Years ago, in Economics 101, I was taught that self interest is the primary motivator of economic activity. Although we may have a number of reasons for working, going to school or deciding how to spend our money, at the core every decision we make is personal well being, or gain. You might say self interest is our default position. Adam Smith put it this way in his book, The Wealth of Nations”:
“It is not from the benevolence (kindness) of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
In other words, the seemingly helpful things we do for others are not really selfless. Deep down we do the things we do out of a desire to make life better for ourselves. You could say that self interest is just a nicer way of describing selfishness or sinful behavior. It comes naturally because it’s built into our DNA – at least, that’s what Lutherans believe. We are sinful creatures from the moment of conception. It is indeed, our default position. That doesn’t mean we are just to accept it. Christianity calls us to consciously reverse our natural inclinations. We are called to live sacrificially, which means putting others first. Compare Adam Smith’s quote to what St. Paul has to say:
“Do nothing out of 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 self interests, but also the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
For a look at what this means in daily living, read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. Here’s what Martin Luther King Jr. said about this parable:
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me? But … the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Can I change my default position? Can I put others first, even when it requires a sacrifice of my own needs and wants? Not on my own! “Wretched man (or woman) that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”(Romans 7:24) Only Jesus Christ!
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
1 Peter 2:21
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!