Lay Aside the Weight of Selfish Preferences

Love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5). What a beautiful concept to contemplate. Like many expressions of biblical love, this one is heartwarming and inspiring to read about or observe, at least from a distance.

Unfortunately, in the moment we’re called upon to exercise this kind of love, it often doesn’t appear or feel very lovely; it appears confusing and feels frustrating. It feels like self-denial.

Me and Mine

Wanting our own way is woven into the fabric of our fallen nature. Since the fall, it has been our default orientation. We can see this, even from our earliest days, whenever our way is crossed. We insist in the cradle and then as toddlers; we insist on the playground and then as over-confident teens; we insist in the church and the workplace; we insist as parents of toddlers and then as stubborn parents of over-confident teens; we insist as parents of adult children, and then as retirees, and then as nursing-home residents. We are disturbingly and persistently selfish.

Our selfishness is a master of disguise, wearing a thousand masks to cover its motives. Our selfishness is a wordsmith — bending, shaping, and sometimes twisting rationales for why our preferences are reasonable and right and even righteous (and, of course, best). Our selfishness is an attorney, trained from childhood in both defense and prosecution, bent on persuading judge and jury on behalf of its sole client.

Insisting on our own way is at the heart of most of our conflict, and at the bottom of almost all of the ways humans abuse others. This lack of love is a source of much human heartache and suffering.

So why do we find it so difficult to stop insisting on our own way?

Hard to Be Humble

First, it’s a miracle for an inherently proud person — one whose natural selfishness is pathological in nature and infects all areas of life — to become truly humble. Of course there is common grace humility in the world that anyone can exhibit. But to be able to live out 1 Corinthians 13:5, we must be born again (John 3:7). For love does not insist on its own way is an eight-word summary of Philippians 2:3–8:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Paul is speaking of a distinctly Christian expression of love in both 1 Corinthians and Philippians. This kind of not insisting on our own way comes only from having the same mind Christ had when he gave himself to be crucified for us. Fallen humans can love one another and perform acts of altruism (although rare enough to be remarkable when it does happen), but the way of living one’s entire life, which Paul commends, requires a humility that only results from trusting the Father like Jesus trusted the Father.

Who Can You Trust?

Second, it’s hard to not insist on our own way because it’s very hard to trust others. None of us knows the full extent of our selfishness, but we know it well enough to be on our guard against others.

Selfish people naturally manipulate others to get what they prefer, rather than wanting what is best for others. When a lot of selfish people live together, it is not safe. This is not a world where it is safe or wise to figure out ways to not insist on our own way.

Unless there is a power big enough, strong enough, loving enough, and righteous enough who can and will ensure that ultimately, as the Christmas song says, “Wrong will fail and right prevail.” That is the whole point of Christmas. Jesus became human to bring the good news of great joy to all mankind, news that the Father is able and willing, through Christ, to right all wrongs.

Jesus came not only to proclaim the news, but to be the means of that news being good for us. He came to demonstrate through the cross that all who trust in the Father as he trusted the Father will discover that faith-fueled love — love that does not insist on its own way — will overcome the world.

But We Must Insist, Right?

But didn’t Jesus lovingly insist on his own way when he called people to repent and rebuked religious leaders? And didn’t Paul insist on his own way when he corrected Peter (Galatians 2:11–14) and urged people to imitate him and not others (1 Corinthians 4:16)? No, they did not.

Jesus knew he had been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). But he knew he received it from the Father and that Jesus’s exaltation would result in the greatest glory for the Father (Philippians 2:11). Jesus only wills to do what the Father wills. And when he experienced the turmoil of the difference between his will and the Father’s, he gladly submitted to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39).

When Paul rebuked Peter, he was not insisting on his own way, but on God’s gracious way. And when he urged people to imitate him, it was only to imitate his “ways in Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:17). “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

There are times as Christians when we must insist. But at the bottom of our insistence must not be our own way — our own mere preferences — but God’s way.

Lay Aside the Weight

Personal preferences are not wrong (unless for something inherently sinful). But insisting on personal preferences is very often wrong because it’s very often selfish. Insisting on our own selfish way burdens us and others with conflict and discouragement, and causes others to stumble over temptation blocks of irritation, anger, resentment, and bitterness. This is a weight of sin we must lay aside (Hebrews 12:1). And the holiday season will likely provide us ample opportunities.

When the opportunities arise, we must not expect them to feel heartwarming or inspiring, but rather like dying to ourselves. In the moment, we will likely feel tempted to irritation and anger and self-pity on the front-end. We will not feel like not insisting on our own way. But the reward, for us and our loved ones, is real.

Practical preparation could be to memorize Philippians 2:3–8 and rehearse it through all our Christmas preparations and celebrations. Perhaps the most meaningful gift we’ll give to someone this year will be looking to his or her interests instead of our own.