“Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.”
Like our own, Paul’s call to follow Jesus, particularly his missionary activity, was a call to give himself away or to pour himself out for the good of others. The call to love always has such a dimension. Love always reflects the self-emptying action of God on our behalf, both in our very creation and in our redemption. It always includes the gift of self. Love always includes sacrifice.
In our families, we often learn this dimension of love. As children, we often, though regrettably not always, see the example of this sacrifice from our parents or guardians in their care for us. We learn about how to love even from the small acts of sharing our toys, taking out the trash, or going to church. Later in life, you may learn from your own relationship in marriage or from the needs of your own children, even as those needs change as they themselves get older. The limitation or fulfillment we have from obligations to others, especially freely chosen obligations, move us to the real practice of love.
Our worlds get reoriented from a sort of black hole gravitational pull centered on ourselves to outward focused generosity and service. In this way, both in being loved and in loving others, we are set free from the tyranny of selfishness, or what we call sin. Grace in our relationships helps break our hearts of stone and God gives us hearts of flesh: we become like God. Made in the image and likeness of God, who is love, we become more and more who we were made to be. Like Paul, we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Or, as Jesus himself puts it, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
To give ourselves away, of course, requires a bit of self possession. We need to be grounded in our identity, open to God’s transforming grace, but not so easily swayed by others’ opinions or expectations of us or superficial worldly values. To live the good life, I may buy into the idea, especially in the cutthroat competition of the marketplace, that it is me first. Our false self seeks credit and preservation at the cost of our true self. Our worlds actually become smaller, constricting, and arid. The impact and legacy of our lives diminish.
I remember a quote I had to memorize as a cadet from General George C. Marshall, “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Although free, Paul becomes a slave. Although strong, he becomes weak. To save others, he loses himself. And he finds himself. Where? Only in Love.