For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed – Titus 1:7.
Have you ever met a person who always has to have his own way? Whether it is a family matter, a church matter, or a business matter? This kind of person is seldom willing to give up his own desires for the sake of the group. And when he does succumb, he does so grudgingly. “Okay,” he says, “but it is not the best way to do it, or the best place to go, or the best idea.” Thayer describes this characteristic as self-pleasing and arrogant. In short, a self-willed man builds the world around himself. He is self-centered and wants to “do as he pleases” (Beck). A man who is not self-willed is “not stubborn,” translates Williams.
THE ULTIMATE EXTREME
The original word translated self-willed in Titus 1:7 is used in only one other place in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 2:10. Here it is used in a larger context – one rich in meaning. Peter is warning Christians against false teachers and how to recognize them. They “will follow their sensuality … and in their greed, they will exploit you with false words” (2 Pet. 2:2-3). They “despise authority.” They will be “daring” and “self-willed” (2 Pet. 2:10). Their hearts are “trained in greed” (2 Pet. 2:14), and they speak out “arrogant words of vanity” (2 Pet. 2:18).
The profile is clear. The self-willed man is a self-centered man. He is his own authority. And he is greedy and vain.
“But,” you say, as you breathe a sigh of relief, “that certainly doesn’t describe me!”
I hope not, for this is “self-centeredness” carried to the ultimate extreme. This describes the type of self-centered and self-willed behavior in Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Pet. 2:6). And it describes the stubborn conduct of a Balaam “who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:15).
A MORE SUBTLE FORM
But there are ways to be “self-willed” – yes, as a Christian – that are far less glaring and flagrant. But it’s sinful behavior just the same, and certainly a mark of immaturity, both spiritually and psychologically.
For example, Jim has a wife and four children. Talk to them and they will tell you he is a self-willed man. Sure, he is a Christian, and he even gets his family to church every Sunday, and on time. And he has family devotions at least every other day. And he tries to be a good provider! But his wife and children will tell you he runs his home like a dictator (at least he thinks he does). He makes all the decisions. They have very little choice or say about anything. (But, of course, they have all discovered ways to circumvent him when he is gone in order to do their own thing.)
Or take Sam. He is on the church board, supposedly to be an elder. Ninety percent of the time he is the only one against an idea. He always votes “no” if the others vote “yes.” And the other 10 percent of the time that he is in agreement is when he initiated the idea.
And then there’s Jack. He works in a local factory. His nickname behind his back is “Mr. Arrogant.” “He thinks he’s never wrong!” say his fellow employees. “And he will never admit he has made a mistake,” reports his boss, “even when everybody else knows he has.” And most tragic, of course, he tries to share his faith!
There are reasons for this kind of behavior. First, some people have just learned to be self-centered and self-willed. They are spoiled and conceited. They were overindulged as children. They always had their own way, and they still want their own way even at 65!
A person who develops these personality traits outside of the context of Christian ethics is a candidate for sensual and selfish living that defies description. But a person who develops these traits within the context of Christianity often lives a life of “pious behavior” in certain realms, but turns into a very selfish and self-centered person just the same. And frequently he rationalizes his behavior on some biblical grounds which has been ripped out of context. In a spiritual leadership role, he often becomes one who shepherds the flock of God “under compulsion,” “for sordid gain,” and constantly dominates and lords it over “those allotted to his charge” (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
But second, there is another basic reason why some people become extremely self-willed. It is much more difficult to understand and sometimes hard to detect even by the person himself. When talking openly about the problem, a person may blurt out, “I really don’t know why I am so negative!” Or “I really don’t understand my selfishness!”
This type of self-willed behavior is frequently related to early childhood. Between ages two and three a child goes through a natural self-will phase. It is a normal phase in every child’s life, a time when he moves from extreme dependency to independence. It is biological as well as psychological. He begins to learn to control the world around him, including people.
Some people desperately misunderstand this phase of child behavior. They immediately become fearful that their child is suddenly becoming overly strong-willed. They envision a child who will grow up trying to control others the rest of his life. Rather than seeing this natural bent as one of God’s greatest gifts to the child that needs to be channeled and directed, their attack is to try to “break” the child’s will. Unfortunately, they only end up crushing it, causing the child to repress strong, aggressive feelings. Often these emotions are buried deep within the child, and periodically try to emerge but again are repressed.
Tragically, this unfortunate approach often produces the opposite effect of what parents had in mind. Rather than overcoming the self-willed syndrome, which automatically happens at about age three or four when the will is naturally channeled, the child instead grows into a strongly self-willed person, also, as an adult. This kind of person honestly has difficulty understanding why he is so self-centered and hard to get along with. But it is relatively easy to understand when you understand the psychological roots. Unfortunately, it is not as easy to overcome the problem.
TO SUM UP
A strong self-will, generally speaking, can come from two sources. First, we may be overindulged, pampered and spoiled. We have been given too much freedom and too many bad examples. As a Christian or as a non-Christian, this kind of experience can produce selfishness and self-centered behavior.
Second, rather than there being too much freedom, we may have been overly restricted and repressed. Our natural self-will phase was never culminated, leading naturally to more cooperative traits. And to this day we are still trying to get through this phase of learning to control the world, but never achieving our goal. Deep-rooted feelings of resentment and bitterness may still be controlling us, getting us into trouble with others around us with every degree of regularity.
But whatever the source – whether spiritual or psychological – we are not mature Christians when we are self-willed. We need to face ourselves realistically and, by God’s grace, overcome the problem.
A PERSONAL PROJECT
This personal project is designed to help you overcome self-centered and self-willed behavior.
Develop a proper perspective on self-will. A “strong will” is not necessarily the same as “self-will,” as Paul uses the term. Will power is one of the greatest possessions you have. But a spiritually and psychologically mature Christian does not use his will power to dominate and crush others. He is also able to maintain a balance between being strong willed and humble. The apostle Paul himself was certainly this kind of man.
If “self-will” is a problem for you, and to a certain extent it is a problem for all Christians, attempt to isolate the cause. Is it because of overindulgence, or is it because of being overly restricted?
Clue: A person who is self-willed because of overindulgence and the development of bad habits can usually isolate the problem rather quickly. He knows what his problem is.
On the other hand, a person who is self-willed because of being overly restricted or repressed, frequently has difficulty isolating the problem. This is because the behavior stems primarily from unconscious motivations.
Proceed to solve your problem. If you are self-willed because you’ve always been allowed to get your own way, then stop acting that way! It is really that simple. Allow Jesus Christ to control you. Study the Word of God. Find out what the Bible says about being a gracious, loving and unselfish Christian and then start loving people. Stop using them for your own ends. Allow the Holy Spirit through the Word of God to produce His fruit in your life.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (Gal. 5:22-26).
However, if your problem has psychological roots that are difficult to understand, you may need some professional help from a competent Christian counselor. You may need someone who can help you understand why the problem exists, and then help you to set up goals for overcoming the problem.
Warning: Frequently people who have problems of this nature tend to rationalize their behavior once they understand why and continue to live irresponsible lives; going on in their sin, while at the same time blaming someone else for creating their problems.
via Campus Christians
Listen to more Christian articles in audio. Look for the icon.