Counting the Cost – Lesson 12:Selfishness

Key Scriptures: Daniel 4, Philippians 2:3-4, 2 Timothy 3:2-4, 1 John 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:24, James 3:16, Hebrews 13:16, Romans 2:8, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Acts 20:35, Luke 9:23, Psalm 119:36, 1 John 2:15-16, Matthew 19, Galatians 5:16-17

Guiding Question: How does God define selfishness?

Optional Introductory Activity: Have students describe their most perfect day possible – one where there were no limits on the amount of money you could spend or what you could do. Then describe the belongings of a celebrity or sports star. Try to find one with multiple mansions, cars and other expensive belongings. Explain that often our goal in life becomes trying to get enough money to have lots of those perfect days. One of the struggles Christians often have is knowing when they are crossing the line God has drawn and are living a selfish life. The world might say that a celebrity or sports figure has earned the money they have and should be entitled to spend it in any way they choose.  Have students give some initial thoughts on how celebrities, for example, can tell when they are being selfish.

Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Read Daniel 4. Share some of the information about the wealth of Nebuchadnezzar found here Explain to students that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon he built was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and his palace was thought to be the largest building on Earth. From Daniel 4 what are some indications that Nebuchadnezzar was selfish? What are some of the choices he made because of his selfish nature? What did God do to punish him? Nebuchadnezzar’s selfish desires caused him to sin and created in him an unwillingness to help others.

Nebuchadnezzar was not the first person, nor the last to struggle with selfish desires. In fact, the Bible tells the stories of quite a few people who made poor/sinful choices because of their selfishness. Can you name some people in the Bible who acted selfishly? 

Selfishness is a heart issue that causes us to make poor and sinful choices. Often these choices are made at the expense of others. When we are selfish, we by definition put ourselves in front of everyone else – including God. Selfishness is often tied up with pride. It can also be connected to a love of money, although we can be selfish about many things. It is probably easy for all of us to say it is wrong to be selfish, but how do we really know when we are being selfish? How does God define selfishness?

As you might imagine, the Bible has a lot to say about selfishness. Read the following passages. For each, write down key ideas, words and phrases. Once you have identified the key ideas from all of the passages work to put them in some sort of order. What basic principles and patterns do you see once the information is organized?

  • Philippians 2:3-4: not just own interests, but interests of others
  • 2 Timothy 3:2-4: lovers of self and pleasure rather than lovers of God
  • 1 John 3:17: sees brother in need, but closes heart…how does God’s love abide in him
  • 1 Corinthians 10:24: no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor
  • James 3:16: selfish ambition leads to disorder and every vile practice
  • Hebrews 13:16: don’t neglect to do good and share what you have
  • Romans 2:8: those who are self seeking…wrath and fury
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19: those who are rich, be rich in good works, generous
  • Acts 20:35: more blessed to give than receive
  • Luke 9:23: deny yourself and follow me
  • Psalm 119:36: incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain
  • 1 John 2:15-16: don’t love the world or things of the world
  • Galatians 5:16-17: walk by the Spirit….you will not gratify desires of the flesh
  • Matthew 20:16: first will be last and the last first
  • Matthew 19: rich young ruler

Notice, other than the rich, young ruler, God doesn’t give a dollar amount we have to give away to be unselfish. What do you think God gave more general principles rather than set amounts of money and things we could keep without being selfish or that we had to give away? Some people have tried to figure out percentages that God required people in the Old Testament to give Him, but that doesn’t take into account other ways people may have given, like helping the poor or others. 

Ultimately, poor people can be just as selfish as rich people. And sometimes our selfishness isn’t about money at all. What are some other ways people show selfishness that don’t involve money? If you had to write a detailed definition from God’s point of view after reading these scriptures, what would you write? Can you give scriptures other than the ones we have already discussed to back your ideas? What are some signs that we are becoming selfish? 

Skills Activity: Review the main points from the lesson. Have students share some ways they struggle with selfishness. If students are reluctant to share, be prepared to share your own struggles with selfishness either when you were younger or currently. Have students brainstorm some ways to be more aware of when they are being selfish and to be less selfish, when they realized they have put themselves first.

A few teens who struggle with boundaries, may go farther than you or their parents believe is healthy in their attempts to avoid selfishness. Be careful as you talk with theses teens, as you don’t want them to give up trying to be who God wants them to be.

Encourage students to plan individual or group service projects that will be challenging for them…especially in their efforts to be unselfish. Remind them, that selfishness is not just about money and things, but also time, attention, approval, etc. After their projects are completed, have a time of reflection to discuss what they learned a soft selfishness while completing the project.
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. I’m what ways do you tend to be selfish? What are some things you can do to be less selfish in those areas?

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