Building an enabling environment for the younger generation to excel is hardly the result of the acclaimed good intention of the leaders Nigeria has voted into power in recent history. The environment is not even enabling enough for those of the older generation who do not parley the men in power; since the game of politics in Nigeria is mostly a winner takes all phenomenon. Everyone acquires so much wealth enough for the fifth generation of His family to spend. And sadly, it is a case of “many acquire but few are convicted”. Big thieves walk free.
It is the case that a large percentage of Nigerians who are not presently acquiring are only waiting or silently wishing for their own opportunity to be in a position where they can loot the treasury and seemingly secure the financial future of themselves and their immediate family. Self sacrificing is lost from the vocabulary and selfishness is the most prevalent. Even the teachings of modern day pastors are pervaded by selfishness; members are taught to outshine one another, a spirit which Christ condemned in His disciples when he said to them “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”[i] Selflessness is a lost virtue and selfishness has been crowned and thus a chain reaction is set off. Selfishness fuels corruption. Corruption fuels the increase in gap between the rich and the poor. The wide gap fuels crime and violence. The rest is present history.
I wish this was a Nigerian problem. No, it is a universal problem. We live in a world where women in their forties and fifties spend millions of dollars to go under the surgical blade in order to look twenty-five; since when did growing up become an offence? The answer: since self has been enthroned. Everyone thinks “I” am the centre of the universe; it is my fullest satisfaction that matters first after which we may consider someone else. I must look hotter and sexier than the next celebrity, so “I” must out-dress them and get all eyes on “me”; and the news tabloid must tell the world that I’m wearing a $150,000 designer dress. It’s all about me. That appears to be the law of the human kingdom. It is the survival of the fittest. The fit may not consider the weak. It is the theme of motivational authors and psychologists. The message of the entertainment industry is all about self image: me, myself and I. A theologian, John Piper, has also identified that pride is not a disease of the rich or the beautiful; it displays itself as boasting in the privileged and as self pity in the less privileged; so it is a human problem no matter the status.[ii]
But the pursuit of self interest has never yielded good results. It has led to many wars. It led to the many revolutions which toppled some governments in Northern-Africa recently. The “what’s in it for me” thinking is leading to abject poverty, crime and violence in many parts of black-Africa today. It led to the global financial crisis which the world is still recuperating from. The most prevalent law of the human kingdom which sets up self as the most important thing is antithetical to the law of the vegetable kingdom which Christ lived and preached. In the human kingdom life comes before death, but in the vegetable kingdom death begets life. “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13)
By the casting of grain into the earth, the Saviour represents His sacrifice for us. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die.” He says, “it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” John 12:24. Only through the sacrifice of Christ, the Seed, could fruit be brought forth for the kingdom of God. In accordance with the law of the vegetable kingdom, life is the result of His death.[iii] Christ gave himself for us. Not for himself but for us. What selflessness!
Even though the world hardly practices selflessness, it celebrates it. Nelson Mandela was celebrated in life and even in death not because he acquired the most material wealth in his lifetime, far from it. He was celebrated because he gave himself and was in fact willing to die in order for his people to be free from racial discrimination and apartheid. He lived his life in accordance with the law of the vegetable kingdom which when expanded teaches that “the life spent on self is like the grain that is eaten (instead of being planted). It disappears, but there is not increase.”[iv] Only from death of self does a fruitful life grow forth. Such a life that would be celebrated even generations after it is long gone.
Jesus Christ, by His example shows that death comes before life. He emptied Himself…humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8). He died in order that we might live and thus it takes the death of self as well to follow Him in order to partake of this life which He earned for us. And so everyone who desires to follow Christ must say like Paul “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20). It means I want to die so that I can live. Self must die because “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:6). The sick human heart cannot bear good fruits except it dies like a seed and allows Christ to nurture it daily as it grows.
In the work of transformation of the human life, Christ works in accordance with the law of the vegetable kingdom, which bids his followers to die that they may live. Die here means “by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience. (Col. 3:5-6). It is a continuous struggle and a conflict; this must be done daily as the victory of yesterday may not be sufficient for today. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ bids us pray “Give us this day, our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). One needs a renewal of the spiritual bread daily by asking for the Holy Spirit as well as feeding on the word. “In this conflict of righteousness against unrighteousness, we can be successful only by divine aid. Our finite will must be brought into submission to the will of the Infinite; the human will must be blended with the divine. This will bring the Holy Spirit to our aid; and every conquest will tend to the recovery of God’s purchased possession, to the restoration of His image in the soul.”[v]
Since the fall of man (see Gen 3), the deeds of the flesh are as natural with man as roaring is natural with the lion and thus it takes a deliberate and conscious putting to death for the death of self to take place. Pride, greed and immorality must not be allowed to thrive in anyone whose desire it is to follow Christ and be changed into His image. Deliberately and consciously, one must surrender them and thirst after righteousness. In doing this, one must as well forget the past and look ahead to a future life in Christ. Ellen White writes:
When the mind dwells upon self, it is turned away from Christ, the source of strength and life. Hence it is Satan’s constant effort to keep the attention diverted from the Saviour and thus prevent the union and communion of the soul with Christ. The pleasures of the world, life’s cares and perplexities and sorrows, the faults of others, or your own faults and imperfections–to any or all of these he will seek to divert the mind. Do not be misled by his devices. Many who are really conscientious, and who desire to live for God, he too often leads to dwell upon their own faults and weaknesses, and thus by separating them from Christ he hopes to gain the victory. We should not make self the center and indulge anxiety and fear as to whether we shall be saved. All this turns the soul away from the Source of our strength. Commit the keeping of your soul to God, and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. Let self be lost in Him. Put away all doubt; dismiss your fears. Say with the apostle Paul, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Rest in God. He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him. If you will leave yourself in His hands, He will bring you off more than conqueror through Him that has loved you.[vi]
Self is the only thing that can stand in the way of man’s redemption. A refusal to yield self and its desires will ultimately lead to fruitlessness in the spirit. Even though Christians must have self respect which is an awareness that they have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ and thus cannot act in any way that displeases God which also undermines Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf, self esteem as popularly preached today is not a Christian virtue because it teaches that one esteems himself better than the other whereas the bible teaches that “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Phil. 2:3); Man as well as God has no commendation for pride in another, even though man may court its company openly, many men detests it in its absence, followers of Christ must have a “meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” (1 Pet. 2:3).
If one seeks and desires to please God first before anyone or anything, self must be downplayed and the fruit of the Spirit of God allowed to reign. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are the characters borne by one who puts self to death and allows the Holy Spirit to nurture him to growth; because, such a person has died and his/her life is hidden with Christ in God. (see Col. 3:3). God values a meek man and the proud in heart is an abomination unto Him (Prov. 16:5).
The law of the vegetable kingdom is the way Christ teaches for anyone who desires eternal life. Those who are willing to make any sacrifice for eternal life will have it; and it will be worth suffering for, worth crucifying self for, and sacrificing every idol for. The far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory swallows up everything and eclipses every earthly pleasure.[vii]
[i] Matt. 23:11, 12, NASB
[iii] Ellen G. White, Education, pg. 110
[iv] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pg. 624. Words in bracket were supplied
[v] Ellen G. White, our High Calling, pg. 153
[vi] Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, pg. 71
[vii] Ellen G. White, Counsels for the Church, pg. 42