Do We Have to Be Selfish?

When I was a little kid, my mom gave me a bag of fresh chocolate chip cookies and sent me out onto the playground with the other children from the neighborhood. About ten minutes later, I ran back into the house with an empty zip-lock bag and a big smile on my face. “Mom! I need more cookies!”

When I had stepped out onto that playground with my bag full of cookies, something magical happened. All the other kids in the neighborhood suddenly wanted to be my friend. They gathered round, paid attention to me, and played extra nice. In a sudden flash of insight, I had discovered a great new social strategy: If Mom would keep me supplied with cookies, I’d be a star.

I was raised with the ideal of altruism – that we should do good things for others, simply for the joy of being kind. Yet as I’ve grown older, I’ve had the chance to experience human behavior first-hand, and I’ve often wondered whether true altruism is possible. So much of what passes for kindness is merely veiled selfishness.

Having seen this side of humanity, I’m amazed at the kind of love Jesus teaches. It’s a love that goes far beyond the kind of cookie-based transactions that are so common in human relationships. Jesus didn’t just give out of his abundance in order to win friends. He gave away everything, his entire life, for the people who loved him – and for those who hated him.

Jesus teaches us to do the same. He introduces us to a God that gives good gifts to everyone, without distinction. Even the wicked have rain fall on their fields. Jesus demonstrates an indiscriminate love that finds its power in the joy of blessing rather than the security of social status or wealth. In Jesus, we see what real selflessness looks like.

I know that I’m not there yet. It’s terrifying to even think about giving myself to others the way that Jesus has. Loving my friends can be hard enough sometimes, without the burden of loving my enemies.

Yet there is a peace and power that comes with the indiscriminate love of Jesus. When we walk in this path, we discover that each one of us has something to offer. No matter how poor you feel, no matter how empty your bag of cookies, there are always ways that you can bless the lives of others.

The mystery that Jesus reveals for is that we don’t have to be successful in the world’s eyes in order to have a big impact. You don’t have to be wealthy, intelligent, or good-looking to experience the love and power of God. When we discover the servant heart of Jesus, we are set free. Anything is possible.

There’s still a child within me who thinks that self-interest is the game and cookies are the solution. But Jesus has invited me into a faith that is so much deeper than my fear and self-seeking. His joy and faith allow me to consider doing the impossible, showing love to others – even my enemies – without any concern for being rewarded.

What is the bag of cookies that you’re clinging to? What are the selfish transactions that underpin your life and relationships? How would it feel to release your gifts and bless others with no thought of return?

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