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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Can We Have A Faith-Based 'Self-Interest'?

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"...we don't hate our own body, but nourish and tenderly care for it, just as Christ does the church." Ephesians 5:29

The inescapable fact is that we all live with our own self-interest in mind, constantly and consistently. It's just that we refuse to admit it, and in fact insist that to do so is to be selfish. 

In order to be unselfish, we say, we strive to be utterly selfless

We lie. 

Of course, self-interest without regard for others is a terrible thing, but what if we were to recognize that to "nourish and tenderly care for" ones self is actually the foundation and starting point for caring for others? In other words, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, not instead of ourselves.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating some kind of narcissism here, far from it. But what if our goal were to love and respect ourselves and every other human being alike, no more and no less?

That would be revolutionary in two ways. Not only would that place the primary responsibility for our own health and well being squarely where it belongs, on ourselves (as we are able) rather than expecting others to take care of us, but it would radically affect how we care for others. In other words, we would no longer claim the right to a higher standard of living than that of our fellow neighbors around the world. How's that for a radically non-self-centeredness, a practice of treating others in need as we would have them treat us if we were hungry or in want?

Scripture teaches us that even Jesus gave up his life for us "because of the joy that was set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). He acted in both his own and our ultimate self-interest in doing so. And whenever he admonishes us to do things like investing in heavenly treasure (through investing in the poor), he does so with the assurance that we will be far better off for having done so. In other words, living like Jesus is simply the wise thing to do, unlike those who build on the shifting sand of short term gratification, an example of sheer foolishness. 

The context of the Ephesians text, above, is that of husbands loving their wives as themselves, as their own body, just as Christ loved his bride and "body" (the church) as his very own. This is not about some kind of enmeshment in which there is no differentiation between ourselves and others, but a recognition that we are linked by creation to all other members of God's worldwide family. Whatever blesses one blesses all.

In short, we would be living far less selfishly if we practiced loving others as ourselves. And there is never be any danger of our loving ourselves too much as long as we practiced caring for others with equal dedication. 

Meanwhile, we don't delude ourselves into thinking we are living selflessly while claiming a sense of entitlement to more for ourselves than our world neighbors, or our neighbors across the street. Or that we give sacrificially without regard for the good that does for the giver as well as the receiver.

Their good and ours are inexorably linked.
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