In his classic The Imitation of Christ Thomas A Kempis writes;
We cannot place too little confidence in ourselves, because grace and understanding are often lacking to us. Little light is there within us, and what we have we quickly lose by negligence. Often times we perceive not how great is our inward blindness. We often do ill and excuse it worse. Sometimes we are moved by passion and count it zeal; we blame little faults in others and pass over great faults in ourselves.
The Imitation of Christ has been the world’s most widely read book of Christian devotions for more than five hundred years. Having been around for so long, it would seem the significance of a Kempis’ insights would fade with time; yet his centuries’ old wisdom continues to ring true today. We are – as a rule – self centered, self deluded people.
It is not as if Imitation was a publication of previously unknown truth. Nearly fifteen hundred years earlier the Apostle Paul had written to the Believers in Rome with this admonishment;
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. …Do not be wise within yourselves Romans 12:3, 16b.
From the sin of self-centeredness springs overweening self confidence and the eagerness to find fault in others. Unfortunately modern Christianity often nurtures the very sins which a Kempis and the Apostle Paul warn against. Church goers are told the aim of the Christian religion is self discovery and self satisfaction. Christianity is reduced to a quest for personal peace and comfort. The result is dissension and disunity within the Church as each person seeks to satisfy their own “felt needs” ignoring the true object of the Faith; “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And so everyone is convinced that they are in the right and no one is willing to submit to the discipline of Church authority when their self absorption is brought to light. Indeed, every man is his own god.
Self-centeredness is often disguised as zeal for truth and gossip and slander are cloaked with high sounding language: “prayer concerns” and ministry to the downtrodden. In reality, trouble makers ignore how great is their inward blindness and they truly think more highly of themselves than they ought.
The cure for self-centeredness is quite simple. “Take up your cross and follow Me” said Jesus. Take up your implement of death and submit to the authority of King Jesus. The cross is meant to kill our self-centeredness; it should realign our priorities and teach us to be concerned with truth rather than our own agenda. Bearing the cross isn’t easy; it is obedience.
I think ninety-nine percent of the problems within the Church would vanish if Christians learned to “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). Yet that simple command remains a stumbling block. The irony is that self sacrifice results in each Believer having their needs met as they should be.
As we near the end of another year I encourage you to consider your behavior during the previous twelve months. Honestly assess your actions and attitudes; how well have you lived “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3)? I know we all can do better. Will you join me in the effort?