Overcoming our own self-interest


By Rev. O.L. Johnson

Religion Columnist

Let’s talk about this month’s subject with an emphasis on the word “self-interest.”

What does the word mean? The dictionary defines selk-interest as a concern for one’s own advantage and well-being. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Shouldn’t we all have similar concerns?

Generally speaking, we should, but there are times in life when acting in our self-interest is not in our best interest. It is during those times when we should strive to apply the first word in our subject — when “overcoming” self-interest is in our best-interest. But how do we identify those times when self-interest should be overcome?

The answer to the question is in an understanding of the difference between self and best-interest. The difference is seen in the focus of each. In self-interest, the focus is on the first person, singular — gaining advantage for oneself. Best interest focuses on the third-person plural — concern first for the well-being of others.

So overcoming self-interest is in order whenever any decision we may be considering has the potential to have a negative impact on others. Having concern for others before self is God’s desire for his people.

That’s what Jesus teaches us in Luke 6:31. Look for what is in the best interest of others first before considering your self-interest.

Jesus also teaches us the possible results of failing to overcome self-interest. In Luke 6:24-26, he speaks directly to those who satisfy their self-interests. He alludes to accumulating material possessions through which one experiences inner joy, happiness and public adoration, observing that these are all temporary experiences.

He prefaces each teaching with the same admonition, “woe unto you” – meaning that in each instance the end result will be “grief”, which is the meaning of the word “woe.” The way to avoid “woe” in pursuing self-interest is to become a “golden-ruler” as described in Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31, do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.

So, let’s recap what we are saying: to purse self-interest is not a solid no-no. It’s an advisable road to follow as long as we don’t hurt others along the way.

In that case, our efforts to satisfy our self-interest should be abandoned and overcome. Achieving our self-interests at the expense of others is always a no-no in the eyes of God.

A better approach, one more pleasing to God, is to pursue what is in the “best interest” of all involved and follow that road to its logical conclusion. That puts others first, and effectively changes one’s focus on self-interest to a focus on best-interest — a focus on others rather than self.

Do you want to please God in your daily walk? Here’s one way to do it.    


Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in South Los Angeles.

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