Are you teaching a selfish person-someone who leaves you feeling perpetually frustrated? Many ministry leaders deal with this problem on a regular basis, whether in a group Bible study or in an individual mentoring relationship. Haggai 1:6 provides an accurate description of a selfish person: unproductive, ungrateful, hard to please, never satisfied, and self-indulgent. No matter how much you pour into a selfish person, chances are it will never be enough. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to run into people who make incessant demands!
Should you give up on such a person? Not necessarily! But you will need to tackle the root of selfishness that is often at the heart of demanding behavior, otherwise the behavior will continue.
One way to attack selfishness is to teach, model, and practice its opposite: servanthood. Philippians 2:4 exhorts us to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
You can apply this to your selfish group member by providing her with natural opportunities for service. The next time you have a major project to do at home, ask her to come over and give you a hand with it. Suggest acts of service you can do together: preparing food in a soup kitchen, helping a neighbor move, or doing yard work for an elderly person. And be sure to do these tasks yourself with a happy heart!
If Scripture memory is part of your discipleship program, learn together several verses that emphasize the importance of giving and putting others first. Choose from among the following verses in the New Living Translation or in a translation of your choice:
Mt. 5:16 (In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.)
Mt. 25:40 (And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’)
Acts 20:35 (You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’)
Ro. 12:10 (Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. )
1 Cor. 10:24 (Don’t think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them.)
2 Cor. 9:6 (Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.)
Gal. 6:10 (Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters.)
Phil. 2:4 (Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.)
1 Pet. 4:9 (Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.)
Explore the Scriptures together for examples of the consequences of selfishness (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Achan in Joshua 7, Haman in the book of Esther) and the blessings of generosity (Dorcas in Acts 9:36-41, the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, the good Samaritan in Lk. 10:30-37).
It is also critical that you clearly communicate boundaries. Many selfish people are that way because no one has told them it is inappropriate behavior. Let the person you are discipling know where you draw the line (for example, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call during dinner because that is a very important family time for us”).
There is no quick cure for a selfish person, but as you communicate boundaries, model servanthood, give her opportunities to practice serving, and as you pray for Christ to transform her, you may be glad you didn’t give up.