In a classic VeggieTales episode, Jerry and Jimmy Gourd earnestly but clumsily advise their pint-sized audience, ‘Don’t be selfish.‘ Now, far be it from me to argue with Jimmy and Jerry on most things, but on this topic, I want to offer you a somewhat contradictory perspective:
Do be selfish.
The Bible contains a surprisingly long list of answers to the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM) So if you can’t bring yourself to be a follower of Jesus out of self-sacrificing, altruistic obedience, I want to invite you to try following Him out of pure, unmitigated self-interest.
And I’m not just talking about eternal WIIFM related to whether you go ⇑ or ⇓ after you die. I’m talking about right-now WIIFM for this life.
Here’s what I mean:
1. Giving Feels Good
In Acts 20:35, the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus, saying ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Even if you’re not sure what you think about Paul (or Jesus, for that matter), I think you know this is true.
On Christmas morning, it’s great to open a gift, but doesn’t it pale in comparison to joy that comes from seeing the look on your loved one’s face as they discover that perfect present you came up with for them? When you see someone lifting something heavy and, without being asked, you leap in and grab an end, doesn’t the look of relief and gratitude on their face feel fantastic?
Of course it does, and you know it. It’s more blessed to give than to receive, so be selfish – hedonistic, even – and give generously!
2. Bring the Tithe; Get the Blessing
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” – Malachi 3:10
First, you might be wondering if I’m being redundant here; didn’t I decisively convince you to give in the last entry?
Yes. But the verb here isn’t ‘give’, it’s ‘bring’. ‘Give’ implies that what we’re turning over is ours to do with as we see fit, but that’s not what tithing is all about.
The reality is that the entire universe and everything in it belongs to God. She allows us to hang onto 90% of what She provides us with, but invites those who choose to trust Her to put Her money where our mouth is by returning the first 10% of what we have, to Her. So we don’t give the tithe, we bring it.
In Malachi 3:10, God double-dog dares us to bring Him the tithe, and watch what He does with that – promising to pour out more blessing than we can handle in response. What’s more, He challenges us to test Him in this.
Now, where it says ‘blessing’ in this verse, let’s be clear that God isn’t specifically promising a financial blessing – don’t look for a transactional ‘for every $10 you give Me, you’ll get $1,000’ arrangement when it comes to God. While the blessing promised here could be a massive financial windfall from heaven, it’s my hope for me and for you that it’s not.
Remember what Grandpa George (David Morris) says to Charlie (Freddie Highmore) in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when the boy talks about selling his treasured golden ticket for money to buy food for the family:
‘There’s plenty of money out there. They print more and more every day. But that ticket? There are only five of them in the whole world, and that’s all there’s ever going to be! Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money. Are you a dummy??’
Money can’t buy healing (relational, medical or spiritual). Money can’t buy you a great marriage, or wisdom, or joy, or purpose.
What if the blessing God wants to give you is one (or more) of these things? Wouldn’t that be worth 10% of your stuff?
But maybe it’s even better than that.
I wonder if the blessing God gives to tithers is the peace that comes from real financial freedom. A freedom from the pressure to keep up with the Joneses; a freedom to live within our means and be content about it – happy, even! When we tithe, we put God first in our finances, and considering how economics-driven we are as a people, I think that has the potential to re-orient the rest of our priorities as well, so God is first in all our categories. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus tells us, ‘Where your treasure is, your heart will be also‘ – so maybe when we put our treasure where it belongs (i.e. in God’s hands), our heart will follow.
Just imagine what God can do with, in, through and for you, when you’re all in with Her. Doesn’t that sounds better than anything you can buy with 10% of your money?
So be selfish. Bring the tithe so you can get the blessing.
3. Forgive For Your Own Sake
The Bible contains a rather freaky WIIFM when it comes to the topic of forgiveness, and it comes straight from the mouth of Jesus:
‘For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’ – Matthew 6:14-15
This follows quickly after Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer to His Disciples, and it’s totally consistent with the line, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’ that’s right there in Christendom’s most oft-repeated prayer, in black and white.
So if we withhold forgiveness from people who wrong us, the forgiveness of God is apparently unavailable to us.
Now, does this mean God is a stingy, quid-pro-quo kind of God, who withholds forgiveness from us until we make the first move? That doesn’t sound right to me.
The way I’ve wrapped my head around it is as follows: God’s forgiveness (closely linked with His grace) is always flowing in Niagaran proportions – but when we’re stingy with forgiveness, it’s like have this vital commodity crammed in a tightly clenched fist.
You can’t grasp something new with a closed hand, so even if our hand is immersed in the waterfall of God’s grace and forgiveness, we can’t receive any.
But when we open our hands to give forgiveness to others, our hands are also open to receive forgiveness from people, and from God.
I think it’s also important to remember that forgiveness is a decision, not an emotion – and you don’t need to feel ‘all better now’ before you choose to forgive.
It’s also vital to remember that you’re not condoning the wrong that was committed when you forgive. You’re simply choosing to let go of the anger, bitterness and resentment associated with it; to give the situation to God and let Him sort it out.
And Proverbs 25:21-22 seems to argue that forgiveness lived out is the sweetest revenge:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
Building on that idea, I want to share three quotes that aren’t from the Bible that I think offer a different kind of WIIFM when it comes to forgiveness:
Forgiveness hides a pleasure that you can’t get back from revenge. ~ Iranian Proverbs
- “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain
- ‘Resentment is Like Taking Poison and Waiting for the Other Person To Die.’ – Carrie Fisher (and others)
So be selfish and forgive.
4. Seek First, Receive Second
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:31-33
Putting God first is foolishness to the world. It’s also foolishness to every self-preservation impulse that’s wired into our biology, and it’s completely horrifying to our ego. But as Jesus says in the verse above, putting God first is actually a very shrewd approach to life. When you put God first, God puts you first and takes good care of you. You’re not choosing between the thing you want and God, you’re choosing between the thing you want without God and the thing you want through God, or something better – like the freedom from wanting something you don’t actually need.
God created the universe and everything in it, including you. And She loves you with every fibre of Her being. The love we have for our children pales in comparison. If you think that’s true, read the following verse and ask yourself if putting God first is actually a sacrifice:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:11-13
So be selfish, and put God first because of all the ways He’s going to bless you when you do.
Landing the Plane: Tongue In Cheek?
So, we’re 1,400 words into this opus now, and if you’re still here, you’re probably waiting for an ‘all kidding aside’ disclaimer, or some sort of literary wink to confirm that I’m being facetious in this post.
But the trouble is, I’m actually quite serious.
If you’re fully capable of genuinely putting God first, simply because She is Creator and you’re created – regardless of whether it benefits you or not – good for you! You’re a far better person than I am, Jesus.
But for us imperfect people, I’m convinced that taking the WIIFM into account and choosing to follow Christ because of the ways it benefits us is totally legit and completely kosher. Otherwise, why else would all those WIIFM verses be in the Bible in the first place?
In the same way that gratitude is the (not so) secret back door into humility, I think WIIFM is the (hopefully not) secret back door into disciplehood. Since we believe that God is good, that God is for us and that God is love, is it so hard to believe that obeying God’s will for our lives will result in the best possible version of our lives?
So start being selfish, already. Put God first (earnestly if you can, but even cynically if that’s all you can muster), and see what He does with that. I double dog dare you.
Peace be with you.