By Mark Davis Pickup
A hallmark of the modern age is an obsession with individual rights. It seems that every other day somebody is demanding his or her rights. Some people even demand rights that are not even written down anywhere or recognized by any legislature or court. Like I say, it is a hallmark of the age in which we live. Self-interest reigns supreme.
Have you ever noticed that the Bible says very little about us defending our own rights but is replete with exhortations for us to defend the rights of others? We are told to defend widows and orphans, even if we are not widowed or orphaned. We are told to speak up for the voiceless even though we have a voice—especially if we have a voice! We read in 1 Corinthians 10:24, “No one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor.”
In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul tells us to “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” He then uses Christ as the example of the attitude we should have. He says, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born of human likeness. And became obedient to the point of death―even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Although Christ was the second member of the Trinity—God made man—He did not “regard equality with God something to be exploited.” In order to serve in human form, Jesus refused to grasp his divinity. Remember, the King of Kings was born in a lowly stable.
Working for the good of others rather than yourself is a way of finding purpose to life. But to “humbly regard others as more important than ourselves” requires a healthy self-image. Jesus knew he was the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. This unshakable truth could not be altered even by human rejection and the death of a criminal: He emptied himself in obedience to death on a cross for a higher calling and, as we read later in Philippians, God raised Jesus up and gave him a name above all names.
You may think there seems to be an apparent contradiction about regarding others more important than one’s self when Jesus said we should love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)?
In Pope Benedict XVI’s book The Yes of Jesus Christ, the pontiff addressed the apparent contradiction between Christian self-denial and self-love. He said, “But this means that self-love, the affirmation of one’s own being, provides the form and measure for love of one’s neighbor too. According to this self-love remains a natural and necessary thing without which love of neighbor would lose its foundation.” There is no contradiction: Proper self-denial lived in love requires knowledge and confidence that we are loved with immense and unfailing divine love regardless of our circumstances. With this as our foundation, we can step boldly into service to others. It is only when we know that we are loved are we are able to love ourselves and others. The person who understands that he is worthy of love is apt to realize that others are worthy of love too.
This understanding is the root of a great blessing I was given by my earthly father. Although he died when I was 16, he surrounded me with a climate of love and acceptance beginning before my birth. I continually saw him in Christian service to his fellow man. The extension from self-love to concern for others seemed natural and proper to show God’s love. My father called it shoe-leather Christianity. It is a legacy that has stayed with me throughout my life. The epitaph on my father’s tombstone serves as a constant reminder to me of this. It says, “He served God and man.”
People who have experienced a deep encounter with the living Christ know they are loved and valued by God and can rest secure in this knowledge. They do not need to demand their rights. Their citizenship in the kingdom of God is secure and surpasses the rights of any earthly citizenship. Earthly kingdoms will all pass away but the kingdom of God will last forever.
Those of us who are considered losers by worldly standards are still winners by heavenly standards. Heaven does not operate by the same rules as this world. We are told that many who are last on earth will be first in the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:31 and Luke 1:50-53).
Mark Davis Pickup has lived with aggressive multiple sclerosis for over 28 years. Although electric wheelchair dependent, Mark has spoken across the United States and Canada promoting the sanctity, dignity, and equality of all human life. He has addressed politicians and legislative committees (both Canadian and American), university forums, hospital medical staffs, religious and denominational leaders, community groups, and organizations about the critical importance of protecting all human life from conception to natural death. Mark is also a widely published writer on bioethical and Christian issues. He writes a column for Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter newspaper. Mark is the recipient of numerous awards including the Monsignor Bill Irwin Award for Ethical Excellence, the William Kurelek Award for fostering respect and appreciation for the dignity of human life (Canada), and a Governor General’s Medal for Community Service.
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at humanlifematters.org/2016/02/the-spiritual-ideal-of-selfless-self.html.
Image: Alexa Clark via Flickr