Self-interest? Looking out for number one? It’s as natural to us as breathing, and we live in a culture that encourages us even more in that direction.
But here’s the irony: we are born into relationships with others and can’t survive without them. It is only when we are loved well by those who take care of us that we’re freed from undue self-concern. That, in turn, gives us the freedom to care for others.
If everyone in a group only looked out for number one, there wouldn’t be much of a group — just a competition between individuals. If only a few looked out for others instead, they’d be taken advantage of, at least at first. One hopes, however, that consistently honest and loving care, even from a few, will bring its own transformative power.
To quote Huey Lewis and the News, that’s the power of love.
Love isn’t “rude,” Paul taught, and it doesn’t “insist on its own way” (1 Cor 13:5, NRSV). As we’ve seen in previous posts, Paul says these things about love to correct the hurtful attitudes and behaviors of some of the Corinthians, who for the sake of their freedom and “rights” were doing things that violated the conscience of their brothers and sisters. Paul would not allow them to stand on their supposed rights and say, “It’s not my problem.” No, he insists, if you’re doing something to cause others to stumble, it is your problem. You need to learn the way of love.
Paul wants them to take hold of what he’s already tried to tell them: You are one body in Christ. You’re part of each other. That’s God’s plan. You have to stop thinking as individuals looking out for number one, and start looking out for number two instead, because you’re in this together.
Think what could happen if that were the way Christians habitually thought when conflict came calling.
We get into conflict because it feels like your interests and my interests don’t match; it’s a zero-sum game and there can be only one winner. I feel compelled to play, and I play to win. I certainly don’t want to lose — though it doesn’t seem to bother me at all that if I win, you lose. So what? At the moment, it probably feels to me like you deserve to lose.
We’re in this together. What would happen in our churches, our relationships, our families, our marriages, if we began thinking that way on a regular basis? What happens to you matters to me, because we’re in this together. How you are affected by my behavior matters to me, because we’re in this together. And I’m willing to do something different — even make a sacrifice, even forgo my rights — if it would do you good. Why? Because we’re in this together.
Everyone, for example, has the right to be heard. But what if, instead of my insisting on you listening to me (and my getting louder in the process), I temporarily laid aside my right to be heard and listened to you instead? Really listened, with focused attention, until you felt like I understood? After all, we’re in this together.
What might happen if we did that?
We might understand better the power of love.