Checkmate (Part II) – Acts 16:22-24, 37

by Roger McCay
28 June 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 16:22-24, 37
Link to Audio Version

Have you ever considered where self-giving falls on your value scale?

C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain, says this:

In self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives Himself in sacrifice; and that not only on Calvary. For when He was crucified He “did that in the wild weather of His outlying provinces which He had done at home in glory and gladness.” From before the foundation of the world He surrenders begotten Deity back to begetting Deity in obedience…. From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever….This is not a heavenly law which we can escape by remaining earthly, nor an earthly law which we can escape by being saved. What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor ordinary life, but simply and solely Hell. Yet even Hell derives from this law such reality as it has. That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality.[1]

When we think of what Jesus did and continues to do for us, we find a picture of where he puts self-giving on the value scale. The apostle John blatantly laid it out for us in , “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” Don’t stop there, though. Don’t forget the rest of the sentence, “… and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Notice that’s an ought. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s what is expected of us by God. It’s a moral imperative laid out in Scripture. The Bible teaches us that love is not love without self-giving. Self-giving is actualized love; and love is the highest commandment encompassing all the law—love God and love others (). In fact, if you are a disciple of Christ, integral to your calling in life is to follow Jesus in denial of self, which the Lord places at the top of your value scale ().

But is it an impossible call? Is it an illusion? There are some who would say that a selfless life is an impossibility; that all people are inherently selfish; and every act has a selfish underlying motive, even the most altruistic actions. This is the claim of those who hold to psychological egoism, which claims “every human action is motivated by self-interest,” and so, selfish. [2] However, they get to that conclusion by cleverly reinterpreting motives and making assumptions and generalizations that do not hold up under scrutiny and logic. For example, as James Rachels puts it,

When we brush our teeth, at least in normal circumstances, we are not acting selfishly; therefore not all actions are selfish. And, when we smoke cigarettes, we are not acting out of self-interest; therefore not all actions are done from self-interest. [3]

When it comes to true self-giving without underlying selfish motives, Christians are especially equipped. We have been regenerated. We have been and are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, who works in us to do God’s will, according to his good pleasure (). We are enabled to actually do righteous unselfish acts. God himself is the catalyst for it.

Yet, there are those in the world who would counter the Scripture’s “ought” of self-giving with an “ought” of selfishness. This is called ethical egoism, which says, “our only duty is to do what is best for ourselves.”[4] Some are blatant with it, like Ayn Rand, who, in The Virtue of Selfishness, wrote, “The achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”[5]

As a general principle, I’d like to think most would deny such a moral philosophy, but actions tell the truth as to what someone truly believes. In fact, as we look at the world around us, and as we understand the sinful desires of our own heart, it’s easy to see that there is a tendency to put self-interest as the highest value.

This is not to say that self-interests are somehow wrong in themselves. Self-interest and selfishness are not the same thing. It is when our self-interests turn into selfishness that we cross the line. Self-interest becomes selfishness when, as Rachels explains, we “ignore the interests of others, in circumstances in which their interests ought not to be ignored.”[6]

Today’s passage includes an action that we don’t even pick up on until we almost reach the end of this account of events in Philippi, in v. 37. Its absence makes it even more of an obvious inclusion in the passage. It’s like a verse that is there in substance, but is unseen until the big reveal. The action was an inaction. Paul and Silas remained silent, withholding information from the authorities as to their Roman citizenship. If they had claimed their citizenship rights, the whole course of events would have been different moving forward, and vv. 22-24 would have looked totally different. But, wise as a snake, and innocent as a dove, Paul, with Silas right beside him, made their move in the battle with the demon, Python, knowing that sometimes the only way to win is to suffer.