Many people have failed to recognize the critical truth that explains the mess the world is in today. There are a number of ways to describe the core explanation for our current disaster: rebellion against God and rejection of revealed truth, to name two possibilities. Paul warned his protégé Timothy to “realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come” (II Tim. 3:1). A litany of sins follows that can be viewed both as a description of the “difficult times” and as the root causes of those perils. “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (vv. 2-5a).
A strong case can be made for the proposition that the first description in the list—“lovers of self”—is the foundational sin from which all the others on the list descend. Consider just a few examples. Someone boasts because he is impressed with himself. Someone demonstrates arrogance because he thinks too highly of himself. Children disobey their parents because they want what they want more than they want what their parents want. A person manifests ingratitude because even the best is not sufficient for the one (himself) he loves. All are expressions of self-love.
We live in an idolatrous country within an idolatrous world. Although a significant percentage of people still literally bow down and worship idols of gold, or stone, or wood, made by human hands, literally every unbeliever (and, sadly, far too many real saints) worship another idol, an immaterial one, the idol of self. What the Word of God declares to be sin and what Paul explains to be the essence of “difficult times” in the last days, the world calls the epitome of righteousness. “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else,” pop psychology preaches. “Lack of self-esteem is a sin requiring eradication,” trumpets a so-called Christian minister.
Yes, the Word describes some expressions of the difficult times as “brutal” or “treacherous”—descriptions that nearly everyone would identify with dangerous epochs. The terms sound like they might be filled with violence and physical danger. Yet, self-love heads the list. Nothing is more dangerous and destructive, whether to an individual or a society, as the idol of self-love. The worst “isms” devised by man—Marxism, existentialism, nihilism, anarchism—are all rooted in love of self. But even where no formal structure or organized philosophy molds the self-centeredness, egocentrism expresses the abject rebellion of a sinner against a holy God. Ironically, so far from aiding the self, self-love contains the seeds of its own destruction. But still the sin-darkened mind clings tenaciously to it.
The doctrine of self-love is a perverted dogma that replicates what Satan attempted to do before he was cast out of heaven, that is, to supplant God on His throne. But let’s take note. It is easy, perhaps, to recognize the more egregious examples of self-love in the lives of the self-absorbed around us. But, believers, we may fall prey to the charms of this idol as well. Are we not bowing down to the idol of self when we put our will ahead of God’s will? When we give priority to our pleasure or convenience over serving God? When we hurriedly mumble a prayer asking for God’s direction only to rush forward with what we want to do before we confirm what we suspect to be true—that God is not really pleased with our intentions? Are we not worshiping the idol of self when we tell God what we are going to do unless He stops us? Have we not bowed to the idol of self when we take care of ourselves and our desires before providing for the needs of a brother or sister in Christ? Yes, in the last days, perilous times will come, but who would have thought that you and I might be the authors of some of those perils? Yet, how easy it is to decry the sin around us while protecting the sin within us. May the Lord waken us to the peril within in and strengthen us to depose the idol of self-love.
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