I advocate an unusual approach to these topics based what I see as a foundational principle in Scripture: Holy Self-Interest.
The principle says:
“It is always in your rational self-interest to do the right thing.”
Rightly understood, self-interest and morality are inseparable. The right thing is the right thing because it leads to your own rational self-interest.
Should Christians seek their self-interest? Is it helpful? I want you to ask these kinds of questions. I want you to take a hard look at what motivates us to obey God.
Worshiping God out of self-interest?
Yes. I believe self-interest is the only proper motivation to worship God, because it is the only proper motivation to do anything. This is a tall claim. Read on, and I will work to demonstrate it.
I write to redeem the idea of self-interest in your eyes.
I write to convince you that if we will live—properly, fully—we need a new perspective on self-interest. And I write to show that this new perspective is not really new at all. God’s people through the ages have looked to his promises and considered him as their means to self-interest.
As a starting point, let’s gauge your receptivity. I want to suggest an idea to you, and ask what you think about. The idea is:
What came to mind as you read this word? I will admit, in my mind I hear, “evil gain.” That’s a common phrase. And it is biblical.
Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!” Habakkuk 2:9 (ESV).
Gain. It drips of greedy, sordid, wicked pursuits.
Or does it?
Hear the last stanza of a poem by John Piper:
See him nearing death.
Listen to his breath,
Through the ebbing pain:
Final whisper: “Gain!”
John Piper has worked to awaken the church to a truth too easily forgotten: God wants us to consider him to be our own highest value. God wants us to treasure him; to consider him gain!
I thank Jacob Brunton for drawing my attention to the following quote from Jonathan Edwards:
“It is not a thing contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man’s love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity… The saints love their own happiness.”
Charity and Its Fruits, 229
Robert Carter & Brothers, 1852
It is not wrong to seek happiness or gain.
There are right and a wrong ways to pursue them. Jesus asked what it profits a man to gain the world and forfeit his soul. We should in fact be willing to lose the world if it means gaining our everlasting life. Do not overlook the fact that Jesus spoke of profit to an individual man; profit for his own well-being—his own individual good.
As I learn to seek Holy Self-Interest in God’s will, may my own final whisper be—“Gain.