Modern Western culture has camped out on the soapbox of self-love and self-care over the last few years, in outright opposition to the stoicism of older generations. Instagram posts and motivational Tik Tok videos echo the importance of establishing healthy boundaries and knowing your worth.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with people being pampered and lavished with good things. The Bible is replete with verses that speak to the blessing of the Lord and makes one rich and adds no sorrow (Proverbs chapter 10 verse 22). In fact, even without us asking (and many times, without us even being grateful), God’s mercies are new every morning. He’s a tender, loving Father who longs to have compassion on His children (Isaiah chapter 30 verse 18).
While it is wonderful to be blessed, it is dangerous to be spoiled: incessantly, blindly affirmed; always having one’s way; getting what one wants with little or no sacrifice. When that happens, people end up seeing their desires, preferences, and opinions as non-negotiable and morally unquestionable. They define what is immoral or wrong exclusively by what they want instead of how they procure it or prioritise it relative to others' needs.
That's why they can immediately see the immorality of certain sins such as gossip or fornication (the act), but not that of sins like selfishness or pride (the attitude undergirding the act). As long as what they want is morally neutral (e.g. a prolonged conversation, help with cleaning, a car ride home), they can't imagine anything immoral about demanding or expecting it from others.
We trivialize the attitude beneath the action. But most people don’t drown because of the waves on the surface of the water, but because of the undercurrent that forcefully pulls them further out to sea.
In the moral economy of the church, people “earn” the right to entitlement not only through the intrinsic morality of their desires, but also the morality of their behaviours. If someone does all the right actions – and avoids all the wrong ones – they believe they should never be denied their desires by others.
Take for instance, singles who kept their virginity or persons extremely involved in various church ministries. They have done the right action (i.e., abstinence and service). As a result, they feel entitled to arrogantly demand certain attributes in potential dates (e.g. beauty standards, social status, etc.) or demand certain status or influence in church circles.
Or they demand obsequious treatment as a penance for their moral superiority earned by their virginity or ministry involvement (e.g. excessive investment of time, emotions or even finances without any romantic commitment, or overbearing access to others’ assets and resources).
These persons may also judge other singles who have fornicated as inferior and less worthy of marriage, or write off other church members as lazy because they’re less involved.
Behind the masks of charm, popularity and beauty, this pride and selfishness stealthily breeze past our church pews unnoticed and unseen. Or worse, it is applauded and rebranded as more socially palatable idols that have long indwelt our hearts.
Sinful attitudes allowed to fester without accountability will subsequently reject rebuke lest it taint their record and therefore threaten their eligibility for entitlement.
Cart before the Horse
Modern church practice has contributed to this subcutaneous debacle. We subconsciously reduce the merit of everything to behaviours and action because of a sophomoric approach to studying the word of God.
Most bible studies focus on external behaviours (the act, as I had previously mentioned) and not on internal worldviews (the attitude).
However, a cursory look at Paul’s letters in the New Testament reveal a trend. Paul always starts with the glorious work accomplished for us through the cross of Christ, by the grace of God and sealed with the Holy Spirit. After explaining what we believe and have received from God, Paul then explains what we should do.
But we place the cart before the horse: we focus on what Christians should do first and then eventually get around toexplaining how and why Christians should do it. The foundation of faith is erroneously seen as secondary to the aesthetic of actions.
Louder than Words
It’s much simpler and easier to cast a quick glance at someone’s hands than to near them long enough to see inside their hearts and minds.
It’s also much safer. The intimacy required to gain insight into someone else’s underlying attitudes and worldviews will ultimately risk the exposure of our own.
This complacent and impersonal approach is to the chagrin of everyone in the body of Christ. Givers are exhausted from caving into demands, or fighting off gaslighting, guilt, shame, and pressure. Takers innocently don’t see the error of their ways due to a lack of accountability and end up isolating others with their sin and undermining their standing with God because of their selfishness and pride.
Actions may speak louder than words, but never louder than God’s word. The Bible speaks truth into parts of our heart we hide even from ourselves. God is calling our minds higher to things above (Colossians chapter 3 verses 1-2), as well as deeper levels of understanding His wisdom and our worldviews. Let us peel back the layers of actions to see the attitudes lying beneath, and allow the mirror of His word to examine our hearts for our sake and for others.
Kacy Garvey is a Christian poet, speaker and activist. In 2011, she launched "Rahab", an outreach to prostitutes in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a USAID certified HIV Testing and Counselling Provider and has also successfully completed training in Trafficking in Persons conducted by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM). She performs original pieces of spoken word poetry to various audiences, and in 2014 and 2018, she launched “Undone” and “Water Jar”, the first and only Christian poetry albums published in Jamaica thus far. As a founding member of the Love March Movement (since 2012) and #MarriageMattersJA (since 2018), she is a regular presenter on the science, politics and biblical worldviews on sex and sexuality. In January 2021, Kacy launched Caribbean Christian Response, an online movement that reviews the news from a biblical worldview and gathers millennials across the region to pray together and seek God’s heart on these issues.