The Basis of Helpfulness
J. R. Miller
There are many people who want to be helpful to others—but who find insuperable obstacles in the way. There are some to whom they find it easy to minister—those of lovely character, those who are their friends and who really reciprocate any favors shown to them. But they must not confine the outgoings of their helpfulness and ministry to such small classes. Even the ungodly do good to those who do good to them, and give to those of whom they hope to receive again. And the Christian must do more. He is to do good to those who hate him, to bless those who curse him, and to be kind to the evil. Even toward unworthy and disagreeable people—he is to manifest that love that is full of gentleness and beneficence.
But how can I help a man whom I cannot respect? How can I be useful to one who treats me with insults or slights? How can I continue to do good to one who only curses me? How can I minister to those who are repulsive in character?
There is a way of relating ourselves to all men, which solves these difficulties. So long as we think of ourselves, and of what is due to us from others, it will be impossible for us to minister to any large number of people. But when true Christian love reigns in the heart, the center of living is removed outside the narrow circle of self. Those who study our Lord's life carefully, will be struck with what we might call his reverence for humanity. He looked upon no one with scorn or contempt. The basest fragment of humanity which crept into his presence—trampled, torn, stained, and defiled—was yet sacred in his eyes. He never despised any human being. And further, he stood before men, not as a haughty and imperious king, demanding attention, reverence, honor, service, ministry—but as one who wished to serve, to help, to lift up, to comfort. He said, indeed, that he had not come to be ministered unto—but to minister, and even to give his life for others. He never thought of what was due from men to him, of the attention they ought to show to him, or the honor they ought to accord; but always of what he could do for them, of how he could help or serve them. The more repulsive the life that stood before him—the more deeply, in one sense, did it interest him and appeal to his love, because it needed him and his healing help all the more because of its repulsiveness. And there is no other true basis of helpfulness.
We can learn to do good to all men—only by putting ourselves in the same attitude to them in which our Lord stood to those about him. We must not think of ourselves at all as deserving attention from others, and chafing and fretting if we do not receive it. We are to esteem others better than ourselves, in this sense, especially, that instead of asserting our own superiority and demanding respect, reverence, submission, and service from them—we are in a sense to forget ourselves, and think how we can minister to them. We are not here to be waited upon, honored, and served. The moment we put ourselves in this attitude—we cease to be helpful to others. We then measure everyone by his ability and willingness to serve us. We rate others as they are in our estimation, agreeable or disagreeable. Repulsiveness repels us because we think only of its effect upon our tastes or feelings—and not of what we can do to render it less repulsive. And the result is that we love pleasant people only, are kind to those only who are kind to us, and minister only to the good and gentle. Crude treatment and lack of respect from others—shut our hearts toward them. This may make us very pleasant and agreeable in the small circle of our personal friends, and even in our business and social life, wherever there is room for the play of self-seeking—but it is infinitely removed from the spirit of Christian love and service.
Our Lord drew two pictures, showing the difference between the spirit of the world, and the spirit of Christian life. In the world—men regard greatness as ruling over others, exercising authority, receiving reverence and submission. But in the Christian life—greatness lies in serving. "Whoever will be great among you, let him be your servant." We are to regard ourselves as the servants of others for Jesus' sake. We are to look upon every other person—as one to whom we may render some service.
It will be seen at a glance, that if we look upon others in this purely unselfish way, the whole aspect of the world is changed. We are not here to receive and to gather—but to give and to scatter; not to be served, and exalted, and treated royally—but to serve, regardless of the character of men, or of their treatment of us. This invests every human life with a wondrous sacredness. It brings down our pride, and keeps it under our feet. It changes scorn to compassion. It softens our tones, and divests us of any haughty, imperious, dictatorial manner. Instead of our being repelled by men's moral repulsiveness, our pity is stirred, and our hearts go out in deep earnest longing to heal and to bless. Instead of being offended by men's rudeness and unkindness, we shall find it easy to bear patiently even with ill-treatment, hoping to do them good. We shall continue to seek their good despite their slights, insults, and wrongs. That was the spirit of Christ. Amid human neglect, rejection, persecution, and cruelty—he went right on, thinking only of doing good to others, and never of receiving from them; ministering to the worst, to enemy and friend, with a love which no hate nor malignity could quench, until he poured out his blood upon the cross.
Remembering this, it will no longer be hard for us to do good to the most disagreeable people, to try to help the most unworthy, to be kind to those who are unkind to us, and to spend and be spent for others—even though the more abundantly we love them—the less they love us. It will be easy then to love our enemies, in the only way it is possible for us to love them. We cannot love them as we love our dearest friends. We cannot approve their faults nor commend their immoralities, nor make black in them appear white. We cannot think their characters beautiful, when they are full of repulsiveness; or their conduct right, when it is manifestly wrong. Love plays no such tricks with our moral perceptions. It does not hoodwink us, nor make us color-blind. It does not make us tolerant of sin, or indifferent to men's blemishes. And yet if fills our hearts with melting tenderness toward all men. In the vilest person, is an immortal soul that Jesus valued so that he did not think his own life too great a price to give for it. And can we be cold toward one in whose life is such worth such possibility of restoration?