Self-centered behavior is the most destructive influence upon interpersonal relationships imaginable. It eliminates concern for the other person’s welfare and sucks the life out of any meaningful communication. It is the first sin of the universe, when Adam and Eve chose themselves over God, and it tops the list of sins that God hates (“pride”—Proverbs 6:16). Self-love is the cesspool out of which oozes every other perversion of the human heart, for ultimately everyone and everything else becomes expendable in the pursuit of its insatiable lust. Yet the thing that is most exalted in our society is the “self.” Self fulfillment, self-determinism, and self-image are highly regarded as the essence of life by our hedonistic culture.
The breakdown of our society is usually blamed on other things (too much drugs, too many guns, right wing fundamentalists, etc.), but those who can see beyond their animal instincts recognize that the real culprit is the self-centered, egomaniacal, prideful condition of the human heart left unchecked by the moral laws of God. Relax the moral restraints on the depraved nature of man and it will seek its own narcissistic level—every time!
Paul warned Timothy that the “last days” culture would be characterized by peril due to the loss of moral integrity (2 Timothy 3). The list of eighteen sordid dehumanizing attributes of this culture begins with “for men shall be lovers of their own selves” (2 Timothy 3:2). Actually, “lovers of their own selves” is one word in the Greek text—philautos. This compound word is built around the intensive pronoun autos which means “self,” and is translated variously—himself, herself, ourselves, themselves. This word has invaded our English vocabulary in a multitude of compound words—autograph, autobiography, automobile, autocratic, automatic, etc. In all of these words, the idea of “self” or “by itself” is dominant. For instance, “autobiography” is the biography of oneself—and, “automobile” is the idea of being mobile by itself.
Now in the Greek word philautos, the additional word philos is added to the notion of oneself (autos). Philos is the common Greek word for love and signifies the kind of love that comes from the emotions of the heart. When we are attracted to something or feel emotionally drawn to someone, we are experiencing philos. Basically, philos is what turns us on. Therefore, when added to the word autos, this compound word indicates that the thing which turns us on is ourselves—philautos. This, the Apostle Paul says, will be the most defining element of the last days culture—people will be “lovers of their own selves” (philautos). More than anything else, this is the reason we are seeing a major decline in goodness and a drastic increase in badness. People are acting selfishly. They are putting their own interests ahead of the needs and concerns of others.
When a young man pulls the trigger and kills his school mates, that person is acting in a philautos manner. When someone steals from someone else, that is a philautos act. Likewise, when a man leaves his wife and family for other interests, he demonstrates that he is a philautos individual. Even little things that we do every day in putting our own interests ahead of others, or in contrast to God’s desire for our lives, indicates that there is a large measure of philautos in all of us.
According to the Bible, self-love is the most degrading thing about us—and the only antidote is to confess our sin to God, claim forgiveness through faith in Christ as our Savior, and pray that the Holy Spirit will put within us a giving, sacrificial spirit.
There is another Greek word for “self” in the Bible. It is the word idios— which means “one’s own, peculiar to oneself.” We see it in our English word idiosyncrasy and idiomatic—and it is where we get the word “idiot,” or a person who is consumed with himself. So in the final analysis, I guess we can say that the person who is characterized by philautos (lover of self) is really the ultimate IDIOT. ■