By Dr. Harold Sala

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…  John 3:16

The Royal Bank of Canada once published a monthly newsletter which was a commentary on life and our times, interpreted through the eyes of a conservative banking institution.  The publication was neither religious nor moralistic, which only underlined the significance of an article devoted to the “Me, first!” attitude of people that is very much the same today as when the article was published.

The article entitled, “Sacrifice and Society,” said, “At a time when everybody seems to be pushing for more social ‘space,’ self-sacrifice is not much in fashion.  But if people can’t relearn how to subordinate their individual interests to the common good, it could spell disaster for us all….”

Selfishness, contends the publication, is not only on the increase but is permeating every level of society today.  Self-sacrifice and selfishness are on opposite ends of the spectrum of life. Says the article, “History is full of object lessons as to what happens when people refuse to recognize the need for self-sacrifice.”  The writer then points out the fact that the history of war is basically a record of man’s selfishness.  This, however, goes clear back to the Garden of Eden when our first father wanted and took what did not belong to him.

While this is true of nations, it is just as true of individuals. In his novel, How Sleep the Brave, author H. E. Bates examines the anatomy of a troubled marriage, through the meditations of a World War 2 airman who becomes stranded on a life raft with another survivor, both of whom are facing death.  “We had really been attracted by a mutual selfishness [survival].  And then we got to hate each other because the selfishness of one threatened the selfishness of the other.”

Whether you are on a life raft on a dark ocean or involved in a marriage, attraction to each other on the basis of having your needs met can rapidly turn into a disaster of selfishness.

The Royal Bank of Canada’s newsletter described the problem, but it didn’t go far enough with a solution.  Sure, children can be taught the importance of learning to share, of learning to give, of putting the other first, but there is something internal, something biological which makes me want to be first, to have my satisfaction or my hunger fulfilled regardless of you.

The Bible describes this as man’s old nature, the part which has written a dark story of human history which today is played out in the selfishness of broken marriages, broken promises and broken hearts.  Without a question or a doubt, when it comes to broken marriages, ego and selfishness are the two most devastating ingredients of failure.

Sacrifice is the result of love, and love comes only as God breaks the fallow ground of a hard heart and we learn to care about each other. Frankly, you wouldn’t believe the number of letters which come to our office from mothers who say, “I find this hard to say, but I really don’t love my children.”

John 3:16, the best loved and most widely quoted verse in the New Testament, puts the order in perspective:  First, love; then the sacrifice of giving.  It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”  Only then do we begin to think of sacrifice as a gift, not as a loss.

A war veteran walked down the street, an empty sleeve pinned to his uniform.  “Look, Mom,” said a little boy as he pointed to the empty sleeve, “he lost an arm.”  Overhearing the remark, the soldier said, “No, son, I didn’t lose it; I gave it.”  That is what sacrifice is all about.

Resource reading: John 15:9-17