Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10
This title won’t make sense to the vast majority of readers, which is OK. It is a Latin phrase which means “not for self”. It is one of the principles embraced by my high school – Phillips Academy, located in Andover, Massachusetts.
The head of school of Andover recently addressed the school in an all school meeting and reaffirmed it this way: “We embrace together the idea that thinking and acting for others must guide our lives – not for self. Andover has stood for this value for 239 years and it will for evermore.”
My years at Andover were not much fun. It was interesting to attend my 50th reunion with classmates and to hear how miserable many of them were as well. When I attended, I thought I was the only one who had a difficult experience. It turns out that even the ones that I thought had it all together had similar feelings.
Yet, years later, we all were unanimous that those years in a challenging educational environment laid the foundation for our later lives and that we all felt that it was one of the best things we experienced in life. To a man, they all said they would do it all over again. I didn’t think much about Non Sibi while I was at Andover, to be honest. It sounded like a classical platitude that didn’t have much relevance at that point in my life. It’s significance to me came later when I graduated from law school.
Over the years, Andover has produced remarkable people who have led lives of service to others. It includes several Presidents of the United States. Others led careers in the military serving our country. One of my classmates ended up being an Admiral in the Nay. Still others became leaders in business, education or government, or became authors.
Almost all of them gave back to society and others – whether it was through their profession or through their leadership, volunteering, or philanthropy. My eldest son, also an Andover graduate, is “giving back” through his involvement in The Fistula Foundation which he learned about on a trip to Ethiopia several years ago.
The Fistula Foundation provides surgical cures for a condition that occurs in the developing world where medical care for pregnant women is all but non-existent, resulting in thousands of women suffering after childbirth. Their condition can be corrected by fistula surgery but resources are scarce. Last year, the Foundation provided 5,000 women with a life restoring operation. (www.fistulafoundation.org). I applaud his involvement with the Fistula Foundation.
He is now the Chairman of their Board, and helping them raise money since they do not rely on any government funding. The Foundation sponsors medical centers in over 20 countries in Africa and Asia, and the Foundation estimates that one million women suffer from obstetric fistula worldwide.
Why is Non Sibi important today? Well, critics have labeled the next generation – the millennials this way: “They are a class of self-centered, self-absorbed, selfie-snapping 20-somethings” according to Samantha Raphleson of NPR. Of course, that probably could have been said about most prior generations – minus the “selfies” of course.
In a 2013 commentary in Forbes magazine, Dan Schwabel wrote a commentary on “Why You Can’t Ignore the Millennials”: “Even despite a poor economy, millennials strive to give back to society. Eighty-one percent have donated money, goods or services, reports a study by Walden University and Harris’ Interactive. They strive to support causes that align with their values and personal belief system. When Pew Research asked a sample of millennials what their priorities were, they said being a good parent, having a successful marriage and helping others in need.” Bottom line: millennials may be described as self-centered, yet research shows they want Non Sibi in their lives – the ability to give back to our society and helping others in need.
That’s good news, but today, it often has no biblical underpinnings. As the Walden University Study shows, millennials support causes that align with their values and personal belief system, which is increasingly secular. Christianity has stood for the principle of service to others for two millennia, but it is not a topic or theme that gets a lot of mileage.
In fact, I couldn’t think of many songs that have lyrics relating to serving others, and it’s not a frequent sermon topic. Having said that, the concept of service or serving others is one of the strongest themes in the New Testament. As Jesus was grooming the next generation of leaders – his disciples – He constantly reminded them that serving was the key to leadership in the Kingdom. His was a model of servant leadership – serving others sacrificially. His meeting in the Upper Room with the disciples was the crowning lesson when He said “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Jesus was God’s servant here on earth. His life was a life of service and sacrifice for others – for you and me.
Studies on service consistently show benefits to the one serving, not just to those being served. Volunteering has been shown to have a benefit for students in high school: “[It} enhanced students’ problem-solving skills, improved their ability to work within a team and enabled them to plan more effectively.” “Another benefit of service-learning is that young people are far more likely to remain engaged when they can see that their participation is effecting change.”
In other words, they can see that they make a difference. I met this morning with a man whose son has struggled with drug addiction. His son says that volunteering at a rest home keeps his mind on the needs of others, not on himself. He points to his volunteering as being therapeutic and helpful in his journey to remain clean. This just illustrates that there are lots of motivations to want to serve others.
I don’t need a study to tell me that most people want to “make a difference” in this world. As noted above, the millennials are no different. Lives of others are made easier when people serve others. How your service plays out is often tied to what your purpose in life is. You see, we are placed here on earth to glorify God. That’s only the beginning, because He has gifted you as a unique individual and equipped you with specific gifts, talents, passions and interests.
That’s what the 1 Peter 4:10 verse is about. What gets me excited might not do anything to you. So, how do you glorify God? You start by loving others – love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love your neighbors? What do you actually do? Well, Jesus says it well – you love your neighbors by loving and serving them.
How do you serve them depends on who you are and where you are? There is no “one-size fits all” template when it comes to serving our neighbors. Not everyone can be on the board of an international charity. But you can, in some way, no matter how big or small, find something you are passionate about and find a way to be involved.
When I think about the topic of service, I cannot help but think of Mother Teresa who dedicated her life to the poor and dying on the streets of Calcutta, India. A Catholic nun, she felt led to a life of service at an early age.
Mother Teresa was born in Albania and moved to India in 1950, setting up a mission which was to care for, in her own words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people [who] have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” What began as a small mission of 13 people in Calcutta grew to 517 missions in over 100 countries by 1996, the year before she died.
So what does your life of service look like? That’s where it gets interesting. You don’t have to be a Mother Teresa to make a difference in the world. You might be led to a “service” profession such as medicine, nursing, fire protection, or even the military.
God needs His servants in every profession – lawyers, doctors, nurses, carpenters, or even salesmen. I became a Christian long after my chosen profession was already clear. I had no idea what God had up his sleeve for me because I had no idea what it meant to be the spiritual leader of my household, much less what being a Christian lawyer looked like.
Over the next couple of years, a picture emerged which totally changed my perspective. You see, I realized that God wants everyone to serve where they are planted. That came from a verse in 1 Corinthians 10:31 which should be familiar: “Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.” Everything, not just some things. Being a lawyer meant that I had to figure out a way to glorify God. When that passage sunk in, my attitude towards law practice, my staff and my clients changed overnight.
I realized I was to serve them, and I spent time in figuring out how to serve others outside of my law practice. Soon, I was representing a number of Churches and setting up Christian ministries. Some of the work I did was pro bono (i.e. for free). The rest of it was for fees that were substantially reduced from what I would otherwise have charged. That was my way of giving back.
Or, your service may be part-time – doing volunteer work outside of your occupation. Volunteering for a non-profit or at Church. Leading a bible study, or even singing at Church. It might be something like making weekly visits to a rest home or providing meals to those who are shut in. In my case, it involves mentoring younger men and helping them to be the best they can be and volunteering for leader training for MentorLink. The possibilities are endless, and the needs are so great
My family has gone in different directions when it comes to service to others. As noted above, one of my sons is involved with The Fistula Foundation. My daughter has volunteered for something called Young Lives in Raleigh, which is a Christian outreach to unmarried pregnant teenagers who often have nowhere to turn and whose families may have turned their back on them.
My wife volunteered on a ministry that conducted bible studies for over 20 years in the Women’s Prison in Raleigh – a maximum security prison for women who have been kicked to the curb because of something they did which landed them in the prison. Many of the inmates are serving life sentences. The majority of the prison inmates come from histories of family abuse – physical, emotional verbal or sexual – when they were young.
These women have low self-esteem, and finding out that God is a God of second chances regardless of what they might have done in the past is a message that resonates with them.
My youngest son gives back to others by co-sponsoring a scholarship for a deserving underprivileged student in the 5th to 8th grade at the Washington Jesuit Academy, a a private school in Washington, DC. All of the students are on full scholarship provided by the generosity of individuals like my son.
The challenge here is to engage and encourage our next generation to live “Non Sibi”. One of the tasks of a mentor is to help a mentee identify his or her life purpose, and then help them take steps to accomplish their goals. That includes helping them identify what they are passionate about, which often leads to identifying opportunities for service to others. F
rom the standpoint of both the mentor and the mentee, what develops is fun to watch and our world is better off for it. If you haven’t mentored before, it is simple act of service to share your life experiences with the next generation and be an encourager of living Non Sibi.
FURTHER STUDY: Samantha Raphelson’s article on NPR about Millennials being self-centered. http://www.npr.org/2014/10/14/352979540/getting-some-me-time-why-millennials-are-so-individualistic
For Dan Sshawbel’s article on millennials wanting to be involved in service to others: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/09/04/why-you-cant-ignore-millennials/#42030f756c65
For information about the Fistula operation: https://www.fistulafoundation.org/what-is-fistula/
For information on the Jesuit Academy Scholarship program in Washington, DC:
WORSHIP: Listen to Kari Jobe sing “I am Not Alone“: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfveawSAHJA
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