Selfishness is that attitude of being concerned with one’s own interests above the interests of others. However, the Bible commands us to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NASB).
It’s interesting to note in this passage that Paul compares selfishness to “empty conceit”—a term that could be translated “vanity” or “arrogance.” It refers to an overly high opinion of oneself. Selfishness, then, is akin to narcissism.
Selfishness or empty conceit is often expressed by building up oneself while tearing down someone else. It is one of the “works of the flesh” according to Galatians 5:20. It leads to “disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). Selfishness caused the children of Israel to “willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved” (Psalm 78:18). Selfishness caused the rich young ruler to turn his back on Jesus (Matthew 19:21-22). Selfishness ruins friendships (Proverbs 18:1), hinders prayer (James 4:3), and is the product of earthly wisdom (James 3:13-14).
The opposite of selfishness is also found in Philippians 2: being united with Christ, having tenderness and compassion, and “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:2).
Combating the sin of selfish ambition requires genuine humility. Unpretentious humility restores and grows relationships. Being humble involves having a true perspective about ourselves in relation to God. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).
Prayer and a love of Scripture are necessary as well. “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain” (Psalm 119:36). Love covers a multitude of sins, including selfishness. If we are truly “devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10), we cannot be selfish. Having the attitude of Christ is to demonstrate tenderness and compassion for all those we come in contact with.
Another sure cure for selfishness is to know where our treasure is. The Christian holds the things of this world loosely because he is laying up “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21). He knows it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and he lives according to the truth that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).