How should we we live? Whether we are young or old, in our teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties or beyond, whether we are barely done being children ourselves or have our own little children, older children, grown children or even grandchildren or great-grandchildren–regardless of our age, what should be the defining characteristic of our lives–what should people see when they look at us?
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16 NIV)
The defining characteristic of every single follower of Christ should be their selfless love. The early Christians got it, Mother Theresa got it, countless missionaries got it, but I wonder if we do. When others think of us–whether they think of us now, or remember us after we’re gone–the foremost quality that should be evident in our lives should be that we lived our lives for others, not for ourselves. Why is this? It is because “God is love” and because “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16 NIV) But what does it mean to live in love?
Living in love is antithetical–diametrically opposed–to living selfishly, to living normally as a human being preoccupied with meeting our own desires. Our sin natures are “me-first” and “me, my, and mine” oriented, and we have a really hard time giving up our time, money or effort to help another. Even when we do, it is typically but a trickle.
I see it in myself. I have my salary spent before it’s even in my account–not literally, perhaps, but I’ve already allocated how I will use it. And even though it may be for a perfectly good use (in my case, to pay taxes or to send our daughter to college), if I don’t set aside somethimg specifically for helping others–even if I don’t yet know of a particular need–it will either not be there when the need becomes evident or I will have to begrudgingly reallocate it from elsewhere. This is why the Bible instructs us, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up…” (1 Corinthians 16:2 NIV) These were Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church regarding a particular donation, but it is great advice. We must plan to give, otherwise we may end up not giving at all, or merely the crumbs that fall from our budget. Remember how Jesus praised the poor widow’s donation of several pennies because it was so selfless? Whether you are five years old or forty, you should be giving some of the money God lets fall into your lap to help another human being–to live in love. You can do this through your church offering, an independent organization that sponsors a child or supports missionary families, or in person to a needy friend or neighbor–BUT YOU MUST PICK SOMETHING AND DO IT.
Selfless love for others is difficult. As I look around myself, I see people in various financial circumstances. Some have beautiful homes, others are poor. Yet appearances can be and frequently are deceiving. It is not necessarily true that the one who lives modestly does so because he is not talented or because he has squandered his life; he may be giving away all but what he needs to survive. Likewise, the man with much may be struggling to hang on to what he has. Or, the reverse may be true. The seemingly rich man may be giving away a huge percentage of what he really has, and the poor man may be giving nothing. We each know our own particular situation. We know if we are being selfish with what God has given us to manage in this life, or whether we are using it to further His kingdom and reflect His love to others.
But what about the other two “t’s” of our “time, talents, and treasures?” What about our time? Our talents? Even though we give, we may genuinely not have much in the way of treasure at this point in our life, but we may have time or talent. Are we seeing needs and meeting them as we are able? Are we getting involved with a community of believers and giving of ourselves to others?
“But what can I do?” you may think. The possibilities are limited only by the scope of what other human beings need, and more often than not, it will be on a one-on-one basis as you see a need in your daily life. When a person in front of you stumbles and falls you pick them up, when they don’t have enough money at the register you pitch in the difference, when they’re struggling with packages we open a door. We can teach a class, fix a car, host a Bible study group, paint a house, shovel a sidewalk for an elderly neighbor in winter, bring groceries for a housebound person, and on and on and on. Whatever it is we are positioned to do–whether by circumstances, training, or talent–we can do it at no cost to another to show Christ’s love and lighten their burden.
The point is that our lives as Christians should be spent divesting of ourselves for others–even those who are not particularly likable. Remember that Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20 NIV) Also remember that Jesus, who is our foremost and greatest example, gave up the glory He had with the Father to be born a human baby, and live and die for mankind. Our lives should likewise be lived in love–in a mode of selfless willingness to spend ourselves on others in obedience to God. That is how our lives should be defined.
Please get me into the right mindset–help me lay down my life for my brothers and sisters. Help me consider how I can do this right now and then DO IT. Amen.