Question: "What does the Bible say about egotism / egoism? What is an egoist / egotist?"
Answer: Egotism is an excessive focus or occupation with oneself driven by an inflated sense of self-importance. Egoism is a preoccupation with oneself yet may be without the inflated self-importance. Egoism also refers to the belief that self-interest is the motivation for and/or the valid end of all action. The human tendency toward being an egotist/egoist is no surprise from a biblical perspective. It is also something the Bible speaks against, and God soundly dealt with egotists such as King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4).
At the root of egotism is self. Egotism is ultimately driven by pride and thinking oneself worthy of the utmost attention or capable of complete self-sufficiency. At times, an egoist may be motivated by past hurt. Betrayal, abuse, or abandonment may cause a person to believe he must always look out for himself—because no one else will. Rather than trust others, someone who has been hurt may isolate herself and believe she can only trust herself. Though not pride as we would generally conceive of it, this is still an unbiblical stance that raises self to the status of a god.
Philippians 2:1–11 is one passage that speaks to egotism. Verses 3–4 say, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” We are to look to the interests of others based on the example of Jesus Christ, who, though He is God, humbled Himself to live a human life and die a humiliating death in our stead. In both the Old and New Testaments, followers of God are called to humility; we are not to have an over-inflated sense of self-importance. Humility is not self-debasement or a lack of confidence. Being humble does not mean that we neglect our own needs or uphold no boundaries. Rather, humility is having an accurate estimation of oneself wherein we think of ourselves less often. We are not preoccupied with ourselves; rather, we see and care about the needs of others. We are willing to sacrifice our own preferences for the benefit of others.
Christians understand that serving self is not the highest goal. To those who are egotistical due primarily to pride, the Bible reminds us that all have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We are each sinners, enslaved to sin, dead in guilt, and in need of a Savior (John 8:34; Romans 6:15–23; Ephesians 2:1–5). On our own, we are nothing and only deserving of hell (John 3:16–18). In truth, there is no justification for pride. But, in Christ, we are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). We become children of God (John 1:12; 1 Peter 2:9–10). God is the one who validates our existence and gives meaning to our lives. Egotism ultimately leaves people empty. As with all sin, egotism promises a reward it is incapable of delivering (James 1:14–17; Galatians 6:8). It is only in God that we find true life (John 10:10).
The truth of who God is and His gift of salvation resolve the fear-based motivation for egoism. First Peter 5:5–7 says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” In Matthew 6:25–34 Jesus says not to worry but to instead seek God’s kingdom first and trust Him for our needs. We can see how God cares for sparrows and the grass of the field, and we trust that we are of much more worth to Him. We don’t need to look out for ourselves as number one because God is looking out for us. He alone is fully capable to meet all of our needs, and we can trust that He will.
God alone is to be worshiped. He is of utmost importance. We can never take His place—either by thinking of ourselves so highly that we believe we deserve to be the center of all attention, or by remaining in a wounded condition that causes us to distrust everyone. Egotism is a natural human tendency. But it is one born of sin that only results in disappointment. Rejecting egotism, Christians are called to entrust themselves to God. Out of the love He lavishes on us, we are to love others (John 13:34–35). We are called to put others above ourselves, care for other people, and attend to their needs. Ultimately, we are to surrender our lives completely to God, worshiping Him alone, loving Him with all of our being, and loving others with His love (Matthew 22:37–40; Galatians 6:2–10). It is in giving of ourselves, not in putting ourselves first, that we actually find life (Matthew 16:24–25).