“He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honour and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.“
Romans 2:6-8 NLT
There was no doubts in Paul’s mind when he penned that God will “pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves”. He was convinced that selfish living will not end well, when eternity life after death is taken into account. But is such a response from God a bit unfair? After all, in today’s society, just as much as it must have been in Paul’s, a failure to look out for our own interests will have disadvantaging consequences.
The two thousand years between Paul’s times and today have seen enormous changes to our societies. Today, we see huge technological changes, a much enhanced standard of living (at least in Western countries). Better education and health. Our human rights, though not perfect, are much improved when compared with Paul’s day. But there is one thing that has not changed since the days of Adam, and that is man’s propensity to selfishness and sin. And another thing that hasn’t changed is that God is righteous and holy, meaning that there is no home for sin anywhere near Him. In fact, He deals with sin and wickedness by ultimately ensuring it is contained in a place called the Lake of Fire.
So what does “liv[ing] for themselves” look like? Obviously, it is a lifestyle that promotes a person’s own needs above the needs of those around us. The Bible recorded an episode that took place between Ahab, Israel’s king, and Naboth, the owner of a vineyard that Ahab wanted. Naboth refused to sell it to Ahab, so the king had a strop and we read about it in 1 Kings 21:4, “So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!” It’s a fascinating story of someone who lived for himself, and you can read it in the rest of 1 Kings 21. Selfishness ruled the day.
But the Bible has some helpful Scriptures, detailing how we should live, rather than how we shouldn’t. We have 1 Corinthians 10:24, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others“. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too“. And one more from 1 John 3:17, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?”
These helpful verses, showing the right way to live, are the truth. If we obey, then we are not living for ourselves. If we don’t obey then we are. And rejecting the truth leads to a life of wickedness. It takes a lifetime of living God’s way to reduce the selfishness within us and replace it with the truth of God’s ways. Sometimes we reflect on our lives and wonder if we’ll ever get anywhere near God’s standards. Following our justification through the blood of Jesus, we embark on a journey of sanctification. In Jesus’ wonderful prayer in John 17, we read in verse 17, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth”. Through Jesus we started the process of being made holy at the Cross, and He will never give up on us. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, we read, “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin“.
No longer do we pilgrims “live for ourselves“. We look out for our friends and neighbours. Our families. Even strangers in difficulties. And by so doing we are being obedient to the truth. And sparing ourselves from the wrath and anger of God.
Dear Father. Your Words are the truth and we pray for more of You in our lives, helping us to become more and more like Jesus. We are so grateful. Amen.