Disadvantaging Yourself for Others

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Tim Keller has a line in his latest book, Generous Justice, that continues to mess with me: “The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks.” As an American I don’t like this quote for multiple reasons, namely because it calls me to come out of my individualism, and also because it challenges me to establish radically new paradigms in how I view and steward the possessions that God has entrusted to me.

Yet this whole notion of the strong, “the have’s,” if you will, disadvantaging themselves for the “have nots” is an ancient notion that various cultures across the stage of world history depended on to establish and entrench their communities. One of the most moving biblical example of a person disadvantaging themselves for the sake of others is the little boy who offered up his few loaves of bread, and pieces of fish when he was moved by the hunger of the community. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that this little boy was not from a wealthy family, so for him to give up the meal that he had for the sake of others was no small task. But growing up in a society that esteemed community and connectedness, he understood the importance of disadvantaging himself for the sake of others. Because of his sacrifice the community was nourished and strengthened, and he probably went home with a lot more than what he brought considering all of the leftovers!

The early church understood the necessity of community, and the strong becoming weak for the sake of others. Several sources have indicated that a common practice of the early church when they encountered a member of the community who did not have the means to eat, that they would fast, giving their food to the individual, thus becoming weak that the other would become strong. Acts two illustrates this beautifully as the “haves” disadvantaged themselves for the “have nots” through the selling of their possessions, so that the community could be built up.

I recently heard a pastor who had planted a church telling the story of how their Christian community began. Seven families had decided to move far away from home to a new city that was significantly more expensive to live in than their own. For some this posed a real challenge, especially because there were personal debts that they had accrued. What were they to do? Inspired by the early believers in Acts 2, the seven families decided to sell their possessions, establish a common fund and pay off each others debts. They decided to disadvantage themselves for the sake of others.

Of course, Jesus himself is the ultimate example of this, is he not? No one has more strength than He, being God Himself, Jesus is the pillar of strength. Yet his work on the cross in taking on the sins of the world is the supreme example of the strong disadvantaging themselves for the weak. You and I could not experience life with Him unless Jesus died/lived this! The same Jesus who taught and lived the necessity of the strong disadvantaging themselves for the weak, is the same Jesus who beckons us to follow in His footsteps and do likewise.

Korie and I have been turning this over in our minds a lot lately, wondering how we can put ourselves out for the sake of others? How we can welcome dis-ease into our lives and home for the comfort and strength of others? The following are some things we’re doing to follow Jesus in disadvantaging ourselves for others:

1. Having people live with us in our home. Over the years Korie and I have continually welcomed people who were transitioning, or had just found themselves on hard times to come and live with us. Obviously there’s some inconvenience involved. We can’t talk as freely as we like. We need to pay careful attention to what we’re wearing. We have to deal with the idiosyncrasies of our guests (one liked to pick their feet at the dinner table!), however annoying they may be. But we’ve found the upside to be far better than any potential downsides. In every case we’ve counted it sheer joy to put ourselves out for others.

2. Money. When the Bible pictures the strong, in many cases there is an inference to wealth, or financial stability. In our culture the same is true- the “haves” in most cases are those with the economic ability to do many things that the “have nots” can’t. So disadvantaging yourself for others has a financial undercurrent to it.

Tim Keller again proves helpful: “Therefore, if you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, it is injustice”.

I used to think financial prosperity would bring relief, but that’s not the case. I actually have found that it brings an incredible burden. As God has blessed Korie and I over the years financially, I have found the Holy Spirit turning up the volume in my soul, summoning us to disadvantage ourselves more and more for the sake of others. By this I’m not talking about the tithe, that’s the bare minimum. But going beyond the tithe and asking how can we use the financial resources God has given us to stand up for the orphan, fight cancer, care for the poor and so on. Not one time have Korie and I written a check, disadvantaging ourselves, that we’ve regretted it. In fact, we only want to disadvantage ourselves some more!

3. Foster Care/Adoption

As I write these words Korie and I are wrestling with our role in foster care and adoption. Prayerfully, we’re trying to figure out if we engage in foster care, adopt and/or resource others who want to be advocates for one of societies ultimate expressions of the weak- orphans. Our question is not should we be involved, but what is our specific role? We’re excited about being put out for the orphan.

And what about you? When was the last time you wrote a check, or did some act of service that seriously put you out and disadvantaged you for the advantage of others?

  1. Rick Fossum says:

    Thank you for your transparency. And more so, the challenge…

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