“It’s Not About You”
During a student teacher observation the student-teacher invited me to sit at her desk. My eyes looked back and forth from her delivery to my notes as I assessed her instruction. At some point my sight was arrested by a simple plaque on her desk. It was all of four words which faced her, not her students. It read simply
The student teacher had learned the biblical teaching well. Her students were her focus.
It’s not about you summarizes Paul’s teaching about personal convictions (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8). Forming convictions—decisions I make about issues which have no standard for “right” nor “wrong”—has more to do with others than with me.
“Me! Me! Me!” is what we have become accustomed to in culture, however. “I do what’s good for me” has become our collective mantra. We not only think of ourselves before others, when we do think of others, we often think “I wonder what they can do for me?”
Our desire for self-satisfaction is captured in the opening scene of 13 Conversations About One Thing:
“What is it that you want?”
“What everyone wants. To experience life.”
And later in the movie we discover the answer to the answer;
“It’s like the old Gypsy curse, ‘May you get what you want.’”
The movie corrects what our culture desires, “I just want to be happy.” “Happiness,” as with all words, should be defined, then described, then distinguished. The chart below is an attempt to see the Christian difference.
What I want
The Hebrew background to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew (22.37-40) begins in Leviticus (19.18) and Deuteronomy (6.5). Our love of God is shown by our love for others.
“Others” is the context to Paul’s famous teaching on personal convictions in Romans 14. (Part One). If we skim chapters 12 and 13 of Romans we find sections on submission, service, and sacrifice, words which inform Romans 14—“It’s not about you!” Indeed, Romans 15.1-8 bookends Romans 12-13 reemphasizing “the strong serve the weak.”
True “happiness” is not the license to serve self or the legalism to control others’ convictions. Instead, true happiness is self-sacrifice found in Christ’s sacrifice (Gal 5.1). The key to the practice of personal conviction is not self but others. My happiness should be found in making others “happy” (joy filled, peace giving, blessing focused).
When I taught in high school I created a yearly button detailing our school theme. Each button contained one word. The very first display piece for outerwear and backpacks reflected the biblical teaching
Personal convictions says what my student teacher said, “It’s not about you.”
Reflect personally over questions of Individualism (“Me, Me, Me!”) and Hedonism (“Please Me! Please Me!”) as they relate to constructing personal convictions from Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8:
- How can temporal happiness with no real boundaries be better than the parameters established by The eternal God?
- Can anything lasting be built solely on happiness? A college education? Law? Working at a job? What do each of these demand?
- Is rejecting the Christian worldview because it is “hard” (both to fully understand and to live) for something “easy” (personal peace and affluence), a wise choice? Why or why not?
- How will our choices for “happiness” affect others?
- How will the decisions for happiness of others affect us? What would have happened to us had others chosen “happiness” over commitment?
- What if others’ happiness conflicts with our own? Will we be able to say, “Don’t do that! You’ll ruin my happiness!”? Explain.
- How will we make future decisions based on happiness?
- Can nations, economies, cultures, or daily life be sustained by happiness as a goal?
- How are individual, experiential choices different from selfishness?
- Is “choice” a servant or a master?
- Why do young people agree with the advice of their peers (“Do what makes you happy”) over the 18 year wisdom of their parents (“Do what pleases God”)?
- If we are only to please ourselves, why should parents provide stability and security?
- Are things that are easily had easily lost? Is anything in life “easy”?
- What isn’t hard or difficult that has worth?
- How have diligence and vigilance built your life to this point?
- How many hundreds of times do we make decisions that keep normalcy or consistency in life? Is this better or worse than “happiness”? Explain.
- Are we willing to give up “choice” for the sake of another?
Mark has just as much trouble thinking-living with the concept of OTHERS as anyone. He does not like his answers to these questions either.
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