Monday, December 7, 2009

Selfishness and True Charity are Mutually Exclusive

Is it truly Christian to do a good thing for someone else because I am secretly looking forward to some sort of personal reward from God?

When Christians talk about performing a charitable service in the context of encouraging others to join them they often say, as an enticement, something like, "and you get back so much more than you give." While this may be true, I do not like how common this emphasis has become.

Sometimes such an exhortation primarily emphasizes the benefits to the charitable giver and the benefits to those in need only secondarily. The benefits to others are merely an afterthought. It's as though the person trying to encourage charitable behavior were saying, "If you want lots of spiritual benefits to come into your life, do good things for others. God likes this and will reward you for it. Oh, and by the way, other people benefit also."

This is not an appropriate attitude for anyone who genuinely seeks to imitate Jesus Christ. He did not seem to be the sort of person who said to Himself, "If I do this good thing for this person, yes he will benefit, but I will also get a big reward as well, so I think I'll do it." No. This sort of attitude is selfish and therefore far from the mind of Christ.

When we engage in doing something charitable for others, seeking benefits for ourselves should never be our primary motivation. The fact that we might experience personal spiritual fruits in the course of doing good deeds ought not be the foremost thing in our minds. If it is, our motivation for doing the good work is tainted. We have turned it into an act of selfishness.

When we do good things for others, we should not be thinking of ourselves. Rather, we should be thinking of the other person(s), and how much they, as a child of God, are worthy of our love and sacrifice. Our interior attitude as we perform charitable works should be other-centered, not self-centered. I should not care whether I will benefit when I do a good deed; I should care entirely about the others I am helping and how I can be of service to them.

In some Christian circles it is an all-too-common phenomenon to be mainly interested in the blessings we receive ourselves when we do good deeds for others. This is a perversion of the Christian faith, and is certainly not the example set for us by Christ. If we have to be enticed into loving others by the carrot of receiving a personal reward of whatever form, we have not even begun to comprehend what it means to imitate Christ. We should love because every human being is worthy of nothing less, no matter what happens to ourselves in the process, no matter the personal cost.

We Americans seem to be big on seeking rewards. But staying at this level, that of expecting a reward for everything we do, is ultimately childish. There comes a time when we must put childish things behind us, begin living more as adults and stop looking for rewards; and instead, seek to learn from Jesus how we might give more and more of ourselves away for the benefit of others.

1 comment:

Thank you for civil and well-considered comments!