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Adam Tarnow teaches us about the negative equity game of selfishness. We think selfishness will give to us—we think we can win—but in the end, it only takes. All of us struggle with selfishness. Using Matthew 20:1-28, Adam shows us three things selfishness robs us of: contentment, empathy, and true greatness.
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Adam Tarnow teaches us about the negative equity game of selfishness. We think selfishness will give to us—we think we can win—but in the end, it only takes. All of us struggle with selfishness. Using Matthew 20: 1-28, Adam shows us three things selfishness robs us of: contentment, empathy, and true greatness.
Selfishness Robs Us of Contentment
Selfishness leads us to being discontent; it’s a negative equity game, it always robs from us. People who always seem grateful and happy are less selfish because their perspective—what they focus on—is on what they have.
Selfishness Robs Us of Empathy
Empathy is the ability to change your perspective and put it on someone else. When we are being selfish and we are robbed of empathy, it makes us:
Empathy is required if we are going to love people
Selfishness Robs Us of True Greatness
True greatness doesn’t come from being the best, it comes from giving the most. Leadership is taking initiative for the benefit of others.
Hello, Watermark! My name is Adam Tarnow. I'm excited to be with you guys here this morning. I'll start off with a quick question. Does anybody in here like gambling? Some of the guests right now are like, "What kind of church did you invite me to?" It's all right. Todd is not here. Y'all can answer honestly if you want to.
I am not necessarily a fan of gambling, but I did, about 15 years ago, make it to Las Vegas for the very first time. My family and I decided to go out there for Christmas, because nothing much really celebrates the season of Christmas like the bright lights and the casinos of Las Vegas. So we went out there.
I've been fascinated by Vegas for a long time. I don't know why. I probably one night just flipping through the channels saw a National Geographic special on Vegas and all the security systems that go there and just all the inner workings of the casino. I loved Oceans Eleven (the first one). You know, that was a great film.
I was prepared for what it was going to be like when I went out there to view that casino. When I showed up and walked into the casino, I knew they played some tricks on you because they want you to stay focused on the bright lights and the glitz of the casino. I knew when I walked in to one of those hotels that the carpet was going to be disgusting and nasty because they don't want you to look down. I knew the ceiling was going to be non-descript and just this black so you wouldn't be looking up.
I knew there were going to be no windows in the casino because they don't want you to know what time of day it is. I knew there were going to be no clocks in there because they don't want you to know what time of day it was. I walked in there and was just mesmerized by all of it. I got to try a little bit of everything. I tried the roulette, played a little bit of blackjack. I watched the craps table, and I'm suspicious of anybody who really seems to understand that game. I kind of watched that whole thing go down and cheered when other people cheered.
The biggest temptation for me was these things: the slot machines. Now they didn't look like this one. This was one we had to rent from a place here in Dallas, but the slot machines, nonetheless, were really mesmerizing to me because they're full of bright lights, and they make these amazing promises about like a billion dollar jackpot or something like that. They have all these noises, these bells and whistles. The sound of quarters hitting the metal every once in a while is amazing. That's where I spent most of my time.
In my couple of days there over Christmas, I lost all my gambling money at the slot machines. I lost it all! I came away with nothing. Now a couple of years later, I was reading something about all the different games that are there at casinos, and I realized there is an industry term for the slot machines. The slot machines are called a "negative equity game." That's what they're called, which is a really fancy way of saying, "These things are designed to take your money." That is the way the slot machines are designed.
So some of the other games out there in a casino, there may be some skill. Like if you go play poker, maybe you say there's some skill there or blackjack or the roulette wheel. There may be some luck. If we opened up this slot machine, what you would see in there is a bunch of wires because they're computer-rigged. They are rigged to take your money. They are a negative equity game, meaning the more you put into a slot machine, the more it will ultimately take from you.
I know what some of you are thinking. "What about those jackpots?" Yes, every once in a while there is a jackpot, but let's be really honest. That jackpot isn't a jackpot. It is really just taking the losses of everybody else, and they just give it to you, say, "Here. You can have everybody else's loss." The casinos are still making out with a huge profit off of these things. It's a negative equity game. The more you play it, the more it takes from you. It's impossible to make money when you play slots. You'll always lose.
I start with that this morning because I think there's another game like that in our lives. In fact, this is a game all of us play. I bet some of you have played this game this week. I bet some of you have played this game today. I bet some of you are playing this game right now, potentially. This game actually is similar to slots, but I can maybe even make the argument it's worse than the slot machines because this game every single one of us is tempted to play, has played this week, played today, may be playing right now, never has a jackpot.
It promises there's a jackpot. It promises it's going to give us something, but it is just like the slot machines. It is a negative equity game. The more you try to play this game, the more this game takes from you. What is this game? This game is this. It's selfishness, being selfish. When I say selfishness, here is basically what I mean.
I mean you are primarily concerned with you, your desires, your wishes, your life. It is this thing that is in all of us that tries to manipulate our life or control our life to get everything circled around us. We just want our way. Everybody in here struggles with selfishness. It is a game all of us play, and the more we play it, the more we lose. It never gives back. It never gives back anything.
In case you're sitting in here and you're like, "Oh, I don't know, Adam. I don't know if I struggle with selfishness. I mean, I think I know some selfish people, but I don't know if I struggle with selfishness," let me just prove to you this is a struggle for all of us. Every single one of us every day wakes up, and we have in our mind the way we want that day to go. We want our day to go a certain way, and every single one of us gets frustrated if we don't get our way.
We get frustrated because we're selfish. We get frustrated if there are interruptions to this plan we have because we are selfish. We get frustrated when we have to put our attention or our focus on other people because we struggle with selfishness. We get frustrated when we have to compromise. We all struggle with sharing. We struggle with being generous. We are all easily offended. We all want the conversation and the focus to be on us, because we all struggle with selfishness.
What we're going to see this morning is that game always takes. It's a negative equity game. It never gives anything. What we're going to do this morning is we're going to be in Matthew, chapter 20. We're going to cover that whole chapter this morning. We're just going to kind of snorkel over it. We're not going to do a deep scuba dive and go look at all the details of Matthew, chapter 20, but we're going to go through and look at all of it.
When we look at it, at first glance, it's going to seem like there are three different things going on in this chapter, but I think hopefully I can make the argument that I believe Matthew really recorded these three things we're going to look at on purpose. There's a reason why they're all together.
What we're going to see first is a parable. A parable is a story Jesus made up to make a point. We're going to look at a parable. We're going to then look at a conversation. We're going to eavesdrop into a conversation Jesus had with some of his followers. Then we're going to wrap it up with some teaching Jesus had after that conversation. We're going to look at a parable, a conversation, and some teaching. What we're going to see is selfishness robs us of something. It always takes from us. It never gives, because it's a negative equity game.
If you have your Bibles, here we go. Matthew, chapter 20. Let's jump in first to this parable. This is the story Jesus is telling. Here he goes. He says in verse 1: "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
About nine in the morning…" A couple of hours later. "…he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing." He found those workers, said, "You go in my vineyard, and I'll pay you whatever is right."
"About five in the afternoon…" Toward the end of the day. "…he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'" He lined them all up. He had the five o'clock workers over here, and the ones who started early in the morning were maybe over there.
"The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'
But he answered one of them, 'I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Now let's be really clear here. The point of this parable, what Jesus is teaching about in this parable, is he is teaching about salvation. That's what he is teaching about. He is letting everybody know who was listening to this that anybody who follows after God, you are a 5:00 p.m. worker. You are not one of the 7:00 a.m. workers.
If you're in here this morning and you haven't been in church in a while, you don't know who Jesus is, or you're exploring the faith, and you think we can come in here… We sing about this resurrected King, and we're trying to love people and engage with people. You hear about what we're trying to do to serve the city.
If you think we're in here, singing, and trying to serve and love others because we're 7:00 a.m. workers and we've shown up, we've always been following after God, and we're somehow earning our way to God, you could not be more wrong. That is not why we're in here singing. We're in here singing because we understand God, like that landowner, has been incredibly gracious with us. He has given us something we do not deserve, something we could not earn.
He has forgiven our sins. He has forgiven our sins, and he has given us eternal life. He put Jesus on the cross to die for us. This parable is a reminder that all of us who claim to follow after God, all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, we're like the 5:00 p.m. workers. We've been given something we do not deserve.
That's the point of this parable, but there is also a principle in here. There's a principle in here that I think reminds us something about selfishness. The principle is this, and it's the first point I want to make out of this chapter this morning.
1._ Selfishness robs us of contentment_. Selfishness robs us of contentment! What we see is the workers were okay and they were content until the money came out. Once they were all lined up and the owner started to pay the workers, that's when everything got out of whack. That's when the selfishness of those who started early in the morning kicked in. Their selfishness kicked in, and they started to grumble. They felt entitled to more.
When they saw the 5:00 p.m. workers were paid the exact same amount they were paid, they felt like that was unfair. They had thought about the way they wanted their day to go. They had become entitled. They started to compare. They started to compare what they got to what the others got, and it led to them being discontent, because that's what selfishness does. It robs you of contentment.
Let me illustrate it this way. Just a source of discontentment that's going on in my life right now is my garage at home. My wife and I have a home up in Richardson, a suburb just north of here in Dallas. We've been living in this home about eight or nine years. It's a home that was built back in the 50s. It's an older home, and I believe this garage was original with the home.
Anyway, if you walk out into the garage, I just see everything that's wrong with my garage. The first thing I see when I walk into my garage is a floor where the concrete is just cracked. It's all uneven. There's just a whole bunch of dirt, debris, and all kinds of stuff in the crack of that floor. I see drywall that's falling down. I see wet spots where the roof used to leak all in the drywall right now.
Because the floor is all cracked, my garage door won't shut very well. It doesn't create a seal. So every time we have these torrential rains like we've had over the past few weeks, my garage floods. My garage floods! I just see everything that is wrong with my garage every time I walk out in there. My selfishness kicks in every time I walk out there because honestly I feel entitled to have a perfect garage. I just do! I feel entitled to have that.
I mean, I walk out there, and I just feel like such a victim, like, "Why, Lord? Why do I have the garage with the broken floor and the falling down drywall? Why me?" Then I turn on the television, and I see HGTV (30 minutes of television that makes you hate your life). I see these garages that are like clean where you could basically do surgery in them. I'm like, "I deserve that!" I walk over to my friend's house, and I see their garage. They have their shelves, you know? They can put stuff anywhere because their garage doesn't flood.
I feel entitled to that. Because I feel entitled, I start to compare. When I start to compare, I focus on what I don't have. Every time I walk into my garage every morning, I just feel judged by my garage because I'm looking at what I don't have. I don't have a flat floor, and I don't have drywall. It floods. I can't put stuff everywhere I want. So I am discontent. My selfishness is robbing me of contentment.
There's another perspective, though, I could have when I walk out in my garage every day. Sometimes I'll go there, but I don't like going there because honestly it feels better to be selfish and discontent than it does to have this other perspective. I could walk into my garage. There's a whole other perspective. I could walk into my garage, and I could look at the vehicle that's there in the garage. I could say, "This is amazing," because I have a home for my car.
There are people in this city and there are people around the world who do not have a home, and I have a home for my car. That's another perspective I could have. In fact (I don't mean to brag right now), I actually have two cars. One of them is homeless. I can't fit it in the garage. It's out in front of the house.
The reason why the other car I have is homeless is I have more tennis rackets, baseball bats, basketballs, bikes, scooters… I have more sports gear than I have humans living in my house, and it takes up all of that part of the garage. Because I have so much sports gear and I have so many bikes, it's all there. I can't even park that other car in the garage.
I could look at it differently. I could start to focus on what I have and how amazing it is that I have two vehicles, how amazing it is I have a garage that works with a door, how amazing it is I have a secure home. I could look at it that way and focus on what I have. When we do that (when we change our perspective, we get it off what we don't have, and we start to focus on what we have), it's amazing what happens to our hearts because we start to become filled with gratitude.
Do you know what? Yeah, it's not perfect, but it's not that bad. It's not that bad! But when we selfishly start to only focus on what we don't have, then we're robbed of contentment because selfishness is a negative equity game. It always takes from you. It always takes!
Have you guys ever been around those people who are wildly optimistic and always in a really good mood? They like whistle a lot. You're going to walk into work maybe tomorrow morning on a Monday, and you're going to see this person. I think we have all these people around our office. They're just always excited. They wake up in the morning. They exercise. They eat fiber.
When they see you, they're just pumped. They're like, "Jeff! You're here! Man, you have a shirt on again, and your shoes are tied. You're going to win the day, man!" We've been around these people. They're just happy. They're just happy! Do you know what's amazing about these wildly optimistic, happy people? It's they also have another thing. They also seem to be less selfish, don't they? They seem to be less selfish.
I mean, they're living the same life basically we are. They're working in the same offices. They live in the same city. They're reading the same news headlines, live in the same neighborhoods. They have the same friends. They're in the same Community Group. They're going through life just like we're going through life, but they're looking at life a little bit differently.
They're not only focused on the broken garage floor or the drywall that's falling down. They're focusing on the vehicle they have, and they're focusing on what they do have. They just feel like they've struck gold. They feel like they've won the lottery. They feel like they've hit the jackpot. Their hearts are filled with gratitude because they're focused on what they have and not focused on what they don't have because they know selfishness is that negative equity game.
It always robs from us. It makes us feel entitled, and that entitlement makes us compare. Then we get envious. Then we're not satisfied. So selfishness robs us of contentment. That's not it. Let's move on. Let's keep looking. Let's go now. That was the parable. This is going to seem again like it's not connected, but I think Matthew recorded all this for a reason. I think there's this theme of selfishness and what it takes from us going through here.
Now let's look at this conversation. Jesus just got done with that parable, and now he is going to have a conversation with his disciples. He is going to have a conversation with his friends, his students, the men who he is trying to teach and who he is ultimately going to give authority to to lead what ultimately became the church. Here we go in verse 17.
"Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 'We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.'" The Son of Man is Jesus. He's basically saying that's what's going to happen to him. "I'm going up to Jerusalem, and I'm going to be handed over." "They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!"
Jesus has this conversation. He says, "Where we're going right now is not going to go well." This is a dramatic, emotional conversation. This is not great news Jesus is sharing with them, saying, "We're going up here, and it's about to get hard. I'm going somewhere, and I'm going to be severely mistreated."
This is kind of a big moment, an emotional moment, a moment where Jesus needs his friends to focus on him and to comfort him because he may be anxious. He may be concerned about what's happening. How did his friends react? Not well. Look at this. "Then the mother…" Note that. "Then the mother of Zebedee's sons…" So James and John.
We know in Matthew, chapter 4, James and John are Zebedee's sons. "Then the mother of [James and John] came to Jesus with her sons…" James and John were with her. "…kneeling down…" We're going to see the reason she knelt down is the other disciples were around. She had something kind of secret, a question she wanted to ask Jesus, and she didn't want the others to hear it.
She knelt down to get close, because she had a favor she wanted to ask of him. She thought now would be the perfect time to ask Jesus for a favor. Here's what she said. Verse 21: "'What is it you want?' he asked. She said, 'Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.' 'You don't know what you are asking,' Jesus said to them. 'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?'" Basically, Jesus is saying here, "Can you handle the hardship I'm about ready to go through?"
Well, now James and John have chimed in. They think, "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We can! We can! We can do this." "Jesus said to them, 'You will indeed drink from my cup…'""You're going to go through this hardship." "…but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." Then look at this in verse 24. "When the ten heard about this…" So obviously they weren't really quiet, because the other disciples heard about this. "…they were indignant with the two brothers."
I would like to think the reason they were so frustrated was they knew, "This is not great timing, James and John. This is not great timing, Mom." This is the first recording ever maybe of a helicopter parent coming in and trying to make sure her sons were going to be having these seats. The other 10 were frustrated, and the reason they were probably frustrated is James and John were calling shotgun. They did not think it was fair.
They were saying, "We want to sit right over there. That's what we want." They were frustrated with them. In this dramatic moment, Jesus was going through, one of the worst-timed conversations, questions, and requests for a favor ever happened. The reason why it happened this way is James, John, and the other disciples were like us. They're selfish. They're selfish! Here's the other thing selfishness robs from us.
2._ Selfishness robs us of empathy_. It robs us of empathy, because if James, John, their mom, and the other disciples were empathetic toward Jesus, they would have recognized, "Hey, he is talking about something that's really serious right now. Maybe we should take the focus off of us. Maybe we should shift the perspective off of what we're going through and put it on to Jesus and talk to him."
But they didn't because they're selfish. They were playing the game. It robbed from them empathy. What I mean by empathy is this. Empathy is that ability of us to shift our perspective, take it off ourselves, put it on other people, to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and look at life through their eyes and to try to imagine what it's like to feel what they feel as they are going through life. That's what empathy is. Empathy is the ability to do that.
My lack of empathy is why when my sons (I have a third grader and a first grader) get hurt, they go run to my wife. They don't come running to me. They go to my wife because she is full of empathy. She recognizes when they've fallen down and hurt themselves that that must hurt. So she comforts them. She takes the perspective off of herself and she puts it on them.
To me, when my sons get hurt, it's an annoyance. It's an interruption to my day. I'm organizing the garage, because I can't put everything everywhere, because it floods, and they're interrupting that. I'm selfish, and it robs me of empathy. There is a cost to our selfishness, and it robs us of empathy. It robs us of contentment. When you and I are not empathetic with other people, here's what it does. Here's the cost. It makes us incredibly marginal friends. Really marginal friends!
If you guys are like me, sometimes I feel like in my selfishness, I am a great friend to people who are doing really, really well in life right now. When their life is going well, they're funny, they're easy to be around, they're buying my lunch, and they have no drama, I am the greatest friend to somebody whose life is going well right now.
But when my friends start to need something, that's when my selfishness kicks in. That's when I start playing that game again. "I don't want to be interrupted. This takes work. I don't want to take the focus off of myself and put it on somebody else." If we are not empathetic, then that makes us marginal friends.
It makes us mediocre spouses (those of us in the room today who are married). Because if we're not empathetic, then we think the problem with our marriage is our spouse. We think our marriage will get better when our spouse changes. We just view everything from our perspective. We think we're right about everything. We're just waiting for them to change. It makes us marginal friends, and it makes us a mediocre spouse.
Do you know what else it does? It makes us mildly awkward. It makes us awkward because what it does is if we lack empathy and if we can't take the focus off of ourselves, if we're selfish, what it does is it makes us conversation robbers. We just take every conversation, and we turn it toward ourselves, or we take whatever situation we're going through, and we think it's the worst.
I mean, this probably happened yesterday. You all woke up. Some of you maybe put it out on social media. Some of you were talking to your friends of just like, "Oh no! My bracket is busted because Virginia lost." Right? Ninety-nine percent of the country picked Virginia to win that game. You are not alone, okay?
Everybody's bracket was busted, but in our selfishness, we're only looking at our bracket. That's what we do sometimes. It makes us awkward. We're conversation robbers. We just think everything revolves around us, and we just steal the conversation. We want it to be focused on us. It's like this. It's like we all can be like 6-year-olds having a conversation. Have you guys ever observed 6-year-olds having a conversation?
They don't talk to each other; they talk around each other. That's what they do. I guarantee you over in K-1 RACE right now, there are two kindergarteners having a conversation like this. One of them just said, "I like Star Wars." The other one just heard "Star Wars," and they said, "I ate pepperoni pizza last night." It's completely not related at all. They're just saying whatever it is they want to say.
Then somebody talked about pizza, and they're like, "I don't like thunderstorms." The other one is like, "I have a fish named Bojangles." It's just back and forth, back and forth talking about nothing. They just talk around each other. Do you know why they do that? Because they're selfish. It's cute when you're 6; it's awkward when you're 36.
There's a real cost to our empathy. Empathy is required. I want to make sure you hear this. Empathy is required if we're going to be able to love people. If we can't take the perspective off of ourselves and quit playing the selfishness game, if we cannot do that, we are not going to be able to love other people. This is one of the reasons why we are so well-loved by Jesus, why Jesus does such a great job of loving us.
Look at what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews, chapter 4. "For we do not have a high priest…" He's talking about Jesus here. "…who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin." Therefore, because we have this Savior who can empathize with us we can "…approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Our selfishness when we go play that game is a negative equity game. It takes from us. It takes contentment, and it takes empathy from us. It robs those things from us, but that's not it. Let's wrap up this chapter and look at this teachable moment. We saw the parable. We saw the conversation. Now Matthew records this teachable moment Jesus had.
Jesus, being such an amazing teacher, never let a teachable moment go by. Even though his disciples were just pretty unempathetic with him he wasn't going to sit there and be selfish. Jesus was going to be selfless, and he was going to love his friends. He was going to share a truth with them. Here's what he says in verse 25.
"Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.'" Jesus is basically trying to get some ideas popping in the disciples' minds, trying to get a schema going. "You know, there are leaders out there, there are Gentiles out there, and those leaders lord their leadership over people. They exercise their authority over people."
The disciples are probably sitting there thinking of different leaders, nodding their heads, going, "Yeah, we're tracking with you. We know where you're going." Then here's what he says. "Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man…" There he is referring to himself again. "…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
The last thing we see here (the third point I want to make out of the Scripture, this theme of selfishness) is…
3._ Selfishness robs you and me of true greatness_. Selfishness robs us of true greatness. True greatness doesn't come from being the best; it comes from giving the most. That's what Jesus is saying here. I don't think I can adequately describe how countercultural this idea was 2,000 years ago, but it's still countercultural today (this idea that to be great you have to serve).
I bet if I sat up here and said, "Think about all the great people you could ever think about in our culture right now," we too like the disciples have some things that pop into our minds. We have some people who pop into our minds when we think about greatness. I bet those people have some similarities.
We think about people who are maybe good-looking, people who are smart, people who dress a certain way, people who maybe went to a particular college or a university. We think about people who have power, people who have money, people who are charismatic, people who are able to command a room to speak, or something like that.
We think about all of these things and we go, "That must be what greatness really is." What Jesus is reminding us of here are these ideas that pop into our mind, those people, may not be great. That's not necessarily greatness. Greatness is found in your ability to serve. That's the path toward greatness. When you and I are focused on ourselves, when we're selfish, and we're just trying to serve our own needs, it robs us of that opportunity to serve and to become truly great.
Do you want to see some great examples of greatness in our culture? We don't need to turn on the television or look at our social media feeds. That may not be the greatest example of people who serve and are walking on that path toward true greatness. We need to go to the hospitals, look at the nurses, and observe them and the way they so selflessly serve other people.
We need to go to schools, and we need to observe the teachers who are so selflessly serving other students. We need to go to the fire departments and police departments and look at the first responders. We need to go to the military and look at people who are serving our country so selflessly.
Do you want to see a great example of selflessness? Just show up here on a random Tuesday in the afternoon or mid-morning. Go over there to the Treefort and watch moms so selflessly serve their little kids. Those are examples of true greatness in our culture, not what we necessarily think of when we think of greatness.
We talk a lot about leadership around here, and what Jesus is basically saying is leading is serving. At Watermark, we emphasize leadership a lot, as we should, because as followers of Jesus, there is no option when it comes to being a leader. Every single one of us is called to be a leader. So we talk about leadership a lot around here. We disciple that. We want to encourage followers of Jesus to grow in their leadership.
It becomes one of those words we just throw around so much that we kind of… It's one of those words that maybe loses its meaning. I want to share with you a definition of leadership somebody shared with me eight years ago. It's one of the best definitions of leadership I have ever heard because it comes right out of this passage. Leadership is this. This is all it is. It is taking initiative for the benefit of others. That's leadership.
It's taking initiative for the benefit of others, which is incredibly good news. It's incredibly good news because what that means is leadership doesn't mean you're the smartest person in the room. It doesn't mean you have to have a degree from some prestigious university. It doesn't mean you have to be charismatic. It doesn't mean you have to be rich. It doesn't mean you have to be good-looking. Around here at Watermark, this is encouraging. It doesn't mean you have to be tall.
To lead well, all you have to do is you have to take the focus off of yourself and put it on other people. Quit playing the selfishness game. You see needs, you take the initiative, and you meet them. What I think about when I think about great leaders is probably a couple of names you guys think about when you think about great leaders.
I think about Todd and JP. Those of you guys who are guests here, Todd Wagner is the senior pastor of Watermark. JP is the campus pastor here in Dallas. They do most of the teaching. They're usually the ones who are on this stage. I think about those guys, and I think they are some of the greatest leaders I have ever been around, as I'm sure some of you guys do too.
I know also I have a little different perspective not everybody in the room has. The different perspective I have with the privilege of being on staff is I get to see these guys when they're not standing on a stage, when they don't have a microphone, the lights aren't on them, and there's not a camera on them.
I get to see these guys just kind of in normal life. I get to see them in meetings with our staff. I get to see them interact with their family. I get to see the way they interact with their friends. I get to be at restaurants with them sometimes and watch the way they interact with waiters and waitresses and the way they interact with people out in public. I am just always amazed at how they emulate what Jesus talks about as the path toward true greatness.
I think those two men are amazing leaders because they know and they live out that leadership is taking initiative for the benefit of others. They're great because they are not trying to turn the perspective on themselves. When they do stand up here, they do have a microphone, they do have the lights, and the cameras are on them, I think that's what makes them great. It's because they serve.
When our perspective is on ourselves, we're not going to be great. I'd go so far as to say this. I don't think most of us actually want to be great. I think most of us in this room probably just want to be perceived as being great. It's crystal clear what we have to do to be great, and I don't think we want to do it.
I don't think we want to quit playing the selfishness game. I think we just want what we want when we want it, and we just like playing that game because we think there's a jackpot. What Jesus is reminding us of here is there is no jackpot when you play that game. It robs us. Selfishness robs us of contentment, selfishness robs us of empathy, and selfishness ultimately robs us of true greatness.
I'll close with this. I think one of the biggest obstacles to us living out this selfless life, not being selfish in this life, or to quit playing that selfishness game is just kind of this selfie culture we live in right now. We're all carrying these things around, and every time you open these up, there are these apps that are trying to pull us offsides and just going, "Hey, what's on your mind right now? What are you thinking about right now? What is amazing about your life that you need to take a picture and share it with the world right now?"
These apps are just making it sound like it's just all about us, or we have these advertisements that are popping up on here, going, "Do you know what you deserve? Do you know what you deserve right now? Do you know what you need right now? Do you know what's missing from your life right now? Do you know what's going to make you more awesome?"
We have these cameras on the front of our phones that just make it so convenient just to snap a picture. As I was preparing for this message this week, I came across some ancient writings about selfies, and I thought it was a really good reminder, some tips on how to take a good selfie. You have to hold the phone lower, lay it down, and you need to stop taking selfies.
This Thursday, I took a day off and went to go be with my family. It was spring break for my kids, and the weather was amazing here in Dallas last week. We took off, went down to Cedar Hill to one of the parks down there, and did some hiking. While we were out there hiking, I decided to go ahead and take some selfies of my boys and me. I will put these up there for you guys to look at, because there's something I want you to observe with these selfies.
The thing I observe when I look at these selfies is this. I see big me and little everything else. It's big me and little everything else. That's just the way selfies work. You can only get your arm so far away. What ends up happening is it's big me, and it's little everything else. I think that's what this selfie culture is doing to us.
It's just wooing us like those slot machines wooed me over to play them when I was in Vegas. This selfie culture is just wooing us to continue to play this selfishness game, continue to try to organize and control our life so it's big us and little everything else. I'm telling you guys, I've been playing that selfishness game for almost 43 years, and I've never won. It has never, ever given to me. It always takes from me.
So here's what I'm doing. I'm doing this. I am for the time being… I tore off a little bit of painter's tape. I'm taking this tape, and I'm taking my phone. I'm putting this tape right over that front camera. I'm putting it over that front camera, not because I am addicted to selfies. I'm putting it over that front camera because I know I'm addicted to myself. What I need is that reminder every time I look at my phone. I look at it a lot. Every time I look at my phone and I see that piece of tape, it's just a reminder the selfishness game is a negative equity game.
It only takes, and it never gives. It's just a reminder that if I want to stop playing that game… If you and I want to stop playing that game, we have to take the perspective off ourselves. We have to start looking at life a little bit differently. Not just look at what's missing but start to look at what we have and be grateful.
We have to take the perspective off of ourselves and put it on other people and start to be empathetic toward others so we can love them. We have to understand that to be a leader is not to just have power. It is to take initiative for the benefit of other people. I need that reminder. We all need that reminder because selfishness robs us. It robs us of contentment, it robs us of empathy, and it robs us of true greatness. Amen? Amen. Let me pray for us.
God, thank you. Thank you for this reminder of where true greatness is found. Thank you for this reminder that selfishness is a game that never pays off. I know, Lord, there are people in this room today who are trying to fight against that game. I am so grateful for them, and I pray you will continue to give them energy and motivate them and that your Spirit will empower them to take the perspective off of themselves and put it on other people.
God, I pray as a church, we as a body will be known as a selfless church, a church that is not seeking our own glory but seeking to glorify you and to love and to serve other people. God, I pray you will surround us with others who will constantly remind us this game does not pay. There is no jackpot when we play the selfishness game.
God, I pray we won't be like the disciples in that moment. I pray we will be empathetic toward others. I pray we will be like Jesus, that we will take initiative for the benefit of other people who you will help us to lead. We thank you for the example of Jesus. We thank you that he loves us. Thank you, Lord, that you put him on the cross as payment for our sins. It's in his name we pray, amen.