Perhaps you have heard the following story or something similar: There was a little boy sitting with his mother during the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday morning. The bread and the fruit of the vine came by and the little boy wanted to partake of them. The little boy’s mother quickly stopped him and patiently explained that communion was not for him since he was not yet a Christian. When it came time for the collection and the mother told the little boy to put the dollar that she gave him into the plate. He adamantly replied, “If I don’t get to eat, then I’m not paying anything!”
While this story is funny and certainly understandable for a child, I wonder if the same attitude is carried through to adulthood with some Christians today. Some people always ask the question, “What will I get out of it?” We live in a society that is built on materialism and the search for more money. Therefore, many live with this greedy motivation to do things only if they gain something from it.
This mindset is not unique to our culture. The Greco-Roman culture of the first century church was built on similar foundational thinking. “Self-interest and reciprocity were the dominant principles by which the Romans lived.”1 People did things for one of two reasons: (1) to gain something, whether that be money, social status or favor of another person; (2) in or do pay someone back for a favor. The latter was even tied to the first to gain social status.
Even their polytheistic religion was built on these principles. “The object of religion was to secure the good will of the gods and avert misfortune.”2 They served their gods in order to gain their favor, so they could experience future success in life.
Can you imagine how counter-cultural the New Testament was to the 1st century world based on this information?
Consider what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit [seeking empty glory; emp. added], but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (ESV).
This was directly against what the people of the 1st century world were taught to do! Yet Paul called them to a higher way of thinking.
He said in Philippians 2:5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (NASB).
Furthermore, he charged the Corinthians to fight against this mindset in 1 Corinthians 10:24. He wrote, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (ESV).
Let us have this same mindset. It is completely counter-cultural even today. But as Paul told the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2; ESV).
by Noah Icenhour