Your Choice: Selfishness or Selflessness?

Nehemiah 5 describes the battle from selfishness to selflessness: the nobles took advantage of the commoners for selfish gain, but Nehemiah selflessly worked to rebuild Jerusalem. Let’s look at the outcry of the people, the outrage at the nobles, and the outcome of a godly life, including seven things you can work on to curb your selfishness.

First was the outcry of the people (see vv. 1-5). Because of the selfishness of the rulers and nobles, the Jewish people had become poor, overtaxed, and short on food. Some of them mortgaged their land; others even had to sell their children into slavery.

So Nehemiah stepped in and called a great assembly—this was outrage at the nobles (see vv. 6-13). Nehemiah was angry, but he handled his anger in a godly way (see Ephesians 4:26). He stopped to assess the problem, and above all, he feared God—he respected and revered Him.

This led to him admonishing the nobles. And what happened? They all agreed that personal gain is not as important as the project goal. So they made an oath, replied with an “Amen!” which means “So be it,” and then they worshiped the Lord. This is what I call taking one for the team.

The chapter ends with the outcome of a godly life (see vv. 14-19). Nehemiah lived above reproach. He refused to use the official expense account, he paid for his own food, he shouldered the burden of manual labor and went to work every day, and he did it all with no ego involved. How? “Because of the fear of God” (v. 15). Nehemiah did what he did to please God.

Let me give you seven practical things that you can do to conquer the selfishness in your heart and become more like Nehemiah:

  1. Last but not least: The next time you’re in line or waiting for a table, let someone go ahead of you.
  2. Put the shoe on the other foot: Consider how someone else in your life feels. Do you take them for granted? How can you sympathize with them?
  3. It’s not all about you: Drop that mentality like it’s toxic waste, and think of other people who are in positions less fortunate than you.
  4. You can’t always get what you want: Find a way to deny yourself and provide something for someone else.
  5. Share the spotlight: Be proud of other people for achieving things instead of wishing it was you. Turn the conversation off of yourself and onto someone else.
  6. Listen to your critics: Ask someone to give you honest feedback about yourself.
  7. An attitude of gratitude: Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be grateful for what you do have.

The Bible says the one edict for the flesh is death: “Make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). I pray this month that the Lord would show you how to go low, how to love others like yourself, and how to selflessly live a contrary-to-this-world life.

“I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me” (Galatians 2:20).