ReVision

Narcissism

It's not all about you - or me.

Fleshly Winds (1)

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.
3 John 1.9

Winds in the soul
The Spirit of God blows gently and continuously within our soul, filling its sails and directing us on the course of truth, through the shoals of the lie, according to the Word of God, with increasing zeal for Jesus Christ and love for God and our neighbors. This is the pure and holy Wind of God by which we make progress unto Christlikeness in the life of faith. The Wind of God seeks out the sails of our soul – on the masts of heart, mind, and conscience – so that we desire, delight in, and love the things of God; receive, give attention to, and cultivate interest in His Word; and assimilate Him and His will as the highest values and priorities for every aspect of our lives.

Life would be smooth sailing unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit if the only wind vying for the sails of our soul was the Wind of God. But as we have seen, that is not the case. Worldly winds of humanism, secularism, materialism, scientism, relativism, postmodernism, and evolutionism blow against us daily from a wide variety of sources. We must learn to recognize these winds and keep them from finding a reception within our soul, so that we are not blown off course in our journey with the Lord.

Additional ill winds, deriving ultimately from the humanism of the world, rise up from within us to turn our course from that of the Lord to one of our own choosing. The law of sin, that continues within us for now, gives rise to a variety of self-serving breezes which, if they gain access to the sails of our soul, can cause us to drift from our great salvation and drive us toward unstable and uncharted waters. We must learn to recognize these winds as well, which would allure us to consider self-interest as the most important concern of our lives.

The first of these fleshly winds is narcissism.

Narcissism defined
The Oxford English Dictionary is again helpful here. It defines narcissism as “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’sphysical appearance.” It continues, adding that narcissism is “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.” In an article in Aeon/Psyche, W. Keith Campbell puts this definition more clearly: “The term ‘narcissism’ has become a household word. We’ve seen this ‘me first’ mentality evolve on social media, and we use the word to describe celebrities, politicians and even some of our coworkers and friends. We commonly say that someone is ‘narcissistic’ to mean they’re selfish, manipulative or driven by ego.”

Not long ago, those who monitor and publish the official handbook of psychological disorders considered dropping narcissism from their catalogue, so widespread had the condition become. In the end, however, they let it remain in place. Campbell explains, “we tend to think of narcissists as brash, flashy people who take over a conversation, but new studies have shown that insecure narcissists exist as well. They’re still self-involved and self-focused but are more hidden from public view.”

Was Diotrophes of Ephesus an “insecure narcissist”? Or was he just so full of himself that he didn’t care what anybody thought, and resolved to make himself the center of all attention in the church?

Interest in narcissism as a growing concern began back in the 1970s when Christopher Lasch published his book, The Culture of Narcissism. The arrival of social media early in this century both recognized the growing presence of this fleshly wind, and offered additional opportunities for it to blow wildly across the souls of multitudes.

Narcissism has become rampant. We see the course on which it drives us: Fixation on self and how we look, what others think of or are saying about us, talking endlessly about our own trivial pursuits, taking selfies and posting them everywhere, friending and unfriending according to the whims of the moment, and much more.

The fleshly wind of narcissism wells up from the law of sin within us and encourages the idea that what matters most in life is that “you be you” and that you look out for number 1 (to borrow a line from Robert Ringer) in everything you do. After all, if you don’t care for you, who will?

Problems with narcissism
The great problem with narcissism where Christian faith is concerned is that it detracts from the proper focus of faith. Christians are identified as those who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. These are our two great commandments (Matt. 22.34-40). But the winds of narcissism stir up self-love in the soul, so that we think of our faith in terms of what we can get out of it. Church is for me. Worship is for me. Bible study group is about me. My Christian friends are about me. Even my reading and study of the Bible is about me – what I want, or need, or enjoy because it reinforces my exalted self-image.

Everything a narcissist does is designed to spotlight him, to make him the center of attention and the bright shining star of any situation. The need to be recognized and admired becomes all-consuming, and this can become a serious hindrance to a self-denying, sacrificial life of following the Lord.

Churches can be tempted to cater to the narcissistic winds of our day, adjusting worship and other ministries more to the liking of people than for the purpose of honoring God and serving Him. We tend to ask not, What is God expecting of us here? but instead, What can we do to keep people happy and coming back for more?

A church whose sails are influenced by narcissism can drift from Scripture and seeking the Kingdom and glory of God into the shallows of entertainment and people-pleasing. We need to recognize this breeze as it wells up from within us, and ask the Wind of God to replace it with self-denying love for God and neighbors.

For reflection
1.  Why is narcissism detrimental to Christian faith?

2.  What might suggest that you were being influenced by the ill wind of narcissism?

3.  How can you use your prayer life to recognize and divert any narcissistic tendencies?

Next steps – Preparation: As you look ahead to the coming day, pray for the people you will meet, and ask God to show you one way you can affirm, encourage, or assist each one. Keep self last, and you’ll keep any narcissistic winds out of the sails of your soul.

T. M. Moore

All the studies in this Winds of Doctrine series are available by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore