Becoming 3rd: Giving for the Glory of God and the Benefit of Others

In the seventies, there was much more cash transferred than checks, and credit cards where unheard of in our neighborhood, so it was not unusual to see my mother paying bills by putting cash in various piles on the kitchen table.

My mom worked hard. She retired from a grocery store chain as a cashier. There was a time when she had three teenagers living at home and needed to take on a second job. Delivering newspapers in the wee hours of the morning worked well with her schedule at the grocery store. Even with these two jobs, she barely made enough to get by. She paid the rent, the utility bill, bought some groceries and put gas in the car, and there usually wasn’t a lot of cash left over.

So, every once in a while, I would sit with her while she paid her bills.  She would stack money in a pile and tell me it was for rent, another stack would be for the electric bill, and so on. Once all the money was distributed in their respective piles, she would begin to move some of the money around.  She would take a little from the rent pile and put on the grocery pile. She would then take a little from the utility pile and put it on the gas pile.  She would kind of smile, shake her head and say, “I feel like, I’m always robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  During my first decade of life, I guess I didn’t really understand what that meant, except that there just was not enough money to go around.

I remember, one day she was paying bills and the familiar piles were placed on the table, she was moving small bills from one pile to another just like every other month, however, this time there was an extra pile, a very small pile with just a few small bills in it. I watched her for a few minutes and finally asked what the extra pile was for. She told me about a woman that she worked with, I can’t remember her name, I didn’t know her at the time. But the story was that this woman lost everything she owned in an apartment fire and escaped with only her three young children and the clothes on their backs. My mom was putting money aside to give to this family. As I said, I was very young, which doesn’t excuse my behavior, but maybe it explains it a little and why the words that my mother said that day have stuck with me for so long.

When I heard that mom was giving money away to someone else, when all we had in the fridge was half a pack of bologna and an opened jar mustard, and at that point, as far as I knew, I was sentenced to wear my brother’s hand-me-downs for the rest of my life, I voiced my opinion. I was disappointment that she would take money away from us, when in fact we should be on the receiving end of somebody else’s charity. My mom didn’t stop what she was doing, I’m not sure that she even looked at me, she just responded.

Now my mom was simple. She did not try to make profound points, she didn’t try to teach lessons or leave impressions on people, including her own children, even on this particular day with her young selfish daughter. What she did do was live her life, and if you were paying attention, thankfully I was that day, and looked very closely, you would have seen selflessness. Someone who, without pomp and circumstance thought about other people, and always wanted to help.

That day I learned a lesson, she responded to me with these words, “Jackie, listen to me, no matter how bad you think you have it, somebody, somewhere always has it worse than you. Everyone has enough to give to someone with less.” 

She went on to remind me that although there was only bologna in the fridge, it was enough to fill me up and keep me from going hungry. She continued by letting me know that even though, every so often, I did have to wear something that my brother had outgrown, at least I had clothing and even choices.

She continued to rob Peter that day and pay Paul in a selfless act of giving to a family that was indeed worse off than we were.

This story reminds me of the widow’s offering (Mk 12:41-44).  Jesus watched as people gave. Many wealthy people gave large amounts of money. However, there was a poor widow who gave two very small coins, worth almost nothing. This is who Jesus noticed, she gave out of her poverty, she gave everything she had, literally, to quote the passage “all she had to live on” (v. 44). The wealthy would go back home and eat, drink and live comfortably with no worries. She, on the other hand, had to rely on faith. When she gave that money, she had to believe that God would take care of her, that He would feed her, shelter her, and sustain her.

My mom lived by a simple kind of faith. She would not have described it like this, because all she did was live her life quietly, humbly. She wasn’t spiritual, but she did love others as herself (Mt 22:39), and always gave in selflessness (Mt 25:35-40). She didn’t have to hold anything back for herself because God always provided. Looking at her life you might not have seen His provisions, at least not in the way we call ourselves “blessed” today, but we always had what we needed, when we needed it. Personally, she was given strength and hope in all the difficulties that she faced, and she faced a lot. 

When you put yourself third, behind God, and others whose suffering is greater than yours, your reward will be great. Throughout all those years of robbing Peter to pay Paul, she always managed. We always had food. We always had clothes, a place to live, Christmas, and birthday presents. We might have had to get by with less but we never went without.

We come into this world completely selfish, as babies we put ourselves first. We grow, and as toddlers are taught how to share, we become teenagers and are taught to think a little bit about others and different perspectives. We mature and we find someone to love and to love us. We build a life, a career, a family, and we say we are second behind Jesus, but that only puts us first in front of everything and everyone else. At some point, and this point is different for everyone, we must become third. Just like we mature physically, we must mature spiritually. We should reach a certain point in our spirituality that we start to shed our selfish desires and foolishness and realize that putting ourselves third is what God has been preparing us for since the moment we came to know Him. To remain second leaves, us in a state of immaturity, adding biological years to our lives, but not spiritual wisdom.

Spiritual maturity is not memorizing scripture or church attendance, it is following the sacrificial example of Jesus (Mt 26:39).  Increasing our interest in others and suspending our interest in ourselves. It is knowing that someone somewhere has it worse than we do. It’s no longer wishing something could be done, but finding the resources and actually getting it done. To reach full spiritual maturity is to press on (Ph 3:14), to continually strive to search out the needs of others and to fill them ourselves. We have been given gifts, and we must endure trials, which ultimately produce perseverance, which leads to wisdom, which gives us faith. Our faith becomes stronger when we are no longer acting in selfishness but reach full maturity and use the gifts that were given to us, in selfless acts in service to others (Eph 4:12-16; Col 1:28; Js 1:2-4).

The question is once we put others first, how will our needs/wants be met? What will keep others from taking advantage of us. That is faith. That is the widow and the coins, and that is my mom robbing Peter to pay Paul. Both of these women gave, not in their comfort, but in their own struggle, knowing that their own needs would somehow be met. It was not counted as much by others looking on, but it was given in sacrifice and obedience. God has asked us to love Him and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:25-37).  The order is simple, Jesus, others, self.

This story is in regard to giving and reaching out to others. But putting ourselves third is also important in our communication processes. When we first get saved, we are selfish, we need all the attention from God, we are learning, and growing, being fed on easy to swallow information like a newborn relying on milk to sustain life. Many of us are like this in conversation. Wanting the attention and spotlight to always be on our needs and our concerns. We are living in a world where many people believe that they should never have to experience hurt feelings or offense from the words of others. We assume that our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and feelings matter more than anybody else’s. 

I remember a woman from a bible study I was in a long, long time ago. You know how it goes everyone wants to share their stories, and their struggles. A bible study is usually a safe place to expect empathy and prayer from others. I was listening to one of the women speak of her life struggles. She was about halfway through her story when another woman sitting across from me threw her head back and started to rock back and forth, slamming her hands on the arms of the chair she was sitting in. She simply couldn’t wait any longer she had to speak, she had to share her story. She needed to be the center of attention. She needed people to hear her. She was simply done listening to others. She jumped in and dominated the conversation from there on out. It was really something to see. 

As we grow and mature more in Christ and learn more of God’s ways we become second like the campaign we have seen so often in commercials and advertisements. We put God first in our lives sacrificing for Him, following His call, relying more and more on Him, and witnessing His work in our lives. Once again in our conversations or relationships we put God first but place ourselves a firm second. Meaning we are at the point where we know we must sit and listen, respond nicely, show up, give a hug or shoulder to cry on. All of this as long as it fits into our schedule, won’t affect our lives, and doesn’t cause much pain or sacrifice. 

As we continue to mature, we grow in wisdom, and in the fruit of the spirit. We become more patient, find joy in more of the simple things as opposed to praise and acceptance by others. We are more faithful to relationships, gentle in nature, I guess that’s where the term old softie comes from. We understand the difference between being nice and being kind and we are more controlled with our emotions, thoughts, and words. 

With that wisdom we gain more of an understanding of other people. We don’t just practice the golden rule but step up to the platinum rule. Instead of treating others the way we want to be treated, we treat people how they would treat themselves. We completely remove ourselves from the equation and think only of the other person. Our needs and concerns are suspended as we listen with empathy and compassion to others. 

The question is again, how can we protect ourselves from being abused or taken advantage of? It’s the same answer, faith. 

God has called us all to different places to interact with different people, but at specific times. If He remains first in our lives, He will always protect our hearts, minds, and soul and use each relationship, the good and the bad, for His glory.

To B3rd is spiritual maturity, it is increasing our interest in others, while decreasing our interest in ourselves. It is giving what we can when we see the need. This applies to our conversation and relationships as well, instead of taking control of the conversation and relationship we give more to our relationship partner.

To give for the Glory of God and the benefits of others, gives hope to a hurting world that God’s love is great, and His grace is enough, illustrated through His greatest gift to us, His own son (Jn 3:16).

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 

(Phil 4:19)