I like words.
Some might even go so far as to call me a “word geek.”
Others may think or even suggest I sometimes try to use big or more formal words as a means through which to try and impress people or appear to them smarter than I really am.
While I’ll continue to ponder and be more aware of these possibilities, I really don’t think that’s my heart. (I certainly don’t want it to be.)
I’m just a curious sort…who’ll quickly acknowledge that words have, at different times, failed me, gotten me into trouble, or found themselves being used by me completely erroneously or out of context.
I’m told that’s another one of those things that make us human.
And that comforts me…some. So I’ll keep trying…and learning.
But it’s also true that, sometimes, in our Christian walk, we come across words that are confusing…or even kind of “churchy” sounding.
These are sometimes referred to as “stained-glass words.”
Words that we sometimes hear in church. And perhaps only in church, as if Christianity somehow has a language of its own.
Some of these words are important, meaningful and therefore, necessary. But, left unexplained, many could be mistaken…potentially even deemed exclusionary. And that should never be the intent.
From a very early age, we’re taught that our words should help us in building relationships.
It’s also been said that “our words mean things,” which, on the surface, might seem like a bit of a “duh” statement.
But I think what this phrase is really trying to point out, is that the words that we choose to use, matter, which, I guess is also to say that we should choose (and use) them carefully.
That is when we really consider our words; what they really mean and how they might land with the person (or people) we’re about to share them with, well then, the “words mean things” statement begins to make a bit more sense and we tend to communicate more effectively.
Especially within the English language and our western culture, when we recognize that “bad” can sometimes mean “good,” “hot” can certainly refer to temperature but may also mean that something or someone is good-looking, this whole word business can get kinda’ tricky.
But this is not my focus for this week’s post.
Here, I’m more interested in our considering a word that some of us have maybe heard before, but if asked or we heard it in conversation, we might have some difficulty in explaining exactly what it means. Or even, just putting it into our own words or vernacular.
(No. It’s not vernacular! I’ll ponder that one also and maybe we can discuss it another time.)
Today, I’d like to explore with you, what we might call Part 2 of our Basics of Christianity series piece on generosity., (If you missed Part 1 last week and would like to go back and review it, you may do so via this link.) At the same time, I’d like to begin to venture into a discussion about words used in our Christian walk that may sometimes seem a bit confusing or even “churchy.” My hope is that as we begin to unpack and look into them, we instill helpful meaning and application in our daily walks.
As I was putting together my notes last week for the blog repost on the topic of generosity, I came across another article on another principle, called “altruism.”
Altruism. Could this be one of those “stained-glass words?”
Without consulting Siri or some other great wisdom source, do you have any idea what Altruism means?
Is it some mystical belief system or condition in which ALL things are true?
Nah. A reasonable guess, but that would probably require another “L”.
Altruism can be considered a relative of generosity. But it goes a bit deeper. We might consider it, “Generosity 2.0.”
And so, to allow you to read more about Altruism and, hopefully, dispel some of its potential wonkiness within our communication, here is a re-post of the article I uncovered, once again from our friends at gotquestions.org.
Like the one I shared last week, I hope you find this article interesting, helpful, and inspiring, as I do.
I’ll check back in with you for some final thoughts on the other side of it.
Question: “What does the Bible say about altruism*?”
Answer: Altruism is an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. An altruistic person gives generously of time and resources for no personal gain, and often at personal risk. A major theme of the Bible is godly altruism. As far back as the Mosaic Law, the Bible records God’s desire that His people care for the widows, the orphans, and the poor in their communities (Deuteronomy 26:12; Psalm 68:5; Zechariah 27:10). In the New Testament, James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Altruism is taught throughout Scriptures in a variety of ways. First, God commanded that His people “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, 34; Galatians 5:14). Then Jesus modeled altruism during His years on earth (Matthew 7:12; Mark 10:42–45; John 13:3–5). And the New Testament writers echoed that theme by urging Christians to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4). Paul explained that Christians must “learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14).
Tabitha (also called Dorcas) is an example of an altruistic person (Acts 9:36–39). This early Christian in Joppa spent her days helping the needy, and upon her death many people came forward to speak of all she’d done. They so grieved her untimely death that they called for Peter, who raised her from the dead (Acts 9:40–41). Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan tells the story of altruism in action (Luke 10:25–37). The Samaritan had no personal agenda when he went out of his way to care for the wounded stranger. He received no benefit for his help and, in fact, bore the financial cost of doing good.
In public displays of charity, there is a fine line between true altruism and showmanship. Despite their attempts to give anonymously and privately, altruistic people are known for their good deeds and are usually greatly loved and respected. But that very response is a reward in itself, sometimes attracting emotionally needy people who wear themselves out trying to appear altruistic simply for the admiration it earns. (That’s just not healthy…nor Godly.) Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their open shows of piety when their hearts were filled with pride and greed (Matthew 6:3–5, 16, 18).
Altruism does not seek recognition or repayment. Even to our enemies, we are to give altruistically, “without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35). Altruism avoids virtue signaling. It does not post a dozen photos of its good deeds on social media in order to evoke likes and comments. Altruism serves quietly and discreetly whether anyone else ever knows. Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:1–3). It is good when others see our altruism and are inspired to do the same. But when our motives are selfish, we are not practicing true altruism.
“Altruism avoids virtue signaling. It does not post a dozen photos of its good deeds on social media in order to evoke likes and comments.”
The human heart is incapable of pure altruism because it is self-seeking and prideful by default (Jeremiah 17:9). While we can train ourselves to behave in altruistic ways, our motives are often unknown even to us. However, God sees our hearts and judges our deeds according to what He finds there. We are enabled to live unselfishly when our greatest aim is to please our heavenly Father. When the Holy Spirit controls us, we are drawn to altruistic acts out of love for the Lord (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:10). Even Jesus Himself stated that “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19; cf. 8:28–29). Altruism begins with God and is reflected in us when we mirror His goodness.
Isn’t that good? It’s so important for me to remember that any good I may do – whether through thought, word or deed – begins with God.
Once again, I hope this speaks to you as much as it does me.
But, it’s also true, isn’t it, that we can’t give what we, ourselves, haven’t already received.
The Bible teaches that “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV)
In His letter to early believers in a group of churches near Ephesus, John wrote to encourage and strengthen them but also to speak a truth that should also resonate with us today; we are not to take credit for the love we have and show to others.
As our friends at bibleref.com write, “God loved us, before we were capable of loving him, and we can only love others because of what He has done in our lives. The primary way Christians are to be recognized is by love. This is not merely what we feel, but what we do for others.” I’ll go on to argue that our actions are sometimes as, or even more powerful communicators than our words. But, to be sure, the words we choose to use also matter.
Bibleref.com goes on to share that whether through our words or our actions, “true Godly love is the most powerful evidence of being ‘born again’ as a child of God. This love comes from God, who loved us before we loved Him. When we live in obedience to God, according to love, we can be confident in our relationship with Him, and have no need to fear His judgement.”
In his letter, John concludes with the idea that if we claim to love God but hate (or fail to show God’s love) to others, we are liars.
I’ll likely continue to love words.
But I definitely don’t want to be a liar.
Therefore, I will also work hard to continue to love others…altruistically.
And hope and pray, that you are…
Right here with me,
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