Unholy Lovers: The Elevation of Self (Part 2)
There are many today who promote the philosophy that all love is good. As long as there is love, that is good. As long two persons love each other, their relationship is to be supported. As long as there is love, it justifies the actions. Yet that is not how God views it. For God is clear on what love ought to be. A love that is meant to be holy. Love is not some mushy sensibility. Love is not just couched within a set of good intentions.
For God is clear on what love ought to be. A love that is meant to be holy.
In this blog article series, we examine several unholy lovers based on 2 Tim 3:1-5. In Part 1 we showed the dangers of an unhealthy, unbalanced self-love. A self-love that is not anchored upon a love for God will eventually lead to self-centredness and self-indulgence. Christians are not immune to such distortions. Indeed, often we carry this in from the world and from our carnality. Instead, we ought to be aware of its insidious nature and actively weed it out from our own hearts.
In Part 2 we continue to examine one more aspect of unholy love.
In 2 Tim 3:4-5 it makes clear that an unholy lover is characterised by “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.” In effect, these attitudes lead to self-enthronement, the lifting of self above God. How is this so? In the following, let’s unpack some key thoughts.
They are not lovers of God
In v4 it is made clear that they are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” These are not truly interested in seeking after God. Though on the outside they may appear so. The primary reason why they do not truly seek God is because of their self-centredness. What seems to be the seeking of God externally is actually the seeking of self. They will seek whatever of God as long as it furthers their self-interest. Titus 1:16 (NIV) They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
Saul was prime example of someone who wanted the appearance of seeking God, while actually enthroning himself. When Saul won a battle, he set up a monument to himself, rather than God 1 Samuel 15:12 (NIV) Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” When the prophet Samuel corrected Saul for disobeying God, Saul was more concerned about the “worship of the people” than the correction of the Lord. Instead of repenting, he asked Samuel to worship with him in front of the people. 1 Samuel 15:30 (NIV) Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.”
Sometimes we may declare that we want to leave a legacy for Christ but in reality, we want to leave a legacy of ourselves.
Sometimes we may declare that we want to leave a legacy for Christ but in reality, we want to leave a legacy of ourselves. Such as a minister who wants to build their own ministry rather than helping others be what God has called them to be. Sometimes we fail to see our own self ambition. We see ourselves as serving God, but we are really only asking God to bless our ambition! Many times, some might say “I want to be a famous singer for God” what do they mean “for God”? What does the businessman mean when he says he wants to make millions of dollars “for God”?
Timothy Keller in his book “The Prodigal Son” told this story. Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, “My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as he turned to go the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.” And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing. But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this. And he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?” So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.”
Beware lest we be like the nobleman. We may rationalise that we are lovers of God when in reality we love ourselves more. When we are lovers of self in that way, we provide the foundations for the next phase.
Enthroning of self
V5 states that such lovers of self were “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” In the specific context of the 2 Timothy epistle, what these unholy lovers are seeking to achieve is the appearance that they are godly, that they can speak on behalf of God, that they know what God wants. Yet they deny the power of the true God. In fact, they sought to make God in their own image. They have effectively sidelined the one true God and replaced it with the god of their preference. The have denied the life-giving power of God’s message and replaced it with a shallow imitation.
They sought to make God in their own image. They have effectively sidelined the one true God and replaced it with the god of their preference.
When god is me, we can make our own rules to suit our self-centredness. Legalistic and licentious people either swerve to formulas or indulging in pleasures. However, both of these types replace true intimacy with God with the poor substitute of self worship.
When god is me, we can make our own rules to suit our self-centredness.
During Jesus’ time, the teachers of the law and Pharisees studied the scriptures diligently and appeared to have a form of godliness. They would memorise scriptures. Some even memorised all the books of Moses! Yet they missed the author of the scriptures – Jesus. Even crucifying Him in order to protect their own image in the eyes of the people.
Even today some people can criticise genuine servants of God to build up their own reputation or promote their own theology. I did an experiment once to see if I could find a well-known preacher or minister who escaped criticism. There is always some author or blogger with a critical attitude seeking to dis-credit them in an effort to prove themselves more correct.
No one can exalt himself and God at the same time!
It can be very dangerous when we get an overly inflated sense of our self-worth. When we start exalting ourselves, we start to lose our heart for God. No one can exalt himself and God at the same time!
Let me illustrate from a well-known movie, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. It follows the journey of Anakin Skywalker as he slides down the path to the Dark Side. Anakin, an incredibly talented Jedi Knight in training, chafes at the restraints placed on him and tests authority at every turn. Early in the movie, Anakin enters the lavish chambers of the gentle Senator Palpatine, who is actually the Dark Lord in disguise. His insidious whispers are all too familiar: "You don't need guidance, Anakin. In time you will learn to trust your feelings—then you will be invincible. I have said it many times that you are the most gifted Jedi I have ever met. I see you becoming the greatest of all the Jedi, even more powerful than Master Yoda."
The senator's seemingly encouraging words take root in Anakin's heart, and he yearns to become the greatest Jedi ever. Later, as Anakin was brooding over his mother's death. His girlfriend, Padme, comes and graciously confronts him. For the first time, he shows his true heart.
Anakin: "Why did she have to die? Why couldn't I save her? I know I could have."
Padme: "You're not all powerful, Anakin."
Anakin: "Well I should be! Someday I will be. I will be the most powerful Jedi ever. I promise you."
Self-enthronement leads to God-dethronement.
Unwilling to surrender the things he values most, Anakin chose the path of self-enthronement. Consequently, Anakin gradually descent into the Dark Side. The Devil can fool us by encouraging us to imagine that we can be the best judge for our own actions. That we can be gods to ourselves. Self-enthronement leads to God-dethronement.
The Scriptures exhort us to avoid such unholy lovers, and those who propagate it (v5b), “Have nothing to do with such people”. To keep out of their influence. For not only have they gradually brought themselves out of the Kingdom, they will drag others away from the Kingdom as well. This is not referring to non-believers in general but about those who claim to know God, having a form of godliness yet in reality unholy lovers of themselves. Let us never fall into the trap of self-enthronement.
We live in terrible times. We see evidence of many unholy lovers in the world today. For they do not know better. They have not been impacted by the Good News. They have yet to become aware of the destructive self-centredness they are in. That is why we must pray for them, reach out to them.
At the same time, we must pray for ourselves. That we do not remain self-centred nor become so. That we will not fall into the trap of self-indulgence. That we will not elevate our self-love above our love for God. Instead, that we will love God most. That we will ask God for His help to grow in a holy love.
Copyright©️2023 by Wilson Lim. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.