Tuesday, January 14

The Self-interest Trap

Scripture: Genesis 34-36, Luke 14

Genesis 34:21–23  “These men are our friends,” they said. “Let’s invite them to live here among us and trade freely. Look, the land is large enough to hold them. We can take their daughters as wives and let them marry ours. 22 But they will consider staying here and becoming one people with us only if all of our men are circumcised, just as they are. 23 But if we do this, all their livestock and possessions will eventually be ours. Come, let’s agree to their terms and let them settle here among us.”


When Shechem son of Hamor raped Jacob’s daughter Dinah, her brothers were furious and wanted revenge.  Shechem asked for Dinah’s hand in marriage.  The brothers came up with a plan.  They insisted not only that Shechem be circumcised, but that every man in the community also be circumcised.  Only then could he marry Dinah.  

Shechem and Hamor pitched the plan to the men of the village (v. 21-23).  How would they ever convince all these men to submit to the pain and indignity of circumcision when there was nothing for them to gain, only for Shechem?  They appealed to each man’s self-interest: “all their livestock and possessions will eventually be ours.”  Jacob was very rich—be circumcised and all this will be yours.  Small pain, big gain.  

Of course, it didn’t turn out well.  Dinah’s brothers murdered all the men while they were recovering from their circumcision.


The appeal to self-interest is very powerful.  It can lead people to make disastrous decisions.

I once took out a large loan in my name only and gave the money to some friends to do business.  Why would I do such a foolish thing, take such a huge risk?  It wasn’t just that I loved and trusted my friends.  They appealed to my self-interest, promising large payouts.  Small pain, big gain.  I bought the appeal, gave them the money, and ended up paying back the loan on my own.  Lesson learned: don’t be fooled by the self-interest trap.

Here’s the deal: every human being is motivated to some degree by self-interest.  It’s not entirely wrong; we need a measure of self-interest to be healthy. But it can be twisted and become selfish.  It can be the appeal for an easy win—small pain, big gain.  

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus fought the self-interest trap.  Would He do what God wanted or what He wanted?  Would He embrace the cross or look for a less costly, less painful way?  “Not my will but yours be done.”  Jesus put us ahead of Himself.  

It’s never easy.  But it’s worth being aware of our self-interest and knowing how much influence it has in our decisions.  

Beware of small pain-big gain proposals!  Beware of the self-interest trap!

Prayer: Lord, help me to be self-aware, to recognize when my decisions are being driven by self-interest, and to step back and discern what You want for me and others.