‘But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy’, 2 Tim. 3. 1, 2 NKJV.

It is a dangerous time to be a Christian in many parts of the world today. A knock at the door or news of an approaching convoy of trucks can be the precursor of torture and death for those who confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of Christians in the world live with the threat of violent persecution.

For Christians in the West our spiritual warfare involves a method of attack that is subtler than for those who live in parts of Africa, North Korea, or the Middle East. The biggest threat that we face is not violence from religious extremists, or even the spiralling moral decline of our society. Paul identified the greatest peril we face when he told Timothy that dangerous times would come when men would be lovers of themselves. This danger lies dormant within us all, and is fanned to a furnace by a world shaped by Satan, who is the master of temptation.

Paul identifies the menace of selfish, egotistical idolatry, and its manifestations in pride, covetousness, ingratitude, rebellion against parents, and a lack of holiness. The nurturing, or acceptance, of this character in any Christian is dangerous for them, and for anyone in a relationship with them.

When Paul speaks about being lovers of themselves as being a bad thing, he is contradicting the current ethos of our world. We constantly hear that unhappiness comes from low self-esteem. We are taught that we need to be proud of ourselves to be happy; that we should think highly of ourselves and realize that in our own way we are special and wonderful. The problem is that when we are in love with ourselves it is hard to form meaningful relationships. The only agenda you have is yourself, and your happiness, which the Bible identifies as sin and selfishness. It sounds like ‘I am offended, I am hurt, you didn’t do this for me. How dare you speak to me like that? You don’t respect me. I am not going to accept that’. It is all ‘me, myself and I’.

If I love myself, then I will be indignant if others do not love me as much as I love myself. Others do not value me as much as I think they should. Others do not treat me as well as I think I should be treated. I measure everything in terms of me. I live for myself, my own agenda, my own goals, my own plans, my own achievements, my own success, my own enterprises and that just devastates relationships.

Self-will was at the root of Satan’s downfall before he brought his conflict with God into the Garden of Eden. Isaiah refers to the fall of Lucifer (Satan), and records the thoughts of his heart as he rebelled against God.

‘How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’, Isa. 14. 12-14.

When Satan approached Eve, he focused her thoughts on herself. ‘Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”’, Gen. 3. 4-5.

When Adam was confronted with his sin, his first thoughts were not about the Lord, or the impact of his conduct on anyone other than himself. He was only interested in self-preservation. ‘So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself”’, Gen. 3. 10.

The unfolding story of humanity is punctuated by selfishness manifested in different ways. For example, Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself, Dan. 4. 28-33; Ahab felt sorry for himself, and displayed childish self-pity, 1 Kgs. 21. 1-4; Abraham was more interested in self-preservation than the purity of his wife, Gen. 12. 10-13. These are just a few examples of many.

In stark contrast to the Lord Jesus, the disciples displayed blatant self-interest as they walked towards Jerusalem. He was going to die for others and all they could think to argue about was who was going to be the greatest among them, Mark 9. 33-34. Self-interest makes us lose perspective on what is actually important, to the extent that we are out of step with the Lord.

It is a dangerous time to be a Christian.

We are our own worst enemy.