It is the greatest enemy to your spiritual life.
Over the past few decades, I’ve observed an increase in interest in “spiritual warfare” among Christians. It would take a lot of space and time to go into all of the reasons for this occurring. Pat Robertson and the rise of the popularity of the 700 Club was a major influence a couple of decades back, and the rise of several other prominent televangelists, among them Benny Hinn and John Hagee, found fertile ground, along with the Word of Faith movement, all generally associated with the Charismatic branch of Christianity. Books like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, as well as some of his other works, and the increase in Christian fiction have all contributed to a heightened awareness among Christians which is not exactly consistent with Biblical teaching on the subject, and which lends an aura of superstition and mystery to something that’s not really superstitious or mysterious.
People are fascinated by the supernatural. The idea that the world is controlled by spiritual forces that can’t be seen, and of demons lurking in the shadows has long been a part of human history. For most of human history, it was the most plausible way to explain the unknown. The writers of the New Testament, interpreting the teachings of Jesus, clearly explain that spiritual power is completely subject to God’s authority, period. That sort of puts things in perspective, and nullifies the superstition. It also centers the responsibility for individual spiritual well-being on, well, uh, the individual.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:6, NIV
Selfishness. That’s the biggest enemy you have in your Christian life. And I would say that selfishness rarely results from the influence of evil spirits. Selfishness is part of the human nature we inherited as a result of the fall. It comes from inside.
It is extremely easy, according to the writers of scripture, to battle evil spirits. You simply rely on prayer, and trust the matter to the Holy Spirit. It is extremely difficult to battle selfishness. You have to turn on yourself and your own nature in order to do that. And it is hard to see, because it shows up in precisely the places where we think we have it under control. Prosperity makes it hard to see. The church, well, sometimes the church contributes to selfishness, and gets swallowed up in it.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. I Corinthians 12:15-27, NIV
So, when was the last time you did a self examination, and determined your calling, and your role in the local church? And that’s really the context here, the local, visible body of Christ. Using this analogy, it doesn’t matter whether you are a more prominent part, or a smaller one, the bottom line is that you are an essential one. And I don’t think that Paul, who was the author of this passage, thought that attendance at worship once a week fulfilled the intended meaning of being a part of the body of Christ.
I have a tendency to think that the spiritual battle against selfishness is not only the biggest spiritual battle we face, but that it is probably the one that the church is losing the most. Finding any church that has the use of the full potential of the spiritual gifts and talents of its members is probably like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are probably some out there where that’s the case, but not many. I tend to think that, more often than not, the pews and chairs of our churches on Sunday morning are more like warehouses where talent and gifts are on the shelf, while the needs they can meet are going unmet. Ask 50 members of any church why they go there, and you’ll have 45 with a ready answer. They like the preacher, the singing and the music, the children’s ministry is great, there are lots of teenagers for their child to make friends with, it’s close to home. You’ll find a couple who just don’t know. But you might only find one out of that 50 who would say that they are in the church because that’s where God called them to minister and be part of the body. And out of 50, there might not be anyone who would say that.
Personally, I have to admit that it is very easy to fall victim of your own selfishness in so many different ways, especially in your spiritual life, and then figure out all kinds of ways to justify it. A lot of churches spend most of their outreach efforts on programs and activities designed to get people who are already believers, and already part of a church, into their own. I must admit that there have been times when I’ve been inclined to join a church, and leave another one, not because I thought that was where I was called and should be serving, but because of something elsewhere that appealed to me. And I’ve been in a situation where I was reluctant to leave a church, as it happened a mega church, because I was having my own needs met, but I wasn’t really doing anything from a ministry perspective. The opportunity didn’t exist, and it was really easy to justify “being in a place where I could be fed for awhile.” That last phrase is characteristically selfish.
This battle is on your own turf.