"All Seek Their Own"
Having been a student of "human nature" for many years, I have often been both positively and negatively amazed at mankind. There is little that man cannot accomplish, given time, opportunity, and ability, as evidenced in every field, including religion. However, there is too often a darker side to mankind, that of excessive self-interest. A number of problems in organized religion, including churches of Christ, revolve around some preachers. I submit much of the trouble stemming from preachers is the result of selfishness on their part. I say this having been a preacher for approaching fifty years and having witnessed just about everything imaginable. Consider the language of Paul, the focal point of our study:
"19: But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. 20: For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21: For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phili. 2).
The explanatory expression, "…for all seek their own…" while not limited to preachers is an immediate reference to preachers. Does Paul mean to say that literally all Christians (general application) and preachers of his day were selfish and useless in the work of preaching the gospel? I think not (see addendum 1). Yet, for Paul to have used the numerically qualitative "all," many if not most of Paul’s fellow contemporaries must have been motivated out of such self-interest. Consider some comments by various commentators:
People's New Testament Commentary: "21. For all seek their own. Others, who were at hand, were more mindful of their own interests than of Christ's cause…."
The self-serving nature of many, even preachers, seems to not have changed during what is believed to have been Paul’s first incarceration (writing of Philippians) and his second and final imprisonment at Rome. Paul wrote thus to Timothy:
"16: At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge" (2 Tim. 4).
During the first confinement (Acts 28). some of these fellow preachers actually took advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to increase Paul’s affliction. "15: Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife," Paul explained, "…and some also of good will: 16: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds" (Phili. 1). "Seeking their own and not the things of Jesus Christ’s" continues today.
A failure to take a firm stand relative to issues in the church. There shall always be issues facing the current church, just as was the case with the First Century church (cp. Acts 15, etc.). However, many do not take a stand due to lack of knowledge or an understanding of the issue, but because they are more concerned with themselves, their "careers," "reputations," etc. In fact, based on my many debates covering a myriad of issues, I frankly believe selfishness is the number one reason for preachers and members not standing and being able to say as Paul, "I am set for the defense of the gospel" (Phili. 1: 7, 17).
Seeking one’s own precludes declaring the whole counsel of God. Again, I do not consider deficiency in knowledge to be the primary cause of men selectively preaching and some members only wanting to hear certain subjects, to the exclusion of others. The subjects they neglect are usually topics that have a potential of causing personal discomfort. Hence, they dance around these subjects, presenting the ones the people want to hear and even then only declaring bits and pieces of these. They cannot say as did Paul to the Ephesians, "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20: 27 cp. v. 26).
A preoccupation with self will not allow the time, work, and focus needed in preaching the gospel and living the life of the Christian. Let’s face it, sin is usually the result of wanting our own way. Many are pursuing the momentary physical pleasures of this life (cp. Heb. 11: 25). Demus who was once a faithful preacher and companion of Paul forsook Paul and the provided cause was, "…having loved this present world" (2 Tim. 4: 10). Not a few Christians and preachers (I do not mean to say that preachers are not Christians) end up in fornication and adultery due to their own selfish wants and uncontrolled lusts.
Prior to entering full time preaching many years ago I was asked to help a local church by temporarily filling their pulpit. I was then shortly requested to assist them relative to the preacher they had just released. He had committed adultery with one of the female members. As it turned out, he had a long history of adultery and each time his actions became known, he would move on to preach for another local church. They asked me if I thought they had any obligation in informing the church where he had just moved as to the facts of his dismissal. I said, "yes," but even as a young man, I warned them of possible repercussions. Sure enough, they were told to "mind your own business" by the elders of the church where he had moved. Several well known preachers rebuked me for offering such advice to the dismissing church and said that the matter was to be kept quiet. These men protected the womanizer and tried to destroy any who served as a threat to the adulterers exposure. The more I later learned, the more I realized that some of these preachers themselves had a history of adultery and "…seeking their own." (See addendum 2.)
Denominations and cliques among brethren. The various and conflicting extant denominations basically exist as a result of, "…all seeking their own…." One can see the mechanism and essential action of denominationalism in I Corinthians 1: 11-13. Most religions were begun out of some one wanting to have their own way, either doctrinally or morally. Cliques among brethren are too common and serve as a politically powerful impetus in churches of Christ, notwithstanding the denial of their existence. Cliques and special interest groups are observed in many local churches, constituting local power struggles. All such are the tangible expression of men, "seeking their own way." Even issues such as institutionalism concerning which some have taken the biblical position can and do simply become cliques. Truth is not promoted by these, in my example, but clique loyalty. Such a mentality competes with other cliques and social and political prominence becomes the goal (see addendum 3).
In closing, God is to be praised for providing us with a loftier goal than simply serving the baser desires of selfishness. Instead of seeking our own, which is the course of destruction and unhappiness, we can, "…seek…the things which are Jesus Christ’s." Such a pursuit makes us vastly better individuals. One might think that the verses that I have used for this material redound with pessimism. Not so! Notwithstanding the fact of so relatively few faithful men around Paul, notice in full what Paul wrote, particularly noticing the hope, certainty, and lack of bitterness that characterized his language:
"16: At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. 17: Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18: And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (2 Tim. 4).
Paul’s faith did not reside in man or even in himself. Since Paul’s faith was in God alone, he had a life of steadfastness without spiritual interruption or disappointment, loyal even in death (cp. 2 Tim. 4: 6-8). Alas, what Paul experienced is common today!
Addendum 1: Paul wrote Philippians and Colossians in the same general time frame and in the same circumstance, while in "prison" at Rome (Phili. 1: 13ff.; Col. 4: 10). There were others in this circumstance mentioned, others whom Paul viewed as spiritually reliable (cp. Col. 4: 9).
Addendum 2: Bible Truths was begun and continues with the promise of nothing but truth being taught in its pages without favoritism. The truth is, there is corruption in every religion. In pointing out such, I shall not overlook the Lord’s church. The church as it biblically exists is pure, both in teaching and morals (Rom. 16: 16). It is man in his disregard for all but himself who taints and makes the church unholy. Through the years, I have had many requests and even demands to remove negative references to preachers and imperfections in churches of Christ. I have refused. While I intend to continue to expose sin both without and within, I cannot say enough good in regard to faithful, dedicated men and local churches whose desire it is to only please and magnify God! May their tribe increase.
Addendum 3: Such clique loyalty is obvious when a group is only concerned about some issues to the utter refusal to deal with other pressing matters. They accept men into their group who hold and teach error on other matters. They control who conducts meetings where they preach based on the man’s position regarding "the issue" that represents their group and they play down blatant false doctrine or immoral conduct in other areas.