“What’s In It For Me?”

–October of 2002

“What’s In It For Me?”

Over the years I have interviewed a number of people for ministry positions.  Some as potential pastors and missionaries, others for a position here at the college.  I’ve made it a practice to listen very carefully for some form of the question, “What’s in it for me?”  I have found this to be a pivotal question that often reveals the kind of person who gives themselves only if there is an equal return to them.  They aren’t prepared to invest themselves in the lives of others for the sheer joy of making a difference.  They lack the servant spirit.

What this question reveals is becoming increasingly important as our American culture becomes more and more obsessed with materialism.  The quest for the larger house, the faster car, the more expensive wardrobe has become the pre-occupation of not only the general population but many in Christian ministry.  Given the fact of our economic prosperity, the pressure of contemporary culture, and the natural pull of a sinful heart, it’s too easy for a person today to become a creature obsessed with security and comfort, and incapable of throwing himself into a higher cause.

This dilemma is as old as sin itself.  Adam and Eve thought there was something more for them.  Lot’s lust for real estate in the Jordan Valley cost him more than he ever wanted to pay.  Paul addressed this problem from his jail cell in Rome.  He warned the Philippian Christians about those who preach Christ “out of envy and strife” (Phil. 1:15).  The word translated “strife” does not literally mean strife.  It’s the Greek word erithea and basically means a payment made to advance a person’s own interest.  Paul was describing those who preach the gospel for their own gain.  He told the Philippian church that the antidote to this self seeking was to have the mind of Christ — the attitude of soul that does nothing out of selfish ambition but finds joy in the opportunity to pour out one’s life for others.

Does the gospel offer deliverance from this self-serving focus?  It did for Timothy.  Paul told the Philippians that Timothy would “naturally care for your state” in contrast to those who seek their own interest.  It did for Paul.  Paul’s word to the Corinthian church was “for I am not in this job for what I can get out of it, but for what benefits I can bring to the many, that they may be saved” (Barclay’s translation).

Can grace so “re-orient” our hearts until the primary focus of our life is no longer our own but that of others?  Can we be truly cleansed from the question “what’s in it for me?”  The Bible makes it clear that we can.  As a matter of fact, it’s at the very heart of the gospel’s power to make us like Christ.

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