When Jesus said to them, Follow me, it says straightway or IMMEDIATELY, they left their nets and followed him. Sometimes in different contexts, we are to count the cost of something before directly plunging in, as for example, in going to war with a neighbor. It’s not a good idea to just dive in and then find out that your neighbor has an army of 100,000 to your 2,000. But in this case, the four fishermen did not hesitate in any way. They left their nets and followed him. Did they know that James would suffer a martyr’s death, or that they would travel and go through much persecution? They had NO idea what it would mean to follow him. If they had, perhaps they would not have been so eager to leave their nets! But did they know also that they would see miracle after miracle, or that they would themselves learn how to walk with power and be witnesses of the resurrection? Not hardly. They grew into the experience of all of that. It was enough at the moment that Jesus called them to just respond with a wholehearted willingness to follow. That is really all he ever asks us to do. What are the various excuses that we make not to follow or come to him?
The following is a list of excuses. I will not say these are the only ones, but they are certainly a good place to start to take a mental inventory of our own lives. Please take the time to read the passages to get the full impact of the records.
1. Too busy – Priorities
2. Distracted or burdened by riches
3. Wrong motivation
4. Own ideas – “but first”
5. Looking at other people
1. In Luke 14:17ff. there are three people who began “with one consent to excuse themselves” from the invitation to the marriage feast. Their excuses were that they had some other more important things to do. They were too busy. The first one said that he had bought a field and needed to go out and see it. The second person said that he had bought five pair of oxen and needed to “prove” them, which means not only to examine them, but also to test them out. The third person said that he had just taken a wife and because it was customary to spend at least a year in a honeymoon, it was not possible for him to come. These excuses were valid things that these people were doing. The point of the parable is that they put these things above the invitation. Their PRIORITIES were to be busy about their own business and not to consider anything else. What is important to you? This will always set your priorities of what you do.
2. In Matthew 19:16-24 there is the record of the young man who came to ask Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. He had been keeping the commandments, so that was not an issue. But then Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor. Ouch! It hit his pocketbook and he went away very sad, because he had many possessions. The riches were burdening him down and had a hold on him. That is why he did not want to let them go. Both riches and debt can have this effect. They cause us to be distracted and burdened and to focus all our time and energy on either the obtaining of them or getting rid of them. An opposite example of a disciple who was not burdened or distracted by his wealth was the tax collector, Matthew. Matthew 9:9 says that he was sitting at the seat of custom when Jesus called him to follow him. He was very likely making a lot of money. But he arose and followed him. Simple, just like that, without a lot of agony or consideration of what it would mean financially. That’s why I know that his wealth was not controlling him. Does wealth or debt control your life in any way?
3. In Luke 9:57, a scribe said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go, my Lord.” And Jesus told him a proverb: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” This proverb means that Jesus did not have a permanent dwelling or house to call his own. The reason he said this is that the man wanted to follow Jesus so that he could be taken care of. He was not interested in serving or helping or being a disciple, only that he would be provided for. He had a wrong motivation for wanting to follow Jesus. Why do you want to serve the Lord? For recognition? To have a job?
4. In the next verses in that same chapter of Luke, Jesus calls two others to follow him. Their excuses were very similar and have the phrase, “but first” in their replies. The first man said that he needed to go and bury his father. This did not mean that his father was dead already, but that he needed to care for his father into his old age. The second man said that he needed to go to say goodbye to his household. This also meant an extended period of time in household obligations. Remember Jacob? He ended up staying in Haran and working for Laban for more than 21 years before he left. The answer that Jesus gives is also like a proverb. “No man places his hand on the handle of a plough and looks backwards and is useful to the kingdom of God.” We will look backwards if we think our own ideas are more important than the Lord’s. We can recognize this excuse by hearing ourselves say, “but first...”
5. After the resurrection, Jesus confronted Peter lovingly and told him to “feed my sheep.” In John 21:19-22 Peter’s only question to Jesus was, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” referring to his comments about another disciple. Jesus told Peter in essence, not to worry about him, just worry about yourself and what you are doing – FOLLOW ME. If we look at what other people are doing and compare ourselves and moan about how our lives are not the same, we don’t get to do this or that, we have entered into a complaining session. Forget it! Just follow him.
These excuses are very confronting, aren’t they? They all point to selfishness of one kind or another. How can we change this? I think that if we put the lessons in the positive, it would be summarized like this:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
To deny oneself means to lose sight of one’s own self and interests and to put God first. That will set the correct priorities and keep riches or debt from being a burden or distraction. Taking up his cross means to get busy doing the Lord’s business. There is no room in there for “me first” or other obligations. To follow the Lord, we must be looking at him and not at other people. There is a tremendous promise in the following verses. “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Let us consider these matters prayerfully, so that we can be set free from anything that is holding us back from following him. What’s your excuse?