On Looking Out For Our Own Interests

I confess that if you pass a tray of cookies to me, I'll be looking for the best one.  Of course, best to me might be different than best to you, but I'm scoping them out for softness, an even distribution of mix-in's, no burnt edges and size is important.  If you were to ask me about this almost automatic habit, I wouldn't consider it 'unloving', just a small something I do that doesn't mean very much.  (It's just a cookie.)

Or is it?
Have you ever noticed this about yourself?  Maybe it's the cookie tray, the best seat in the car, the TV channel or the extra time you take at Target to browse the accessories, but we all do it.  Why?  Because we are experts at looking out for ourselves and our own interests.
"Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:4
No one has to teach us how to look out for ourselves, but we do need to learn to love others as much as we instinctively pursue our own interests.

What does self interest look like?
Self interest isn't all bad.  It's the thing inside of us that makes us eat food and take care for our basic needs.  But it has its indulgent quirks as well.  Here are some ways I regularly "love myself" or "look out for my own interests" without even noticing:
  • I make sure I have at least some clothing that is new and fashionable each season
  • I prepare meals for our family that I find appetizing 
  • I make sure to nourish with a good breakfast and lots of semi-healthy snacks.
  • I pursue my hobbies, dreams and passions and make time for them when there doesn't appear to be any
  • I find moments to watch shows I like or read books that I find enjoyable
  • I take breaks when I need or want to, and ensure that I don't get burned out
  • I learn and listen to things that are of interest to me, growing and developing different parts of my mind
  • I favor my prefered time to rise in the morning and go to bed at night
  • I make sure to take my nice clothes out of the dryer, and I hang them carefully to prevent wrinkles
  • I take time for basic hygiene - showers, moisturizer, makeup, etc.
  • I find space in my life for friendships and deep conversations (something I enjoy)
  • I fight sin and look for ways to grow in Christ
This list could go on and on, but overall, as I evaluate my life, I see that I regularly "love myself" by meeting basic physical needs, making time for things I enjoy, pursuing my preferences and investing in my heart and mind.   Self-love like this isn't something I do through gritted teeth.  It's something that flows naturally from a heart that values a person.  And since I value myself, seeing purpose in my own life, I take care of it.  These things are important to my well-being, and I place a high priority on that without even thinking about it.

Looking out for the interests of others
A while back I read an article by Jen Wilkin that I haven't been able to shake.  In it, she discusses the biblical command to 'love our neighbor' and argues that our closest neighbors actually reside inside our home.  We love our neighbor starting with our own family.  On the surface, this sounds like a pretty straightforward command to obey.  I mean, of course I LOVE them!  I'm around them all the time, I like them, I take care of them and I give them lots of hugs and kisses.  Isn't this the sum-total of the love I'm commanded to give?
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" Matthew 22:39 (is what Jesus Calls the second greatest commandment)
Well, Jesus says it's deeper than that.
The kind of love we are supposed to give to others should look a lot like the kind of love we instinctively and carefully give ourselves.  At the end of the day, can I really say that I care about the interests of my family as much as I pursue my own selfish desires?
  • Did I make sure they had nice clothes to wear as much as I clothed myself?
  • Did I make sure they had good food to eat as much as I fed myself?
  • Did I make time for their hobbies, interests and passions as much as I pursued my own?
  • Did I make sure they read books and engaged in activities that they found enjoyable?
  • Did I listen to their words as closely as I want people to hear mine?
  • Did I look for ways to feed their minds and hearts with truth as vigorously as I pursue that for myself?
  • Did I encourage them in Christ the way I wish people encouraged me?
  • Did I treat them with as much love and careful scrutiny as I give my own wants and needs, or did I knock them down a notch below my self-serving interests?
It's not a competition
I think the biggest thing I struggle with in all of this is the "yours or mine" mentality.  I tend to think that in order for me to care for someone else's needs or interests as much as mine, I'm going to have to suffer wildly.  That I am going to become a bottomless pitcher of giving until I dry up and wither away.  Do you ever fear that?  Do you ever fear that if you give an inch of care for others, it's going to run a muck and you'll never recover?

In order to be a fruit bearing branch, we must be connected to the vine.
The first thing to remember is that we can't do any of these neighbor-loving actions for very long in our own strength.  We need to be filled up in our own relationship with Jesus, abiding in him, and out of this overflow we can give even when that means a sacrifice on our part.  If we feel like a dry pitcher trying to pour things out, that makes us greedy for our own interests.  But if we are connected to Jesus and have all of our spiritual needs met in him, we can let him use us to pour out his love for others.

In order to care for the interests of others well, at some level, we have to be caring for our own.
Also, Philippians 2:4 makes an assumptions: that we already do care for ourselves.  The same assumption is made in Ephesians 5, when Paul says husbands need to love their wives as they love their own body.  It's implied that there is some level at which we do care for ourselves well, in order that we would care for others well too.  So I don't think looking out for the interests of others always means "neglect your basic needs".

We should see these things as compatible, not a competition.
As I care well for myself (by abiding in Christ and living in wisdom) I can care even BETTER for others.  As I make sure that my heart, body and mind are well nourished, I have even MORE to give.  Can this truth be skewed into selfishness...absolutely!  But I think there is a balance between indulging our needs and starving our needs.  If you are on either extreme, it's going to be difficult to love others well.

Because really, what do I have to lose if I pass up the best cookie on the tray? (except for a few unhealthy calories)  In the scheme of eternity, I have already been given the greatest gift and had all my needs met.  I get to spend FOREVER worshipping, living with and loving my creator...so that cookie can just pass me by...

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