There is a prominent spiritual disease that has adversely affected numerous followers of God over the years. It is called “selfitis” (pronounced sel-fi-tis), and it refers to the inflammation of the self. “Selfitis” occurs when one glorifies himself or herself to the exclusion or reduction of God. It is typically contracted when an individual…

  • allows his or her personal interests to supersede God’s will, as was the case with Balaam who in Numbers 22:21-35 apparently intended to curse Israel in order to be compensated by Balak despite the fact that God had explicitly instructed him to speak only what he was divinely told.
  • rationalizes behavior that is contrary to God’s directives, as was the case with Saul who in 1 Samuel 15:13-23 rationalized sparing the king of the Amalekites and their best livestock, despite being instructed by God to annihilate everything associated with them.
  • seeks the praise of people rather than the praise of God, as was the case with the Pharisee who in Luke 18:10-14 lauded himself and degraded the humble tax collector while praying.
  • becomes the focus of God’s kingdom rather than God Himself, as was the case with Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:17-24 who wanted to purchase the ability to impart the gifts of the Holy Spirit for himself.

Diagnosing “selfitis” is fairly easy. By observing the speech patterns of an individual one can determine whether or not the disease is present. If an individual utilizes personal pronouns in excess during conversation, then he or she has likely contracted “selfitis.” Consider the following diagnostic examples from Scripture.

First, there is the Tower of Babel construction crew. After the flood, a group of people decided to remain in one location and build a magnificent city. When God examined the city they were constructing, He declared “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” because of their unity (Genesis 11:6). However, their success created a sense of self-sufficiency, which resulted in the contraction of “selfitis.” This is evident based on the reason they gave for the construction project. According to Genesis 11:4, they said “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (emphasis added). Did you notice all those personal pronouns? The reason they wanted to construct this city was so that they could make a name for themselves. They wanted to be praised. They wanted to be feared. They wanted to be remembered. It had nothing to do with giving God the glory because they wanted all the glory for themselves.

Second, there is Samson, the world’s strongest man. The Lord blessed Samson with incredible physical strength which he used to defeat God’s enemies. However, Samson eventually forgot that his strength came from God and began to believe that he was sufficient unto himself. This became evident after he initiated a relationship with Delilah. As you may recall, Delilah was a Philistine, and, on behalf of her countrymen, she requested that Samson reveal to her the source of his strength. On three different occasions he intentionally misled her saying that “seven fresh bowstrings” (Judges 16:7), “new ropes” (Judges 16:11), and weaving his hair into the web of a loom then fastening it with a pin (Judges 16:13) would render him weak, and, every time Samson revealed a possible debilitating measure, Delilah attempted it. Therefore, when he finally revealed his secret (i.e. hair that had never been cut according to Judges 16:17), he had to know that she would attempt to cut his hair. So why would he reveal such vital information if he knew that she would shave his head? I believe Samson told her because Samson had succumbed to “selfitis,” and, as a result, he assumed that even without his hair he could still overpower any man because he believed that he was the source of his own strength. The commentary recorded in Judges 16:20 reveals Samson’s arrogance in this matter as he said to himself, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free” (emphasis added). His statement is filled with personal pronouns and absent any reference to God. Thus, Samson’s downfall was not a woman, but a self-glorifying condition known as “selfitis.”

A third diagnostic example is Saul, the first king of Israel. Initially, Saul was a good king, a successful king, an excellent choice to serve as the first royal leader of the nation. He was a victorious military leader from the outset as evidenced by his defeat of the Ammonites in 1 Samuel 11. However, Saul found himself facing a new enemy in 1 Samuel 13 when the Israelite army was preparing to battle the Philistines. Saul, with good intentions, did not want to enter battle until a sacrifice was made to God. However, Samuel, the one authorized to make such sacrifices, had not yet arrived at the military camp. Fearing that time was running out, Saul made the sacrifices himself, which he was not authorized to do. When Samuel arrived he chastised Saul for this decision and asked, “What have you done?” (1 Samuel 13:11). Saul responded by saying, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:11-12, emphasis added). His response was riddled with personal pronouns which reveal his interest in self-preservation rather than obedience. His primary concern was not what God wanted but what he wanted. As a result, Saul succumbed to “selfitis.”

Finally, there is Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian empire. Nebuchadnezzar was a foreign emperor who was used by God to punish the Israelites for their disobedience (Jeremiah 21), and, during his reign, he experienced firsthand the power of God on numerous occasions. For example, he witnessed God’s nurturing of Daniel and his companions in Daniel 1, he witnessed God’s interpretation of his dream in Daniel 2, and he witnessed God’s protection of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. However, all of these experiences did not prevent Nebuchadnezzar from catching “I disease.” One day he was walking along his palace wall, which towered above the city of Babylon, and, as he examined the city, he said to himself, “Is this not great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30, emphasis added). Once again we find an individual in Scripture who speaks about his accomplishments without ever recognizing God’s participation. Nebuchadnezzar succumbed to “selfitis” when he took credit for that which God provided.

With these diagnostic examples in hand, consider whether or not you have succumbed to this dreaded disease. In next week’s article, we will explore the prognosis for “selfitis,” identifying its inevitable course and outcome, as well as the treatment that can lead to recovery.