“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”Romans 12:3, NIV
Ego. What is it? Do I have an ego? Am I . . . egotistical?
I bet most of us would answer that last question with a resounding “No!” I know I would. Or, rather, I would have–until God brought a number of things to my mind recently.
But let’s back up to that original question: What is ego? According to Oxford Languages, the ego is “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” So, in that sense, each one of us has an ego; each one of us has some opinion of self, whether good or bad.
Yet, regardless of that neutral dictionary definition, most of the time we seem to use “ego” in a negative sense. We talk about someone having a “big ego” or an “inflated ego.” But we also use the term “ego” by itself in the negative. In recent news a well-known sports figure was referred to as having an “ego,” and the description wasn’t meant to be a compliment.
The Bible doesn’t use the term “ego.” But maybe we can think in terms of self, since the ego is our sense of self. And the Bible has a lot to say about self: selfish ambition, self-indulgence . . . The New Testament also frequently speaks of the flesh (sarx), which is often used to refer to those things which emanate from the self, rather than from the Spirit. So what are some things the Bible has to say about self?
- “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:13-16, NIV).
- “For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us . . . But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit” (Romans 7:5-6, NIV).
- “You my brothers and sisters were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13, NIV).
Think selfishness isn’t such a big sin? Look at the company it keeps in the Scriptures:
“For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be . . . I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (2 Corinthians 12:20, NIV).
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunken orgies and the like . . . those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21, NIV).
I started on this look into ego after we’d had a Sunday school class about lying. It struck me that often we lie to protect our ego, our view of self. Sure, sometimes we lie because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. (No, you don’t look fat!) But, perhaps more often, we lie to protect our ego; we don’t want people to think poorly of us. For example, we don’t admit to missing our devotional time for over a month. Doing so would make us look unspiritual. People might not look up to us as they had in the past.
Or we lie because we want to inflate our ego. We want to impress people, so maybe we exaggerate a little bit. We want people to think we’ve had a bigger impact or a bigger part in something than we actually did. Or maybe we use a little hyperbole on our resume.
The next time we catch ourselves in a lie—and remember, there are lies of omission as well as lies of commission—maybe we need to ask ourselves what was behind the lie. Was it ego? It’s important to know the cause so we can address the real sin. Just as a doctor tries to find the cause of recurring headaches, for example. Sure, he could just prescribe a pain reliever. But then the headaches will likely return. We must get at—and treat—the cause of both the headaches and the lies.
As I said, I started on this because of a discussion of lying. But the Holy Spirit took me further and deeper, as He often does.
How many of our sins are actually, at root, caused by ego?
What about jealousy? Well, quite simply, jealousy is the act of being jealous. What does it mean to be jealous? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “feeling or showing an unhappy or angry desire to have what someone else has.” It could be material possessions. Or it could be fame, or the respect or attention of others. With any of these, isn’t our jealousy caused by putting our own interests and desires above those of others? Isn’t it self? Isn’t it ego?
“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:13-14, NIV).
There it is again! A little harmless sin like jealousy keeping company with those really bad sins of sexual immorality and debauchery. Can you see what damage can be done by our ego?
What about quarrels? Ever get into a little argument with someone? Don’t want to call it a quarrel? Maybe a “heated discussion”? What does James say is at the heart of those? “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want so you quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2, NIV). These quarrels arise because we’re putting our desires ahead of those of others. We’re focusing on self.
And what’s the biggest downfall of our egotism? Of our putting ourselves first? Isn’t it that in putting ourselves first, we’re putting ourselves before God?
This was brought home to me this week when the Holy Spirit pointed out my own ego. (A side note: if you want to avoid such embarrassments, don’t study Scripture and, at all costs, avoid blogging or teaching about God’s Word. Otherwise, the truth of James 3:1 will become very apparent to you.)
So what was my revealing and humbling insight?It had to do with a workday we were to have at church—yesterday, in fact. Quite plainly, I didn’t want to go. I had a lot of things I was behind on, and I’m not a real outdoorsy person and this was an outdoor workday. And, yet I felt I should go. I’m embarrassed to admit that I discovered that my main motivation for going was so others wouldn’t think poorly of me. That’s right. It was all about my ego. I didn’t ask whether it was how God wanted me to spend my time that morning. It wasn’t about the needs of the church. It was about me, both the reason for staying away and the reason for going. Me. Me. Me.
It was EGO.
In the end I had to opt out of the workday because of illness. But that didn’t let me off the hook on dealing with that ego. I’m afraid it is something I will have to keep working on in spite of the fact that I’ve not really viewed myself as egotistical. Apparently, I have a lot left to learn. Time to get soul refreshed.
Soul Refreshers for your week–and mine:
- I’d encourage you to start asking yourself where self enters into the decisions you make on a daily basis.
- Want a good example of selflessness, or putting aside selfish ego to align with God’s will and for the benefit of others? Look no further than Philippians 2:1-8. Take time to study it and pray over it. Note how much has to do with ego: having it, not giving in to it, but choosing others instead regardless of personal cost.
- “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in the spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very natures of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (NIV)
- How about an example of supreme ego and self-centeredness? Read Mark 10:32-37. Ignore the heading break that is likely in your Bible, and notice what James and John do immediately after Jesus shares with his disciples his impending death.
- A few other verses on ego or self to consider:
- I Corinthians 13:4
- I Corinthians 13:5
- I Corinthians 10:24
- I Peter 5:1-6
- May God grant each of us the grace to evaluate ourselves in light of his Word and to submit our egos to his will.