This passage says much about human nature. An aspect of our nature that the disciple should seek to overcome, but frequently we do not even stop to consider it. Our tendency to over-emphasize one area that inadvertently leads to neglect of another. When you get down to it, Christianity is not a salad bar where you just take the parts you want and leave the rest behind. So it's no wonder that the people who approach it this way end up with an unbalanced spiritual diet, with far too much junk food on their plate.
I just spent all last year pointing out one of these imbalances. Specifically the most neglected dimension of holiness. Yet, I tried to frequently remind everyone that wholeness is but one dimension that is tied to the other two. We seek wholeness not just for the sake of self, but so that we can be better equipped to live a more righteous life. As well as discover what we are set apart for in God's kingdom so that we can touch the lives of others. Far too often we try to skip to the end or get stuck in the middle of the process.
One could probably write a thousand-page book on all the ways we neglect one truth for the sake of another, but for this blog let's just address this one example subject that seems to be in my face a lot lately, service. When we get down to it, we can serve self, serve God, or serve others. It can be really easy to convince ourselves that one of these is more important than the others. Even if it is, that does not necessarily mean the others are completely irrelevant. So getting them out of balance can actually impede what it is that we are trying to emphasize. While it may seem rather vain to serve self, and it often is. But, we got to remember Jesus himself took time to eat, sleep, as well as go to isolated places to pray. So obviously denying self does not go that far. Jesus set an example of being a good steward of self. To remind us that if we allow ourselves to get drained to the point that we can't serve God or others very efficiently, then our overemphasis has indeed become counter-productive.
There are three dimensions to serving self as well, physical, emotional, and spiritual. While they are separate and distinct, they are interconnected as well. Suffering a debilitating physical illness can take an emotional and spiritual toll on us. Just as emotional stress can bleed into our physical well-being. So we can't treat any of these as completely unimportant either.
There is nothing noble about stuffing our faces with junk food and letting our health suffer for it, even if on some immature level it is a form of serving self. Just as there is nothing noble about over-emphasizing our physical health out of pure vanity. That is only serving self for the sake of admiration and praise. Self for self's sake, if you will. Somewhere in the middle of all this extremism, there is a proper balance that allows us to better serve God and others without wearing ourselves down.
Our emotional needs are a bit more complicated. Yet, we often see one of two extremes. Following feelings blindly, or denying them entirely. Treating our emotions as absolute truth often just leads us to provoke feelings we want, and cover up feelings we don't. This approach can lead to a lot of sinful actions as a quick and easy pain killer to our broken hearts. Never truly facing or dealing with the emotional wounds that are holding us back spiritually. While we often deny emotions to avoid the pain of our scars as well. However, you can't contain feelings forever, they will rear their ugly head, eventually. Somewhere in the middle, we find healing and ultimately wholeness. This is the first step to true holiness. Yet I repeat, not the only step.
Our spiritual well-being is a little more complicated than we often treat it as well. True spiritual well-being is achieved by seeking God, and his truth. Then apply that truth by seeking all three dimensions of holiness. Not by just knowing a definition of it. In embracing the full spectrum of holiness, there's spiritual prosperity and fulfillment. Many may say otherwise, but how would they know, they are only following one dimension of holiness. People like that definitely need some more fruit in their proverbial salad. For many, spirituality is just going to church to get uplifted by the music. I dare say they may be getting emotions and the spirit mixed up. I liken this to buying a Bucket of chicken and only eating the skin, that's very immature and unhealthy. That part of the chicken has its place, but only as a single part of a well-balanced spiritual diet.
While serving others often seems very noble on the surface, sometimes our motivations in doing so are less than noble. We often see approval addicts taking on a self-sacrificial mantra, but it's actually motivated by a desire for acceptance, inclusion, and validation. They are merely trying to buy loyalty, not benefit others. They are actually serving themselves in a very covert way. For the disciple, where your heart is at matters, it's not merely about surface behavior. (Mark 7:6)
Let me also remind you that Jesus told us that serving God and others is very much intertwined. (Matthew 25:40-45) So if in our attempt to emphasize serving God we end up neglecting people, or treating them with contempt, we have failed miserably at serving God as he wants us to. It's such a simple truth, but we see it being violated with such alarming frequency. All because some find that truth inconvenient, and unpleasant. So we try to skip over that in the salad bar of discipleship and try to compensate by taking a double portion of the camel, so to speak. It just doesn't work that way, because an incomplete truth can be just as bad as a falsehood. So I close by asking you this, are you practicing the whole truth, or are you neglecting something that you have a problem with or find too difficult? Or maybe you're just too fond of the sinful shortcuts to self-care that you have rationalized? If so, what are you going to do about it?