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Why do we serve others?

A recent study has looked at two different ways of convincing people to pitch in to help wider society.

Imagine there’s a drought in your town, and the local authority need you to conserve water.

The authority could offer you a financial incentive to use less water. Or, they could tell your neighbours how much water you used last month.

It is thought this latter tactic is more effective. Why? Because we love to look good. If the local authority tells everyone you’re using too much water, you will be embarrassed (perhaps even shamed) into using less. If you conserve water, you will look good. And people love to look good.

As one of the report’s authors writes in the New York Times, “…making others better off is not our main motivation to give. Instead, we cooperate because it makes us look good”.

This is why we Facebook pictures of ourselves volunteering at food banks. We like to look good in our social circles. It is possible that we can do something good (serve others) for the wrong (selfish) reasons.

But Jesus didn’t pitch in to look good. He didn’t serve people because he had ulterior motives. He wasn’t a people pleaser.

Serving others is great for many reasons. It will make you feel good, it will increase your self-esteem and it will make your friendships stronger. But serving others because we benefit is not service. It’s selfish.

One of the best things about service, is nobody is above it. Service affects every area of our lives. Our work life, our home life and our relationships can all benefit from service. Serving other people and expecting nothing in return is hard, but it’s always the right thing to do.

‘Acts of service’ is one of five love languages which Gary Chapman has identified. If your primary love language is ‘acts of service’ then for you, actions always speak louder than words. When your other half cooks dinner or does the washing up, you feel particularly loved.

The challenge for each of us is to serve others because we love them. We do not serve because we want to look good, or even because we want affirmation. The Bible says we love because Christ first loved us. It must also be true that we serve because Christ first served us.

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