By Michael E. Brooks
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NKJV).
While visiting a congregation in Kishabpur sub-district (in Bangladesh) I was told of a local point of interest. Even though this is a heavily populated agricultural area, it is also the habitat of a rather large population of gray langurs, also known as the Hanuman langur.
This is an attractive black faced, long tailed monkey, with long gray hair that lives in moderate sized groups. They feed on leaves, fruits and other vegetable matter.
I asked the local residents, “Do the monkeys not cause great damage to the crops here?” Their answer was interesting. “We feed them. So long as we give them something, they will leave our crops alone. If they come for food and we refuse, they will raid during the night and destroy the fields and fruits.”
Upon further discussion I found that the farmers have learned the monkeys will be satisfied with far less if it is given to them willingly. If they come and take it from the fields they will take much more, even more than they need.
I left with the distinct impression that both monkeys and humans were satisfied with their relationship. The monkeys are quite tame and obviously feel safe. The local residents are proud of their possession of a unique natural resource.
Most interesting to me is the fact that these two different species have learned to get along together better than many humans do. Their secret is that at least one party to the relationship is willing to live by the principle of seeking the well being of the other.
Humans realize that they are better off helping the monkeys out than selfishly trying to keep everything for themselves. The monkeys have learned to accept what humans willingly give them. Neither acts selfishly or greedily.
Is that not the principle of brotherly love, put to practical application? No, I am not claiming kinship between human and animal. I am saying that this symbiotic relationship illustrates what the Holy Spirit is teaching.
If I genuinely seek your well-being even before my own, I achieve contentment for both of us. On the other hand, if I selfishly ignore your needs and seek only my own, I most often contribute to both our unhappiness.
Is it not strange that this principle is frequently proven, imminently logical, yet one of the most difficult for people to accept as true. Evidence that it works is abundant. The rationale behind it is plain and clear. But we just cannot let go of our own selfishness and greed.
We demand that we come first, that all our possessions be used for our own pleasures. And we wonder why relationships are strained and we become embittered and unhappy.
Jesus said it plainly, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
Things do not and cannot make us happy, unless we use them for the good of others. In the parable of the rich fool Jesus’ moral is simply, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Greed and selfishness can never build relationships, secure our destiny, or provide happiness. They doom us to failure. Caring for others, however, brings great reward. We can even get along with those far different from ourselves, if we will just consider their needs along with our own.
By Michael E. Brooks