We had our first Bible Study of the new year last night. In our study, we are working our way through the famous “Love Is” list from 1 Cor 13. When we first set out to prepare for this week’s topic, I thought there wasn’t much to it. In fact, my first thought was, “This is a no brainer.” In contrast to the previous words in the “love is” list, “love is not self-seeking” is pretty much what it sounds like.
However, the deeper I delved into the topic, the more certain details became apparent. There are times when we are well intending, but lack the staying power when confronted with temptations. We say all the things that sound like someone who puts others before ourselves, but when it comes time to actually live out our selflessness, we cave to our own selfish desires.
The truth is that none of us are completely selfless. Being self-seeking is incremental and sometimes we are better at avoiding it than others, but none of us are perfectly and entirely selfless. This is one of those areas where we all need more growth in our lives.
All or Nothing?
Recently I have heard several people say that, when it is impossible to be perfect at something, we are wasting our time trying to do that thing. For example, they say that it is impossible to be completely objective, so they do not value or pursue objectivity. Instead, they revel in the subjectivity of passion. Their excuse for throwing objectivity to the wind is that objectivity is unobtainable. What they fail to recognize is that objectivity is unobtainable only in its perfect form. The line between the extremes of objectivity and subjectivity is scalar. Choosing 100% subjectivity just because you cannot achieve 100% objectivity is a lazy form of foolishness.
The same is true for the sliding scale between the two extremes of self-sacrifice and self-seeking. Just because you cannot be 100% selfless does not mean it’s okay to give up on it all-together. Being a Christian is not about being perfectly holy. It is a desire in our hearts to become increasingly more holy as we grow in Christ. In that respect, the desire to be holy and more Christ-like is what makes us Christian – not the righteousness itself, because we will never be righteous enough to ever say that we are perfect. Self-sacrifice is, for that reason, a constant pursuit for all of us regardless of our current position on that continuum.
Obedience vs. Sacrifice
Something else worth mentioning in this context is that God prefers obedience over sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11-19). Often the sacrifices we make for the sake of being selfless are misplaced and inappropriate. Self-sacrifice is no longer self-sacrifice when it involves forcing others to suffer along with me. I often use stories from my career to demonstrate this kind of sacrifice. In my capacity as a band leader, I have the responsibility of hiring and firing musicians. If a musician proves to be unreliable (for example, the musician shows up late to gigs or worse, doesn’t bother to show up at all), then I have a responsibility to those who rely on me to not hire that musician again. On the surface, hiring an unreliable musician over and over again may seem like the selfless thing to do. I could convince myself to bear that sacrifice in the name of selflessness. But when my business suffers as a result of this sacrifice, so do those who rely on the work I provide for them. When my business is affected by my sacrifice, those who need my product or service also suffer. By accommodating the unreliability under the guise of being selfless, I am encouraging a behavior that is contrary to God’s word. The Bible presents numerous references about the importance of honoring commitments and one’s word.
When I married Pearl, I made a promise to God and to her to “love, honor, guide and protect” her. If I make sacrifices in my business that compromise that promise, then I have chosen sacrifice over obedience to God. I feel the same applies when considering the verbal contract between myself and the members of the band I hire for a gig. For any business owner to sacrifice the business that provides for the needs of so many people is a form of disobedience. A well-meaning owner who continues to sacrifice his business for the sake of being selfless towards only one of his employees (at the expense of the rest) has missed the mark entirely. We should indeed be forgiving and act selflessly towards such wayward and needy employees, but never in a way that will compromise our commitments to the others.
Ask For Wisdom
As you can see, “love is not self-seeking” is not as simple as it seems on the surface after all. Our relationships with individuals do not exist in a vacuum. Each relationship can be seen as a thread, and those threads are often intertwined. What happens in one friendship can have profound effects on another. It’s foolish to go off half-cocked and throw the baby out with the bathwater. God invites us to ask for wisdom. When we are unsure of how and when to choose selflessness we should ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Ask God what He wants you to do in every situation so the love of God is evidenced in all we do.
Our Bible study is on Wednesday nights at 6:00 at CT Church. While this particular study group was created to accommodate those in the music ministry who cannot attend other Bible studies at 7 pm, you don’t need to be part of the music ministry to attend. Anyone interested in studying God’s word is welcome. Please feel free to join us.