I was catching up with a friend in ministry the other day for the first time since Covid lockdowns began last March. Obviously we had much to discuss about how each other’s congregations had navigated the lockdowns, returning to the building, and especially members’ feelings about masks.

He shared a story about getting to visit an elderly lady in the nursing home for the first time in 14 months. She repeatedly warned him that if he came in he would have to wear a mask through the entire visit, and wanted to make sure he was okay with that. He continually reassured her that visiting her was far more important than going maskless.

What he hit on there was a crucial point that so often goes missing: what determines if we act God’s way or not is who we think our actions are about. He knew visiting that woman and encouraging her was about her, not about himself. With that in mind, wearing a mask was of no concern to him at all. Regardless of if he wanted to wear it or not, it was for her best interest that he tolerate the mask, so he did.

Over the course of all of this, though, masks and other covid measures have been a source of great division among many Christians. Generally speaking, where that’s the case it is because we are looking out for ourselves. We think it’s about me and my preferences and comforts, so we act accordingly. For some that means refusing to wear a mask into the Sunday assembly because “I don’t have to.” For others, that means demanding everyone comply to their level of safety preferences or else they’ll end fellowship. It’s a tough situation.

There are no clear answers, except for one – it’s not about me.

If I make it all about me, it’s going to cause problems. The Bible teaches this repeatedly, particularly in the turn from James 3 to James 4.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Worldly wisdom is self-seeking and envious. “Looking out for #1” is how the world works, but God’s wisdom is peaceable, yielding, impartial – in other words, largely defined by being unselfish. As the conversation continues into what we have designated as chapter 4, James shows the outcome of applying worldly wisdom.

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.”

What causes our conflicts and interpersonal problems? Selfish desire. We want our way, and if we don’t get it we cause problems. Godly wisdom prevents this. Worldly wisdom feeds into it all the more. Of course, Jesus showed us how to live with this perspective. He knew His duty on earth was not about Himself – “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

That’s the challenge put before us in every situation – who is this about? Is that not the practical application of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12)? Figure out how you would wanted to be treated if it were all about you, and then do that for others.

Our Savior, of course, provided the best model. If Jesus thought His time on earth was about Himself and His comfort, He would not have gone to the cross for us. Thankfully He did not make it about Himself, and we would do well to follow His example in every aspect of our lives.

  • Who is worship about? If I think it’s about me, I’m going to go where the worship is pleasing to me. If I think it’s about God, I’m going to go where the worship pleases Him, and I’m going to worry far more about what I’m putting in than what I’m taking out.
  • What is “church” about? If I think it’s about me, I’m going to take my ball and go home any time the preacher doesn’t meet my standards or the other members don’t act the way I want. If I realize it’s about God, and loving and serving Him by loving and serving His people, I’m not going to force my own way or church hop every time they don’t do what I want.
  • What is marriage about? If it’s about me, I will take care of myself and make sure I am happy rather than making sure she is. I will be defensive in every disagreement rather than hearing my spouse. And, as James predicts, this will lead to fights and quarrels. If I realize my job in marriage is about serving my spouse and keeping her happy, I will listen to her, pay attention to her, and serve her. Ideally, she will do the same in return. But if she doesn’t, I can’t then give in to worldly wisdom. I have to keep doing what God has commanded and view my job as being about her.
  • What is parenting about? If I make it about myself, I will either drive my children to comply with an unfair standard because I want them to make me look good, or I will ignore them because I’m busy with my own life, leaving them without the nurturing they need. If I realize it’s about them, I will love them enough to seek to understand them and find out what they need from me, and then provide it.

The list can really go on – friendship, employment, citizenship, etc. but hopefully the point has been made. Every time I go in to a situation with the selfish wisdom of this world, I can expect conflict, relational troubles, and unhappiness. Humbling ourselves to serve – just as our Lord and Savior did (John 13:14) – is the path toward pleasing God and being fulfilled.