HE WORE no necktie, his suit was soiled, and his face was red from past drinking. He spoke soberly about his problem. For a number of years he had been a local elder of four or five different large city churches, but his drinking had caused gross problems, and finally in exasperation and desperation he had sent his wife and children to live with relatives. He was a man of talent, under fifty years of age, and his appeal was for money for a new start. Could we help him?
What had happened? There was no question in his mind about the truth. He had been well instructed and was still convinced it was right. The pastor or evangelist evidently had done his work well. Who could be blamed? What was the solution? He saw his need as money; this would solve it all, he thought. A new start in business, his family reunited, the children back in college, new hope, new courage, and he would dedicate his all to the work of the church.
The Real Problem
I am convinced of the cause of this man's problem and of the cure. His case is not unique but can be multiplied in varying degrees among those who know the truth, until it envelops more than half of the listed membership. It is this fact that keeps us still Laodicean and drains from the church its power to enlighten the world and finish the work.
The majority aim to make a name for themselves in the world; they adopt its forms and ceremonies, and live for the indulgence of self. They follow out their own purposes as eagerly as do the world, and thus they cut off their power to help in establishing the kingdom of God. --Counsels on Stewardship, p. 54.
Selfishness, the sin of the world, has become the prevailing sin of the church. --Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 204.
Why has selfishness prevailed? True, "selfishness is the strongest and most gen eral of human impulses" (Counsels on Stewardship, p. 25), but "Christ's believing people are to perpetuate His love. This love is to draw them together around the cross. It is to divest them of all selfishness, and bind them to God and to one another." Ibid., p. 16. There is a weapon that can destroy selfishness so that it need not be crippling the church.
Sister White says: "Selfishness is the essence of depravity." Ibid., p. 24. And the French version has it: "Selfishness is the root of all corruption." Can it be that in our efforts to bring people to Christ we worry only with the sin that is above the ground? Are we leaving the root? Ellen White's list of the fruits of selfishness as found in Counsels on Stewardship, pages 24-26, are: discord, unholy ambition, death to all piety, neglect of duty, self-love, blind to perfection, and failure to use God's en trusted gifts for the advancement of His work. It reads like a pastor's list of church problems.
Could the problem be similar to the dandelion war many of us wage in certain climates, where the lawn looks clean after a particularly hard "campaign," but soon is yellow with dandelion flowers again as the roots push up a fresh crop? How many souls are baptized and although fully convinced of the truth and determined to fol low every requirement of their new-found faith are still unknowingly host to a horrid malignancy?
The leprosy of selfishness has taken hold of the church. The Lord Jesus Christ will heal the church of this terrible disease if she will be healed. The remedy is found in the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. --Ibid., p. 85.
If selfishness is truly the "root of all sin," should we not make its destruction the objective of every evangelistic campaign, every church revival, and each Week of Prayer? Were there truly an all-out at tempt to destroy this malady from the church, to "get the root" in every addition made to the church, could it possibly be that depravity and the many fruits of selfishness would disappear, leaving the church purged and ready to receive the power that will transform it from the Laodicean into the loud-cry church?
The great outpouring of the Spirit of God, which lightens the whole earth with His glory, will not come until we have an enlightened people. . . . But this will not be while the largest portion of the church are not laborers together with God. God cannot pour out His Spirit when selfishness and self-indulgence are so manifest. -Ibid., p. 52.
The outpouring will come, but not un til the largest portion, more than half of the church, is free from the control of selfishness.
Is the Root Still There?
The root comes out hard. It is so much easier to pull off the top and to think the garden of the heart is clean, but, fellow pastor, let us be certain with our converts that there has been more than an agreement to the truth and that the ugly weeds of sin have not been broken off, leaving the root.
The tragic experience of these former members---who number thousands of lost, strayed, and stolen---can be prevented if we do our work of preparation thoroughly. We must make it our continual objective to destroy selfishness. Think of the trials we as pastors will escape if we do not have to reap the fruits of selfishness, and think of the joy of pastoring churches where the majority of the membership are unselfish.
Is it not time for the church to move from Revelation 3 and the Laodicean experience to Revelation 18, and become the loud-cry church? This is our work. We must lead our membership into this experience. It will not come by accident, but must be a studied and determined effort to develop the character of Christ in each member, new and old.
Christ gives man no encouragement to think that He will accept a patchwork character, made up mostly of self, with a little of Christ. This is the condition of the Laodicean church. At first there seems to be some of self and some of Christ. But soon it is all of self and none of Christ. The root of selfishness is revealed. It continues to grow, striking its roots deeper and deeper, till its branches are covered with objectionable fruit. Christ looks with pitying tenderness on all who have combination characters. Those with such a character have a connection with Christ so frail that it is utterly worthless. --The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on 2 Cor. 5:17, p. 1101.
The Only Remedy
Selfishness is a wall built around a person and his possessions, and it says: "You can't have me." Coveteousness reaches out to gather more things to place behind the wall. These two ills have their own remedies. Selfishness is cured by self-sacrifice. Continued systematic giving of ourselves and of what we have breaks down the wall, and the true Christian says: "You can have me." Coveteousness is controlled by self-denial. When the world holds things up as a god to be worshiped, the Christian says No and denies himself of what would take the place of God in his life. "The reason there is so much dwarfed religion today is because people have not brought practical self-denial and self-sacrifice into their lives." --Counsels on Stewardship, p. 52.
Fellow pastor, if we are tired of picking the fruits of selfishness, we must get rid of the tree. Let us help our members dig it out by the roots and plant in its place supreme love for Christ. If we would like to change the picture in our churches, we must apply the remedy of Isaiah 58 by turning love for self to love for others. "This is the only way in which it is possible for us to manifest our gratitude and love to God. He has provided no other." --Ibid., pp. 18, 19.