As Christians, we know we aren’t supposed to be self-focused, we know we are to love like Christ, we know what the Bible says about putting ourselves before others. But do our actions reflect what we know Scripture calls us to? Are we reflecting Christ’s love well, or simply focusing on our own pursuits? Let me take you back to an autumn afternoon.
Heavy rain beat against my windows and wind howled through the alley behind my home when my phone rang. The news I received dropped me to my knees in grief. It had only been six short months since the first blows hit my family, and just a few weeks since my youngest son was released from the NICU. Now we faced yet another deep loss.
My beloved grandfather had gone Home.
Little Grandpa, as we affectionately called him, was more than just a grandfather. Throughout his life, he demonstrated Christlikeness and showed others what it looks like to live out the gospel in spite of being a sinner. The imprint of his walk with God has been embedded deeper within me than his transgressions. He was the type of person to stop along the road to help change a stranger’s flat tire, humbly displaying what it means to love others well.
Living three states away, it was no small feat to get me and my preemie to his funeral. Regardless of what it would take to get me there, being able to say goodbye was important.
This journey marked my first flight alone with a baby. Although I tried to pack as light as I could, there’s no such thing when traveling with kids of any age. Still recovering from a C-section, I was forced to use a stroller instead of a front pack. I fumbled through the airport, diaper bag slung across my body, pushing a stroller with one hand and pulling a suitcase with the other, with an infant seat strapped to the top. Did I mention the baby was crying in the stroller? Relief hugged me when I finally checked my bag and baby’s carseat, freeing my arms to soothe my little peanut.
I quickly took my place in the security line, keenly aware that I’d be the one to slow down the otherwise steadily moving stream of people. As my turn arrived to go through the screening, I placed my coat, shoes, and diaper bag on the conveyor belt. I found it nearly impossible to hold my bundled newborn while trying to collapse the stroller with one hand and place it on the belt.
I needed another set of hands. I needed help. I could feel the impatience and agitation welling up from those in line behind me. Everyone stood there and looked at me as though I was intentionally ruining their day. No one stepped forward to help. Lack of kindness from others left me with feelings of aloneness that mingled with frustration. I thought of my beloved grandpa, and how he would not have hesitated to lend a gracious hand in that moment, even if I had been a stranger. My desire to emulate Christ fueled my determination to set aside my irritation, push through, and conquer the tasks in front of me.
I made it to the gate just in time to board the plane. The gate attendant kindly collapsed the stroller for me so I could lug it to to the end of the jetway. For those few minutes I didn’t feel quite so alone. I scooted the diaper bag under my seat and settled in for the three-hour flight, holding my baby close. I took a moment to catch my breath and pray.
As the plane began its descent, I thanked God for a smooth flight with minimal crying from either of us.
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10:24
Have you ever needed help while surrounded by other people, but nobody bothered to step in?
Have you ever been the person to whiz past someone who needed help and not offer assistance? I imagine that we’ve all been in both positions at one time or another.
Many are quick to tell us what we should think of ourselves, including some in the evangelical arena. They tickle our ears with a false gospel and encourage lusting after our own ambitions. The world gushes shouts of praise onto those who stand up in the name of self. We are bombarded with messages that spur us to focus on ourselves and follow our own truths, to be our first priority. It doesn’t take much persuading for us to seek our own good.
How many times a day do we choose ourselves over other people because helping someone, loving them like Christ, is an inconvenience? We gather our misplaced judgements and use them to bolster our internal defense for not serving others with the sacrificial love that Christ not only shows us, but also calls us to live out. As fallen sinners in desperate need of a Holy Savior, we all struggle with this issue.
We are valued—but not in the way the world proclaims. We need healing—but not the kind the world offers. We need rest—but rest from this world will not sustain us. Christ is the only truth and help we should seek. He is to be our first priority.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
So, what are we to do? How do we step away from the mirror, from focusing on ourselves, and genuinely love others well? How do we love others as Christ loves us? Christ’s powerful and broad imperative for how we are to love others may feel impossible. As Christ followers, we don’t despair because we know that Christ dwells within us and His love can pour out of us into the lives of others (1 John 4:7-9, 21). How we live is a distinct reflection of our relationship and love for God.
The first thing we need to accept is that apart from Christ, we are weak and insufficient (Romans 5:6-7). Without Christ, we cannot make genuine changes in how we live. We look at ourselves and think, “I can do this” when what we really need to be saying and believing is, “I can’t do this, but God can.” Our abilities and goodness aren’t a result of our own doing; they are the result of being made in God’s image, of Him dwelling within us, and what He did for us at Calvary.
We need to set down our mirror with our pride, and cry out to God for His magnificent and perfect help.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8
The love of Christ is demonstrated for us throughout all of Scripture. He shows us His love through truth and deed, and calls us to mirror Him, not the world. His deep, inexhaustible, and unwavering love is lavished on us in ways beyond our comprehension. Christ didn’t die on the cross because it would do Him good—He did it for our good.
It isn’t the doing that shows the love of Christ—it is the motivation that fuels what we do for others. It’s the why not the what. If we do simply to receive, we are only growing our selfish hearts. Although the encouragement and applause for self-glorification and fulfillment from the world is enticing, it will not produce godliness.
When we simply follow God’s imperative, we are not displaying Christlikeness—we are producing works righteousness. We participate in the doing because this is a tangible way to live out the imperative and show someone that we are invested in them, we value them, that we care about them as an image bearer. We do because we are striving to be like Christ. We do for others because of what Christ did for us.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18
Daily, we are given opportunities to show Christlike love, the deep sacrificial love He poured over us on the cross. Every day we are able to display the grace we’ve been shown when we set ourselves aside and consider others first. When we pause in the parking lot, even though it’s raining, and load the disabled person’s groceries into their car or give the homeless person a cup of hot coffee, we are showing Christlike love. This unique love is also displayed when we serve our spouse the larger portion of our coveted salmon steak, tell them how much we cherish them, or sit on the floor and play with our kids.
We have endless opportunities to be Christlike to loved ones and strangers.
Being kind to others shouldn’t be something that goes viral on social media. It should be so common that instead of being in awe of the person or the deed, we stand awestruck of the Savior.
When we free ourselves from pleasing the world and focusing on ourselves, we are able to rightly focus on discipling and loving others well, relishing in God’s grace, sharing and studying His word to grow in relationship with Him.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3