“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said unto him, “thou shalt love the lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” -Matt 22: 35-39
This is perhaps one of the best-known scriptures from the New Testament. But the quotation is incomplete. The next verse is the real message:
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Service is not a new concept in our culture. Lots of people engage in service and do a great deal of good.
But how many of us love our neighbors — as ourselves — and from the perspective that “all the law” hangs on our doing so?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the standard service project — a bunch of people getting together and raking leaves from an elderly citizen’s yard or painting a house or planting a garden.
These are good and we should do this kind of service often. But loving our neighbor as our self is a deeper, less public, more personal form of service, and as it turns out, it is often needed more than a new paint job.
To offer this kind of service requires a new view, a different perspective, a change of heart. The more subtle service I speak of here requires a different motive than group service.
It is more personal and up-close; it requires real interface and acknowledgement. Rather than rakes or paintbrushes, it requires the use of our heart as the primary tool for rendering action toward our fellowman.
Educator and theologian Neil A. Maxwell, said,
“So often what people need is to be enveloped in the raiment of real response. So often what people need is to be sheltered from the storms of life in the sanctuary of belonging.”
One of the greatest impediments to this quiet, noble service is self. Self-regulation is very important when rendering service.
Because we live in a selfish world, it is easy for us to justify or to become hyper-focused on ourselves.
Selfishness comes in many different forms but it always includes an over-abundance of self-concern. Selfish people are forever taking their own temperature, asking themselves, “Am I happy?”
As Maxwell states,
“The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, clearly requires, for implementation, selfless individuals who have an unusual capacity to love — even if their love is not returned. How many peacemakers can there be if too many are too concerned about winning and asserting their rights and their prerogatives?
“If selfish confrontation reigns supreme, from where will reconciliation come?
“How many poor in spirit can there be if inflamed egos constantly seek to enrich and to vindicate themselves at the expense of others?
“How many pure in heart can there be as many people become sensually selfish and lose their capacity to feel?
“How much genuine compassion for others can there be if too many people are filled with self-pity?”
To be aware of this tendency and stay clear of it is the road to increased happiness for ourselves — and our neighbors.
Here are a few examples of “Love Thy Neighbor” service:
1. Genuine Listening: A listening that is more than just being patient until it is our turn to speak; rather, a listening that includes real response, not simply nodding absorption.
2. Righteous Receiving: Often it is a service to be on the receiving end. It brings great joy to the giver and builds a bond of love when we graciously receive.
3. Unassailable Integrity: We serve others when we are always true. This is more than being honest until it becomes too expensive. In the crowds of chameleons in the world today, daring to be the same good self is being different. When our goodness is constant we are on the road to the unvaryingness of God-like love.
4. Restrained Conversation: Let our service at times include a willingness to hold back in conversation when what we would have said has already been said — and perhaps better. To contribute time and space, so another can expand is to reflect a quiet nobility. There are so many times when to forgo is to make way for another.
5. Professional Craftsmanship: Let our professional lives be models of excellence even if others care more and more about pay and less and less about quality workmanship. This is the mark of a true craftsman.
6. Honest Appraisal: We serve others when we take a hard look at ourselves from an “others-focused” introspection that is more centered around “did I do enough?” rather than, “how did I look?,” “self-oriented” personal analysis.
7. Sincere Acknowledgement of Others: Love is not glad when others go wrong, rather true service to our neighbor means sincere rejoicing when others do well—even when their success seems to somehow change our own place in the corporate or social pecking order.
8. Shun Worldliness: We can serve our neighbor by not endorsing, in word or deed, the seductive slogans of the world, by refusing to be trendy when those trends would take all who follow towards destruction.
9. Eradicate Negative Cyclical Behavior: There are times when one of the greatest acts of service we can perform is to stop something. The emotional chain reaction and overreaction can come at us like electric voltage; it is very tempting to simply pass along. But we must say, “Let it stop with me.” Brave but battered French soldiers in World War I finally held against an invading enemy at a place called Verdun, where the solemn password was “They shall not pass.” At times we too should be willing to expose ourselves to misunderstanding and pain in order to keep undesirable things from spreading any farther.
10. Endure Bravely: We can serve by enduring well, for our steadiness will steady others who are otherwise on the verge of giving up.
11. Persistent Praise: We can serve by giving deserved, specific praise. The militarily brilliant and much decorated Duke of Wellington was asked late in his years what he would have done differently. He did not say he would have fought the magnificent Battle of Waterloo or any other battle differently. He said quite simply, “ I should have given more praise.”
12. Live Righteously: Evil people exist. The in-betweeners merely survive. But those who have really lived will be those who have lived righteously, because they will have lived and served selflessly in a time of stunning contrasts. They will have managed to keep clean in dirty world. And the process of staying clean will have kept them free from the enslaving elements of the culture. Being free, they will be happy in otherwise sad times, and all their experiences will be for their good.
William Blackstone articulated this “love thy neighbor” kind of service well when he talked of the relationship between obeying God and loving oneself:
“As, therefore, the Creator is a being of not only infinite power and wisdom, but also of infinite goodness, He has been pleased so to contrive the constitution and frame of humanity, that we should want no other prompter to inquire after and pursue the rule of right, but only our own self-love, that universal principle of action.
“For he has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter.”
The word service like leadership, has been overused and under applied. In the times facing us ahead, true service from the heart and plenty of it will be the glue that holds society together.
The best kind of service to render our fellow man is the very service we wish others would perform for us.
Shanon Brooks is the President of Monticello College, the Director of Education and Training for Humanitarian Visions International, S.A., and a contributing editor of the Center for Social Leadership. He co-authored Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens.
Shanon and his wife Julia are raising their six children in Monticello, Utah.