“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” - Romans 12:10
Institutes Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 4, Part a
“Now in these words we perceive that denial of self has regard partly to men, partly and chiefly to God. For when Scripture bids us act toward men so as to esteem them above ourselves [Phil 2:3], and in good faith to apply ourselves wholly to doing them good [Rom 12:10], it gives us commandments of which our mind is quite incapable unless our mind be previously emptied of its natural feeling. For such is the blindness with which we all rush into self-love that each one of us seems to himself to have just cause to be proud of himself and to despise all others in comparison. If God has given us anything of which we need not repent, relying upon it we immediately lift up our mind, and are not only puffed up but almost burst with pride…If others manifest the same endowments we admire in ourselves, or even superior ones, we spitefully belittle and revile these gifts in order to avoid yielding place to such persons…Thus, each individual, by flattering himself, bears a kind of kingdom in his breast. “ (3.7.4.a)
Calvin now turns from the theory to the practice. We are called, he says, to love others and outdo others in showing affection. But, alas, self-centeredness gets in the way. There is a really classic line in this section – “Each individual bears a kingdom in his own breast.” This is a poetic way of saying that people our proud. But I like the imagery - a kingdom in your breast. I can picture the human chest swelling with self-importance as if an entire kingdom were located there!
Here Calvin is following the traditional theological view in saying that pride is the mother of all deadly sins. It is the root sin, but self-denial is the answer to pride. Self-denial can dig up the root. The important connection to make is that our pride prevents us from loving other people. As a result self-denial is essential if we were going to love others.
I would guess that most often people don’t associate self-denial with being other focused. We are probably more likely to think of a person who practices serious self-denial as someone who is introspective and dour. But if we harbor that image it is because we have a distorted view of self-centered pride and self-denial. There are many ways to be self-focused and many forms which pride can assume. The most obvious is when our pride leads us to think very highly of ourselves. But it is also a form of self-focus and therefore a form of distorted pride to be preoccupied with ourselves through self-loathing. When we are consumed with thinking about either our own greatness or our own weakness we are still self-consumed.
By contrast, truly selfless people are fun to be around. They are free to focus on other people and genuinely dive into the interests of others. If we are around a person who “loves others with brotherly affection” or who is outdoing others is showing honor they will not to be dour and introspective. Rather a person with these qualities will sweep into our lives like a fresh spring breeze. Self-denial leads to brotherly love. Brotherly love is beautiful and life giving. (Matt)