Most people would tell you that there are situations during which any kind of behaviour is acceptable—and during which no-one’s needs come above your own. When you are tired, sick, or grieving people will tell you “Take time for yourself!” “Be a little bit selfish!” and “Don’t worry about anyone else!”
Most people will also tell you that there are some situations that you are excused from helping with because they will stretch you too far and put you in a bad position—they demand too much of you.
They tell you that if something is going to cause you to lose sleep, health, or “me-time,” then you can’t (and definitely shouldn’t) make that kind of a sacrifice.
Ever see anything like this on your Facebook news feed?
Yeah, I thought so. That’s because this is what most people will tell you.
I’m going to tell you differently than “most people,” however. I’m not going to tell you differently because I’m so perfect and so sacrificial myself—far from it. I’m going to tell you differently because Jesus—my perfect example—and Epaphroditus, had totally different attitudes to what “most people” would encourage us to have.
Let’s examine two of what I find to be the most beautiful—and most challenging—accounts in the whole Bible.
I need be willing to give up my concerns for the concerns of others—like Jesus (Matthew 14:10-16).
This account always strikes a cord with me. I have so much room to grow in this area. Seriously, if I am in a mood or going through something I don’t want to talk to anyone—but if I want to be more like Jesus was in this account, I can’t afford to act in that way.
Matthew 14 gives the account of John the Baptist’s beheading.
Prompted by her mother, she [Herodius] said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus” (vv.8-12 ESV).
John the Baptist was Jesus’ relative and close friend, so obviously Jesus was very upset at the news that he had been beheaded, and in such an unjust way. When he heard the news, he felt a great longing for solitude, as most of us would. He was human, after all. Jesus went to be alone, but on the way was beset by people who needed to be healed (vv.13).
“Now when Jesus heard this (about John’s death), he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns”
Now, if there was ever a time when one would think they were justified in sending people away, this would certainly be it. Anyone of us would understand if He said something like, “Hey guys, I would really like to help you, but I’m really going through something difficult right now. My close friend just died.” That would certainly be an easy example for us to follow. But that’s not what he did. Jesus stopped, gave attention to the crowd of over 5000 that had gathered, healed their sick, stayed with them until the late evening, and then fed them (vv.14-16).
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat”[…] Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. […] And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children“
Often we can think that if we are tired, hungry, sick, busy with something else, or grieving then we are justified in acting a certain way at these times—but our Lord showed us a different way to be.
Ok, the saying about being careful about how much you say “no” to yourself it is true to a certain extent. It all depends though on the opportunity. Ask yourself: “If I say no to this, will I be missing out on an opportunity that will never come around again?” Notice that once the crowd left, Jesus did go to be alone, but He took advantage of the opportunity first.
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (vv.22, 23).
It is okay to take time for yourself, but it is never okay to dismiss an opportunity. “Opportunity knocks but once.”
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
- Remember others’ actions don’t matter, yours do. Always be kind, and be sensitive to the fact that others may be struggling and realize that you can’t help how they act. You can only help how you act. The crowd was thinking of only themselves, but that didn’t stop Jesus from helping them. Even if others act incorrectly in a situation, this doesn’t mean that it gives us a license to do the same. We need to never grow weary in well-doing (Galatians 6:9). This is pretty tough already, isn’t it?
- If you are tired, sick, struggling, or grieving, look for someone else who is struggling and strive to encourage them. It often does good to think of others and take the focus off of ourselves when we are going through a hard time. In helping others it will lift your spirits and you will pity yourself less.
- Be careful not to complain, but rather to listen. When you complain about your own problems, you cut off the opportunity for others to open up to you about what they need. Try to find out others’ needs and fill them. Jesus not only had compassion, but also healed their sick. Jesus could have simply said, “I hope you get well, but I need to rest!” and wished them well on their way… but he knew (as we should know) that it does no good to simply wish people well. We must follow compassion with action. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15, 16 ESV).
I need be willing to give up my health and welfare to serve others—like Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30).
We are introduced to Epaphroditus in the book of Philippians, as he was serving Paul in prison (v.25):
“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need“
He became deathly sick while taking care of Paul in prison, and his illness made him very worried. Notice that he was not worried fr himself or his safety, however. He was instead worried that the church back home would be worried about him (vv.2:26, 27)!
“for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow”
Epaphroditus’ attitude was such that he cared more for ministering to Paul’s needs and more about the sorrow he would cause others than about his own health and safety!
People who give despite personal risk and do so happily are an encouragement and a joy to all around them. Paul was so incredibly encouraged by this man who “nearly died for the work of Christ” that he told the brethren who were going to receive him that such were to be held in honour (vv.29-30).
“So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me”
Epaphroditus is not the only one who has displayed this kind of attitude during intense suffering. I have seen men and women come to church meetings, prepare food, and make an effort to encourage and entertain others despite terminal illnesses that cause them to be weak and in a lot of pain. I have been personally encouraged by people going through things much more difficult than I was going through at the time. I have had people give me money to help with the work despite their own extreme poverty, people who I should have been giving to instead. All of these beautiful examples have made a profound impact upon me, humbling me and encouraging me greatly. They make me realize that if they can give despite their circumstances, how much more can I do?
No, no one can demand anything more than you wish to give, but you can choose to give through pain and trouble. Seeing people that are giving through pain and trouble sets an incredibly powerful example.
Not everyone does it, but everyone can do it—and those that do make a profound impact upon this world.
- Remember that being sick or troubled does not mean you have to be a complainer and a whiner. We are to do all things without complaining (Philippians 2:3). This is a really tough one for me. When I feel the least bit sick I love to lay in bed, have all my meals brought to me, and have my head stroked as I whimper unnecessarily and say how sick I feel over and over again. However the Lord tells me to do all things without complaining, and Epaphroditus shows me how to still put others first when I am ill. This is a challenge. I obviously have a long way to grow in this area!
- Be ready to give and always care no matter the personal risk or cost (Luke 14:27ff). Like Epaphroditus, we should try to come to the point where we care more for others’ feelings more than our own. We are so blessed that we are not facing death for our faith today, but how much we are willing to give to others despite cost shows the Lord whether we would be ready to do so if the need so arose. What does your giving say about you? Are you ready to forsake all—and even die—for Christ (Luke 14:27ff)?
- Don’t hold other’s back from giving what they feel is necessary. Sometimes there are people who wish to sacrifice for the Lord and travel or marry poor preachers, but those around them are not willing to sacrifice the pleasure of their company and try to hold them back. We should let others go and sacrifice what they feel is necessary for the cause of Christ and not hold them back saying they will lose something. Don’t stop your child becoming a missionary because you will miss seeing your grandchildren, or they might catch Ebola. Don’t stop your daughter marrying a preacher because she will be poor or have to move away. Don’t stop your child going to Bible college because he or she will miss out on education or monetary profit. Remember what is really important, give up on your wishes and let others sacrifice as they wish.
- Do not regret losing anything for the sake of helping others and fulfilling the law of Christ (Matthew 16:26). Remember that your life is not wasted if you give it in service to God. A soul is worth more than the whole world. You could never gain enough materially to be worth the cost of even one soul, so whatever you give to gain your soul or another’s soul is well worth the sacrifice.
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People who give despite personal risk and do so happily are an encouragement and a joy to all around them.
Realize and remember that this isn’t about being a doormat, but rather it’s about choosing to give and be a blessing. What your attitude is and how much you are willing to give is obviously all up to you. I’m not telling you what to give, I’m just giving you these examples. You can see how this kind of giving is powerfully encouraging, now it is up to you—and me—to decide how much of an encouragement we want to be, and how many opportunities we are willing to take.
Are you going to listen to “most people,” or follow the example of Jesus and Epaphroditus?
– – – – – – – – –This is the last lesson in the “Selfless Series!” If you learnt something from this lesson, here are some other lessons for your consideration.
Others in the Selfless Series:
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