Selfishness is a major theme throughout the Bible. From the Garden of Eden to the New Testament church, we see example after example of how unchecked selfish desires lead to sin and destruction. As Christians, we are called to die to self and live for God and others. But submitting our will to God’s will is easier said than done! Our human nature is inherently selfish and prideful.
In this post, we’ll examine several vivid stories of selfishness in the Bible. As we reflect on these examples, may they provoke us to repentance and rededication to living sacrificially as disciples of Jesus. Let’s heed these lessons from Scripture and by God’s grace put off selfishness and put on Christ-like humility and love.
- Selfishness was at the root of humanity’s first sin when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
- King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah were the results of unchecked selfish desire.
- The Israelites frequently grumbled against God and Moses in the wilderness due to selfish attitudes.
- Judas betrayed Jesus out of selfishness over money.
- Sapphira and Ananias selfishly lied about funds they had pledged to the early church.
- Diotrephes caused division in the early church because of his selfish ambition.
The Original Selfishness: Adam and Eve
The very first humans succumbed to selfishness in the Garden of Eden. God had generously provided for all of Adam and Eve’s needs. They could eat freely from every tree in the garden except one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). But the serpent tempted Eve by telling her that eating the forbidden fruit would make her wise like God. Succumbing to the deception, Eve ate the fruit, gave some to Adam, and he also disobeyed God’s command.
At the root of their sin was selfishness – desiring something God had forbidden, believing it would make them happier than following God’s ways. But this first act of selfish rebellion had disastrous consequences. Adam and Eve damaged their relationship with God and brought sin and death into the world (Genesis 3:16-19). Their decision wasn’t just about themselves – it affected all of humanity.
This first story in the Bible reveals an important truth: selfishness ruins relationships – with God and others. When we insist on putting our desires before God’s will, we harm ourselves and others.
David’s Colossal Failure
King David is a prime example of how selfishness leads to bigger sins. One evening, David saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop. Instead of turning away, David indulged his desire and committed adultery with her (2 Samuel 11:2-4).
When Bathsheba became pregnant, David tried to cover up his actions. First he summoned her husband Uriah from battle to visit Bathsheba, hoping he would think the child was his own. But Uriah was too faithful to enjoy pleasures with his wife while his comrades were in battle (2 Samuel 11:6-13).
So David orchestrated Uriah’s death in battle and took Bathsheba as his own wife to cover his sin (2 Samuel 11:14-27). For a long time, David remained unrepentant, until the prophet Nathan confronted him with a parable exposing his grievous sins (2 Samuel 12:1-13).
David came to his senses and repented, writing Psalm 51. But the damage was done – his baby with Bathsheba died, and his selfish actions had horrific consequences in his family for years to come.
David’s story warns us that unchecked selfish desires easily lead to bigger sins that bring ruinous consequences. We desperately need God’s mercy to overcome the pull of selfishness.
Grumbling in the Wilderness
After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. These were difficult years, and the Israelites frequently complained and grumbled against God and Moses. Their selfish attitudes came out under duress.
For example, right after God gloriously delivered Israel through the Red Sea, the people grumbled about lack of water in the wilderness (Exodus 15:22-24). God provided water, but then they complained about lack of food. God sent manna and quail, but the Israelites grumbled about wanting meat and missing the food back in Egypt (Exodus 16).
When Moses was away communing with God, the people grew impatient and pressured Aaron to make idols for them to worship – a golden calf like the Egyptians (Exodus 32). The Israelites also grumbled about dangers in the wilderness, accusing Moses of bringing them there to die (Numbers 14:1-4).
Time and again, the Israelites revealed hearts of selfishness, ingratitude, and rebellion against God. They thought only of their own desires and comforts, not trusting God to provide and guide them into the Promised Land.
The Israelites’ complaining and impatience stemmed from selfish attitudes. Their example warns us not to grumble when life is difficult, but trust God to sustain us through wilderness seasons.
Judas Sells Out
Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, ultimately betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders out of selfishness. Judas followed Jesus for several years. But over time, he grew disillusioned. Judas wanted Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom and overthrow Roman rule. But Jesus talked about a spiritual kingdom and serving others.
Judas became frustrated with Jesus’ mission and priorities. And when a band of religious officials offered Judas money to betray Jesus, selfish greed took over. The Bible says Satan entered Judas’ heart (Luke 22:3). Under cover of night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas Identified Jesus with a kiss and betrayed him to the authorities for 30 silver coins (Luke 22:47-53).
Later, when Judas saw Jesus was condemned to die, he felt remorse. But instead of repentance, Judas’s guilt drove him to suicide (Matthew 27:3-5).
Judas is a tragic example of how unchecked selfishness and greed leads to unthinkable sin. Chasing money, Judas sacrificed everything – his calling, his friend, and his life.
Ananias and Sapphira’s Deception
In the early church, followers of Jesus gave sacrificially to help each other flourish spiritually and materially. It was a beautiful picture of Christ-centered community. But one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, tried to deceive the community out of selfishness.
They pledged to sell some property and give all the proceeds to the church. However, they secretly held back some of the money. Publicly, Ananias brought their donation to the apostles while lying that it was the entire amount (Acts 5:1-2).
Peter confronted Ananias, saying, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (v.3). When caught, Ananias dropped dead. Later, when Sapphira came telling the same lie, she also fell dead when confronted. This shocking story produced holy fear among the early believers.
Ananias and Sapphira’s selfish deception reminds us we cannot fool God. Hypocrisy and fake generosity for show have no place in Christ’s church.
Diotrephes Craved Attention
In his third epistle, the Apostle John wrote about a man named Diotrephes who stirred up trouble in the church out of selfish ambition. John said Diotrephes “loves to have the preeminence” among the believers (3 John 1:9). He even refused to welcome other brothers in Christ, trying to close the door.
Further, Diotrephes gossiped maliciously, spreading false charges against the apostles themselves. John said when he came to visit, he would call out Diotrephes on these selfish behaviors that were causing division (3 John 1:10).
Diotrephes is a clear example of how selfish pride and desire for man’s approval leads to sins that harm the body of Christ. His story reminds leaders to check selfish ambition and serve others humbly.
Overcoming Selfishness Like Jesus
The Bible paints a sober portrait of human selfishness. Clearly, it’s our “default setting” apart from God’s transforming grace. Just like Adam and Eve, we easily justified pursing our desires over God’s will, harming others in the process.
But Jesus shows us a better way: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).
Though Jesus is fully God, he humbled himself to become human and die sacrificially for our salvation. Now risen, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his followers so we can walk in selfless love too. As we abide in Christ through the Spirit, we “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). His grace empowers us to live for eternal treasure rather than selfish, worldly gain.
The gospel offers hope. Jesus sacrificed himself to rescue us from empty selfishness and fill us with his selfless love. By the Spirit, we can walk as servants who put others before ourselves and find joy in giving.
As you reflect on the sobering examples of selfishness in the Bible, where is the Holy Spirit prompting repentance and renewed desire to follow Jesus above your own desires? I encourage you to meditate on Psalm 51 and ask God to search your heart. Confess any selfishness, receive his forgiveness, and walk in new life today. Our world needs more followers of Jesus committed to living for God’s glory rather than self-interest. By His grace, may we be part of spreading his unselfish gospel for generations to come.