What Does the Bible Say About Selfishness?
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What Does the Bible Say About Selfishness?

Selfishness. It’s a word that carries a negative connotation in today’s society. Being selfish is seen as a bad thing – putting your own desires above all else, not caring about others. But what does the Bible actually say about selfishness? Is it always portrayed as wrong, or are there certain contexts where looking out for yourself is acceptable, even wise?

In this comprehensive blog post, we’ll dive deep into the Bible to understand God’s perspective on selfishness. We’ll look at key passages, study Greek and Hebrew words, and draw out timeless principles for living. My goal is to bring clarity to this topic so you can grow in holiness and Christ-likeness. So let’s get started!


We live in an intensely self-centered culture. The message we constantly hear is to put ourselves first, get what we want, and don’t worry about others. Consumerism and materialism run rampant. “Looking out for number one” is the motto many live by.

In contrast, Jesus calls his followers to live sacrificially, humbly, and with selfless love. As Philippians 2:3-4 says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (NIV)

So where does selfishness fit within the Christian life? Is it always wrong? Or are there certain contexts where it’s permissible or even wise to look out for yourself?

To answer these questions, we need to dive into God’s Word. As we’ll see, the Bible has a nuanced perspective on selfishness – condemning it in certain contexts but allowing for it in others. There are principles we must understand if we want to walk in wisdom.

My hope is that this post will bring greater clarity and discernment as you seek to follow Jesus faithfully in a self-centered world. Let’s explore what the Bible says about living wisely and generously, while also setting healthy boundaries against entitlement and abuse.

Key Takeaways Up Front

Before jumping into the full teaching, here are 5 key takeaways about what the Bible says regarding selfishness:

  1. Extreme self-centeredness that rejects God is strongly warned against.
  2. Selfish ambition and strife have no place among followers of Jesus.
  3. We are called to look out for the interests and needs of others.
  4. Having healthy boundaries and looking out for your own needs is legitimate at times.
  5. Wisdom and discernment are needed to live generously while also setting Godly boundaries.

Now, let’s explore each of these takeaways in more detail.

Extreme Self-Centeredness is Rebuked

Scripture strongly warns against extreme self-centeredness that essentially rejects God and His rightful authority in our lives. The Bible rejects living to gratify one’s sinful desires and rejects idolizing self above God.

For example, 2 Timothy 3:1-2 warns of difficult times when people will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” This excessive self-love crowds God out.

Paul also rebukes the false teachers in Philippians 3:18-19 who live as “enemies of the cross of Christ” because their god is their belly or appetite and they glory in shameful things. Their minds are set on earthly, fleshly things rather than the things above.

Likewise, Psalm 14:1 declares, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds.” In the context, the psalmist ties this rejection of God to self-serving actions, oppression of the poor, and lack of understanding.

In essence, the Bible condemns self-centeredness that rejects God and lives only to please one’s sinful desires. This is the worst kind of selfishness.

Selfish Ambition Has No Place in the Kingdom of God

While everyone is tempted by selfishness and fleshly desires at times, Scripture clearly denounces selfish ambition and strife among Jesus’ followers.

For example, James 3:16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Selfishness leads to bitter envy and division in the body of Christ.

Paul also pleads with the Corinthian church to turn from selfish ambition to servant-heartedness. He writes, “I, brothers and sisters, could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly–mere infants in Christ…For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:1,3).

The message is clear: selfish ambition has no place in the kingdom of God or among his people. It only leads to division and strife.

We Are Called to Look Out for Others

In contrast to selfishness, the consistent message across both Old and New Testaments is that we are called to look out for the needs and interests of others, not just our own.

Numerous verses illustrate this:

  • “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
  • “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
  • “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy.” (Psalm 82:3-4)
  • “Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” (Deuteronomy 15:10)

Clearly, Scripture calls us to look beyond just our own interests and generously care for the needs of others – especially the poor and marginalized. Selflessness should mark the followers of Jesus, who gave up his own interests to the point of death for our sake.

Maintaining Healthy Boundaries is Legitimate

However, there are also situations where maintaining healthy boundaries and looking out for your own interests is legitimate and balanced. Selflessness does not mean letting yourself be taken advantage of or enabling destructive behavior in others.

For example, Proverbs 25:16 offers this wisdom: “If you find honey, eat just enough–too much of it, and you will vomit.” The principle applies beyond just honey. Even good things can become destructive in excess.

Likewise, Galatians 6:5 says, “Each one should carry their own load.” And 2 Thessalonians 3:10 warns clearly, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Maintaining healthy boundaries does not contradict loving generosity.

In fact, Scripture praises prudence and discretion as virtues (Proverbs 2:11, 3:21). It condemns foolishness that indulges the desires of others who refuse wise boundaries. For example:

  • “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer, but whoever refuses to shake hands in pledge is safe.” (Proverbs 11:15)
  • “A man lacking in judgment strikes hands in pledge and puts up security for his neighbor.” (Proverbs 17:18)

In summary, while we are called to generosity, we must balance it with healthy boundaries that provide accountability and allow people to experience the consequences of foolish actions. Enablement is not love.

Wisdom and Discernment are Necessary

As we have seen, Scripture does not promote one simplistic perspective on selfishness. In some contexts it strongly condemns looking out for yourself, while in others it recommends prudent boundaries. Striking the right balance requires wisdom and discernment.

Proverbs 11:22 captures this tension well: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” Even something inherently good (physical beauty) can become ugly when not paired with discretion, restraint, and wisdom regarding how to walk in God’s ways.

So pray regularly for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit. Study God’s Word to renew your mind. Listen humbly to faithful teachers of Scripture. Then make choices about appropriate selflessness and boundaries according to the guidance of the Spirit within you.

Let me leave you with this final exhortation from Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Stay close to Jesus, walk in the Spirit, renew your mind in truth – these habits will allow you to live wisely and generously, for God’s glory and the good of others.


In closing, I hope this comprehensive overview on what the Bible says about selfishness has been helpful. We explored five key principles:

  1. Extreme self-centeredness that rejects God is strongly warned against.
  2. Selfish ambition and strife have no place among followers of Jesus.
  3. We are called to look out for the interests and needs of others.
  4. Having healthy boundaries and looking out for your own needs is legitimate at times.
  5. Wisdom and discernment are needed to live generously while also setting Godly boundaries.

My prayer is that these biblical truths will empower you to live with open-handed generosity, while maintaining prudent safeguards against entitlement or abuse. As we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, seeking to exalt Him rather than ourselves, He will guide us on this narrow path.

By God’s grace, may we increasingly reflect the selfless, sacrificial love of our Savior – living not for ourselves, but for the glory of God and the eternal good of others.

Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.