Jesus said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”
Matthew 20:25-28 (The Message)
Every day we are bombarded with conflicting messages. Our culture tells us that we are supposed to “look out for number one.” But, God calls us to a life of service and humility. Every day we wake up and we begin making decisions between service and selfishness. Moment by moment, we battle what may very well be the hardest of the four decisions we have to make about our relationships.
Service or Selfishness is so difficult because we can’t always find a good middle ground between the two. Service to the exclusion of self is not healthy, but neither is paying attention to our own needs and neglecting the needs of those around us. This is especially true when those around us are not looking after our needs. It is important to remember that this discussion of selflessness takes place in the context of a covenantal relationship.
Remember, in relationships that are based on covenant, we are not exchanging things, but exchanging persons. Our relationship with God is one of covenant, which God describes to Jeremiah “This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with [them] when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33, The Message) Jennie is my wife, and I am her husband – covenant.
In a covenant we are free to exchange our whole selves with the other person without fear. Why? Because as we give all of ourselves to them, they give all of themselves to us. So, if we are selfish, we hold back on our end of the covenant. Essentially we are stealing ourselves from the other person in the covenant. But, if we are selfless, we are looking after the other person in the covenant, and they are looking after us.
The problem comes in when we try to be completely selfless in a contractual relationship. Because a contract is the exchanging of things, not people, selflessness can easily lead to the other party in the contract taking advantage of you. Take, for instance, my recent car-buying experience. If I had been looking out solely for the dealer, they would have gladly taken the full asking price, or more… But, because I knew it was a contractual relationship, that I was exchanging money for a truck, I could come in with a lower, yet fair, offer. Because it was a contract, not a covenant, we could negotiate a deal that was acceptable to both parties.
As I think of selflessness in our covenantal relationships, I am reminded of the famos words of President John F. Kennedy; “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That is a good sentiment for us to consider in all our covenantal relationships; with God, with the church, with our spouses, etc. We don’t ask what we can get, but rather what we can give. We don’t look to receive, but to do good on behalf of others.
There is something powerful about selflessness, especially in covenant with someone else who is selfless. Because, as we are selfless, as we put the needs of others first, we find that we are living in God’s will for us. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV) Let us live selflessly, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God. Because in so doing God’s love permeates and transforms our world.