True Christianity Inspires Unselfishness
How did it do so in times past? What proof is there that it does so today?
SHE was a young Puerto Rican, the mother of two small children, and her husband was the village barber. She also was a devoutly religious person, so much so, in fact, that she worried herself sick over the torments of purgatory and hell. She would go about clenching a crucifix. The doctors could not do anything for her; her priests gave her pills but they did not help. What finally brought relief to this young mother? It was learning that “God is love,” that “the wages sin pays is death,” and that true Christianity causes one to be concerned about others and not merely with oneself.—1 John 4:8; Rom. 6:23.
That a devoutly religious person should find herself in such a frame of mind is not at all surprising. Apparently the entire tenor of her religious teaching was to be concerned with self, and such concern can easily go to extremes, as can be seen in the case of ascetics and mystics. In days gone by, very devout persons literally tortured themselves, as Martin Luther did as a monk and priest, in their concern over the saving of their own souls.
However, this self-centered way of viewing religion often brings forth a very different kind of fruit. A case in point is that of the priests that offended the Nazis and were interned in the Dachau concentration camp during World War II. Telling about them is Nerin E. Gun, in his book The Day of the Americans (1966). He himself was and is a devout Catholic, who, as a correspondent of a neutral country, was nevertheless jailed by the Nazis and landed at Dachau because of his honest dispatches out of Berlin during the last world war.
In his book he has the following to say about these priests, who must certainly have had some strong convictions or the Nazis would not have locked them up in this camp: “Mass was said in the chapel of Block 26, the priests’ block. Entry to this chapel was only given to a privileged few . . . This Block 26 had at first been open to all Catholic priests as a kind of concession to the Vatican. Conditions there were better than elsewhere in the camp and many packages were received from the outside.” However, this chapel was later made off limits to all non-German priests as well, even as it had been for all of the rest of the camp’s internees, Roman Catholics though they may have been. “A Bavarian priest stood guard outside the door, blackjack in hand, and woe to anyone who tried to get by him” in order to benefit from the religious services inside.
Mr. Gun next quotes a devout top member of the French Catholic Party who was also in this camp at Dachau: “We were thrown out of the chapel, sometimes with punches to boot . . . Of course, the Block was full of packages . . . Where might it not have led if all the camps’ starvelings had suddenly felt overcome with piety and thereby come in contact with the stores of food stuffs kept in the priests’ lockers?”a Had those priests taken seriously their beliefs as to the reality of the torments of purgatory and hell, would they have denied the “lay” members of their faith the benefits of their religion? Obviously they were more concerned with their own physical needs than with the spiritual needs of their fellow Catholics.
Yes, contradictory though it may seem, what was wrong with that young Puerto Rican mother was also what was wrong with these German priests in the Dachau concentration camp. And what was that? They both labored under the misapprehension that Christianity is a selfish proposition, that one can be a good Christian and yet be chiefly concerned with one’s self. But not so. In fact, an identifying mark of true Christianity, distinguishing it from imitations, is its capacity to inspire unselfishness in its devotees.
THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLES
Not that a Christian is not to be concerned with his own spiritual needs, his own salvation. Indeed he must. He is under obligation to do so; is encouraged to do so. (Matt. 5:3) That is why we read that to please God we must not only “believe that he is,” that he exists, but also “that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb. 11:6) But Christianity does not stop with this. It is only the start. Proof of this is seen in Christianity’s very beginnings. Why did Jesus Christ invite Peter and Andrew, James and John to leave their fishing business and follow him? Merely that they might be saved? No, but that they might become fishers of men, that they might bring salvation to others.—Matt. 4:19-22.
In particular let us consider the apostle Paul, concerning whom the Scriptures have more to say than of any other of Jesus’ followers. As a learned Pharisee he was held in high esteem and had a most promising future ahead of him. But upon becoming a Christian he turned his back on all the advantages and prospects he enjoyed as a Pharisee and devoted his life to bringing Christianity to others, unselfishly putting their interests ahead of his own, even as he tells us: “For, though I am free from all persons, I have made myself the slave to all, that I may gain the most persons. And so to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews . . . To those without law I became as without law, . . . that I might gain those without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.”—1 Cor. 9:19-23.
And what did this putting the interests of others ahead of his own involve? As he himself tells us: “By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep; . . . in dangers from highwaymen, . . . in dangers in the wilderness, . . . in hunger and thirst, . . . in cold and nakedness,” and so on. Did Paul endure all this merely for his own salvation? No, that did not require such heroic exploits. He did it primarily for the honor of his Maker and to bring salvation to others. That is also why he wrote fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the so-called New Testament. No question about the apostle Paul’s having become fully saturated with Christianity’s spirit of unselfishness!—2 Cor. 11:22-33.
That unselfishness was indeed a characteristic of early Christianity is testified to by secular historians. Thus C. Brinton, J. Christopher and R. Wolff state in their book, A History of Civilization: “The Christian was by no means content with the prospects of his own salvation. His acceptance of the will of God was not passive. He was from the first an ardent missionary, anxious to convert others.” These authors also speak of the “unselfishness, unself-consciousness” of Christianity, adding: “In the true Christian life all men are one, and subsidiary groups are a distraction—or worse, a padding for the selfish ego. The important thing is for the individual to avoid all kinds of personal triumphs over others, all competitive successes, all the things that set off and sharpen his ego . . . The ideal of unselfishness is there. Christianity tries to tame the more extravagant flights of the competitive human spirit, tries to subdue self-assertiveness, truculence, boasting, pride, and other manifestations of the ‘natural’ man.” The Christian was “not only to subdue his own ego; he should open his heart in loving kindness to all his fellow men.”b It may well be asked, To what extent have agnostics and atheists displayed such missionary zeal? Whoever heard of their going into the heart of Africa, or any other foreign land, for that matter, to enlighten superstitious natives the way thousands of Christian missionaries have?
JEHOVAH GOD AND JESUS CHRIST UNSELFISH
It can be no other way. Why not? Because the Bible shows us that Jehovah God and Jesus Christ are the personifications of unselfishness. Jehovah God, the self-existent One, who never had a beginning, has ever been self-contained. He did not need to create. His doing so was entirely motivated by love, by unselfishness. Further, he showed great unselfishness in permitting the first human pair to continue living after their meriting death by reason of their rebellion; and in particular did Jehovah God express love by sending his dear and only-begotten Son to earth to die for our sins. As the loving apostle John wrote: “God is love. By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.”—1 John 4:8-10.
‘Like father, like son,’ may well be said about Jesus Christ’s imitating his heavenly Father in being unselfish. Well could he therefore say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father,” for Jesus acted just the way his Father would have acted under the same circumstances. Jesus had a glorious prehuman existence in the heavens before he came to earth, existing in God’s form. He left all this and came to earth, not for his own salvation, not to be served, but to serve “and to give his soul [life] a ransom in exchange for many.”—John 14:9; Matt. 20:28; Phil. 2:5-8.
Yes, as the apostle Paul also noted: “You know the undeserved kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich he became poor for your sakes, that you might become rich through his poverty.” Jesus said he had no place to lay his head, not a place he could call his own, yet how rich he could have been had he wanted to profit financially as so many professed healers do today!—2 Cor. 8:9; Luke 9:58.
WHAT ABOUT TODAY?
Yes, what about today? Does true Christianity inspire unselfishness in our times, in this last third of the twentieth century, as it did nineteen centuries ago? Yes, it does. Among whom? Among the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. They have an organization patterned after the early Christians’ in which there is no clergy-laity distinction but in which every Christian is a minister of the good news. The emphasis in their training is on giving, not on receiving, giving of their time to serve Jehovah and others, giving of their energy and their means. Many of these enter the full-time field ministry even though they know that it of itself is not required of everyone in order to gain salvation, everlasting life.
In their local congregations there are “servants” who take the lead. These have specific duties to perform in ministering to the spiritual needs of the congregation that consume much time and energy and that represent weighty burdens of responsibility. Do they receive any financial or honorary remuneration? No, they do not, no more than did the early Christians. They all serve their God and their brothers out of love, unselfishly, knowing that ‘there is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’—Acts 20:35.
Illustrating this principle is the following true-life incident. A Brooklyn Jewish youth once accepted an invitation to attend a certain meeting at the local Kingdom Hall, at which the Witnesses received instructions for the field ministry. Among other things considered was the report of the previous month’s ministerial activity and the service goals toward which they were striving.
Afterward he asked his Witness friend: “Did you meet the goals during the past month?” His Witness friend assured him that he had. The youth then asked: “What do you get when you meet the goals?” He was told that there was no reward other than the satisfaction of having done well in Jehovah’s service. He next asked: “What happens if you fail to meet the goals? What are the penalties?” He was told: “No one is penalized for failing to meet the goals.” It all seemed so incredible to this Jewish youth, who had ever measured motivation by material considerations.
Giving eloquent testimony to the power of true Christianity to inspire unselfishness is the annual Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which, in addition to listing the activities of the Witnesses in every land, nearly 200 now, in which they are active, also gives hundreds of pages of interesting field experiences. The latest edition shows that during the previous year, 1,058,675 Christian proclaimers of the “good news” preached monthly, devoting a total of more than 170 million hours during the year, making more than 60 million return visits on interested persons and monthly conducting upward of 800,000 Bible studies in the homes of the people.
And all this is just as it should be. Since God is love, the very personification of unselfishness, the true worship of him must inspire unselfishness. His Son came to earth to set us a perfect example, and in God’s Word we find many other fine examples. It is by producing such fruit that Christians glorify their God Jehovah and prove that they are indeed disciples of Jesus Christ.—John 15:8.
a However, that it is possible to hold on to high Christian principles in spite of concentration camp conditions the author Gun shows by his high words of praise for the witnesses of Jehovah incarcerated in this camp.