What Matters Most?

Can a person’s responsibility to others take precedence over his or her own life?

Interestingly, a survey was conducted by OECD (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) of 60,000 people in more than 180 countries asking “What matters most to you?” Based on what their website shows (link further below) the responses were limited to 10 categories and then the top category for each country that was surveyed was identified.

Here are the ten categories alphabetically:

  • Community
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Income
  • Jobs
  • Life Satisfaction
  • Safety
  • Work-Life Balance

What, you might wonder, was the top category in the United States? It was “Life Satisfaction”. What about our near neighbors Canada and Mexico? Health and Education respectively. Most of the South American countries also prioritized “Education”, yet not surprisingly in these times, the top category in Venezuela was “Safety”. The countries in Africa vary remarkably in responses compared to those in South America. European countries are much more similar and were mostly in the “Life Satisfaction” or “Health” categories.

Although I can understand that each of these categories is important, more interesting to me is that my top category is not among the ten they chose to ask about. You see, for me, I go back to the most difficult days of my life and ask “What were the key factors that got me through that dark period?” The answer for me was “Faith, Family, and Friends.” In that order. Family and Friends would no doubt fall under “Community” in their survey, but where is Faith?

Looking at Paul the Apostle’s life, he risked everything including his life and his health for his faith.

In Pauls words we read:

Acts 20:24

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Can a person’s responsibility to others take precedence over his or her own life? Of course, and it happens all the time. Look at the first responders going into the World Trade Center after 9/11 or during earthquakes, volcanic explosions, floods, fires, etc. Look at our men and women in uniform defending our country in the Armed Services or the Police Officers attempting to save hostages in a school or office complex.

Paul risked his life for many years, even after having been imprisoned multiple times, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked and threatened with many other dangers. You can read his words in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, in the 11th chapter.

Why would someone go through such ordeals and dangers over such a long period of time, eventually even being beheaded in Rome? For his faith. Because he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his very life was a gift of grace from God through Jesus Christ who spoke directly to Paul on the road to Damascus.

As I ponder the reality of what Paul’s commitment to Jesus must have looked like I am humbled mightily. Yes, categories such as Safety, Housing and Jobs are important. But this one man, Paul, had a higher calling than even these. He knew for certain that he served the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He knew that if we build up treasures in this life they will be eaten by moths or destroyed by rust. His eyes were set on the things above, on the building up of treasures in heaven. Paul proclaimed the good news of the gospel to those who were lost.

You can see the survey mentioned above at this site: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/what-matters-most-to-people-in-each-country/

You can see why Paul was willing to risk everything by reading the New Testament in your Bible.

Selfless Love

There are four primary words in the Ancient Greek language that have been translated into our English word “Love” in the New Testament of the Bible. One of them is quite important to a person who calls himself or herself a “Christian”.

When Americans use the word “love” they might use it in multiple contexts, sometimes with a wry smile. In our house, if one of our children would have said “I just love this spaghetti!”, another might have responded with “Well, why don’t you marry it?” Corny but cute.

In 1995, the phrase “I love you man!” was used in a comical Bud-Light beer commercial. The son wanted a beer from his father, so he professed his love for him in what was an obvious-to-all ploy. But the commercial was funny with an endearing “Hallmark Card-like” tone. As a result, it became a huge hit in pop culture at the time.  Perhaps it hit home with some about how we profess love while actually seeking something for ourselves.

Of the words translated to “love” from the Ancient Greek language, the first three are not the subject of this article:

  • The Greek word “Eros” we translate as love, but it has sexual tones of passion.  Our word “erotic” comes from this.
  • The Greek word “Philia” means love, but it is the love of friendship.  The city we know as Philadelphia was named by William Penn, and the name means “brotherly love”.  As an aside, among the many historically signficant accomplishments of that city, it was the birthplace of the United States Marines, to whom I have the greatest respect.
  • The Greek word “Storge” also means love, but it is the type of love that parents have for their children.

Yet the Greeks used one other word for love that signifies an even greater love, a “selfless love”. The word is “Agape”. What is agape love or selfless love? It is a love in which one intentionally puts the good of others ahead of oneself. Such love was demonstrated in its ultimate form by Jesus Christ. It was His intentional willingness to suffer, to be crucified and to die for the good of mankind.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
~ John 15:13

To be a Christian, one believes that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that He bore the sins of man on His shoulders on a cross at Calvary.  Also, that He rose again on the third day and sits at the right hand of the Father.  Such faith is a saving faith. But a Christian is to not just believe, but also to follow the example of Jesus by loving God and loving others selflessly.  That is the difficult part.  It requires work, diligence, and agape love for others.

And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
~ Matthew 22:37-39

You might respond “Love my neighbor as myself!? How is that possible? You clearly haven’t met my neighbors!”

Yet when we look at the love that Jesus brought into the world, we see such love. It was the poor and downtrodden that He came to save. He didn’t reach out to the rich, the beautiful or the powerful of that time in history, but to the destitute, the leper, the tax-collector that most people shunned or despised. He led by example. We are to follow His example, to follow Him.

One of the most quoted verses in the New Testament is this one –
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
~ John 3:16

This verse describes God’s action of “giving” His Son, Jesus, for all who would believe in Him. That takes “selfless” to a new level. We would almost certainly be more willing to die for someone than to sacrifice one of our children for them. Can we even begin to understand the love of God?

It frankly isn’t possible for a man to achieve such perfect, selfless love, but Jesus promised His followers that He would send a “Helper” in the person of “The Holy Spirit” to them. Through the study of His word in the Bible, through prayer and through the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we can follow the example of Jesus.

There is much darkness in this world.  We only need to do a quick scan of the latest news to see the terror and cruelty that men inflict on each other.  Yet love prevails.  Christians are to be “set apart” for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We pray that you will believe, trust and follow Him.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
~ 1st Corinthians 13:4-7

Photograph by John J O’Leary