What is the single most important criteria that determines how you act? For many people it is “How will this affect me?” Yet if you claim to follow Christ, the question should also be “How will this affect others?”
“And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:2)
We are born preoccupied with ourselves. Those of us who are parents can attest to the fact that from their earliest moments outside of the womb, babies are concerned with their own well-being. As babies, we cried when we were hungry, we cried when our diaper needed changing, and we cried when we simply wanted to be held. This is not necessarily bad—an infant’s inability to speak requires that he communicate his needs in some other way for survival. Yet as we mature and acquire speech, this tendency to first (and frequently only) think about how something affects “me” doesn’t necessarily go away. In fact, it is a powerful motivator for many people. If I am honest with myself, it is probably even the most powerful motivator in my own life.
When confronted with various life issues, from the simple, ordinary tasks we almost thoughtlessly do to life-altering decisions, our first thought is almost instinctively whether it will benefit us. Regardless of whether we are considering selling a property to buy another or what to do with an income tax refund or inheritance, our first thought is always “me.” Yet it should not be.
Our lives are filled with choices—daily choices. Selling an apartment building and buying another in a better area may work to your financial advantage, but how will this affect your current tenants? Perhaps it will have a minimal effect on them, if any, or perhaps they are currently paying far less rent than their new owner will require of them. Might they be in such a marginal financial situation that coming up with a higher rent or deposit for a new place is not an option, and they might actually find themselves at risk of homelessness? These are not questions everyone needs to consider, because not everyone owns low-income property, but questions such as these are not as much a “slippery slope” argument as they might seem. Others are affected by our choices, and depending on the particular situation, benefitting “me” can genuinely cause harm to “you.”
What does God say about this? First John 3:11, 16-18 (CEV) tells us:
“From the beginning you were told that we must love each other…We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other. If we have all we need and see one…in need, we must have pity on that person, or else we cannot say we love God. Children, you show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it.”
Jesus gave up His entire life for us, and we are to “show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it.”
James 1:27a, 2:15-17 gives us more information about loving others:
“Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil…If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, ‘I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.’ What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!”
Genuine faith is selfless. It is a faith that is willing to copy its model, Christ, and pour itself out for the good of others. At a minimum, this requires a conscious thought about how our daily behaviors impact the well-being of others. Ultimately, Jesus Himself identified the most important commandment:
“…’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
In other words, if we are preoccupied with loving God and with loving others, we will be fulfilling the spirit of the entire Law and the Prophets. So the next time you have a decision to make, think about how your action will impact others. Will it bless them, or will it inadvertently cause them harm, even if you believe it will be to your advantage? Then think about the fact that Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Help us to walk in love, as You also have loved us and given Yourself for us. Help us consider the impact of our actions as they affect others, not just ourselves. In Your name, Amen.