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This topic is adapted from the PursueGOD Video YouTube channel.

We all know people who are selfish and self-centered, and we are that way more often that we would like. One of the bitter byproducts of selfishness is that it undermines rich, satisfying relationships.

[Related: Are Selfies Really Something New?]

Selfishness Is at the Root of Sin

Selfishness lies at the heart of the fallen human condition. Ever since Adam and Eve, we have asserted that we know better than God. We want to decide what is right and best without reference to him. Whenever we break God’s law, we elevate our desires and our will above God’s will. This is the essence of sin: we make ourselves – rather than God – the ultimate frame of reference for life.

This same spirit expresses itself in relationships. In so many ways, we make ourselves the ultimate focal point in relation to other people. We elevate our will, our opinions, our comfort, our feelings (and more) above the desires, thoughts, and needs of the people around us.

Words That Describe Selfishness

The English language has many words for selfishness, bearing witness to how universal human selfishness is. A person might be arrogant, self-serving, self-absorbed, self-centered, boastful, vain, big-headed, self-possessed, self-important, self-focused, conceited, haughty, proud, preoccupied with self, egomaniac, narcissistic, self-indulgent, ostentatious, or presumptuous. Each of these words has a different nuance, but they all refer to putting ourselves first.

Likewise the Bible uses a variety of words and constructions to describe selfishness, including arrogant (Titus 1:7); selfish ambition (James 3:14-16); vain conceit (Philippians 2:3); lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2); self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5); pleasing ourselves (Romans 15:2); seeking our own good (1 Corinthians 10:24). These traits are never presented in the Bible in a positive way, but always by way of warning.

Expressions of Selfishness

We are all familiar with people who are overtly selfish: those rude, thoughtless, pushy people who aren’t subtle about asserting their own way. Many of us are more refined in our selfishness. We use more subtle tactics to influence others – like guilt or peer pressure. We find ways to maneuver a situation to serve us.

Selfishness is not just about how we act. It can also be what we don’t do, like leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. It also comes across in our words, when we speak our mind without considering the effect our words might have on others, or when we talk too much. Selfishness is an attitude issue. For example, you may let others have their way, but inside you become resentful and bitter. When you don’t get what we want, or when others get the credit, you whine or pout.

Even people who serve others can be selfish. Sometimes people are self-giving in order to gain sympathy, or they want to prove their personal worth by being indispensable. They may not be very assertive of their own rights, but they may be constantly drawing attention to their troubles or pains. Selfishness can be very subtle and insidious at the level of our motives. A selfish spirit can ironically infect even the most altruistic actions. We can be serving others, giving our time, resources and energy, and all the while be preoccupied with wanting to be noticed or admired, or feeling superior to others.

[Related: The Futility of a Me-First Mindset]

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Do you know any really selfish people? What are some other ways you would describe them other than “selfish?”
  4. What are some ways you’ve been selfish in your life?
  5. Do you agree or disagree that selfishness is the essence of sin? Explain.
  6. What are some ways people can be selfish that bother you the most?
  7. Describe some of the more subtle expressions of selfishness.
  8. How can you be more selfless starting right now?
  9. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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