Altruism requires us to know God’s intention for humanity, learn how to model Christlike behavior, and experience how to act in altruistic relationships through the work of the Holy Spirit. In this first three-part series on Altruism, we will explore how knowing God’s intention for humanity allows us to be and do what intended for us.
Altruism can be defined as the principle and moral practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others. It is exhibited when we do things simply out of the desire to help, not because of obligation due to guilt, shared duty loyalty, or religious reasons. Most believe and have theorized that what we are taught or our experiences in life are helping develop this altruistic nature.
But are we designed that way, or is this learned?
God’s altruistic intention for humankind exists without question. His intentions for us can be seen in many ways, particularly in man’s ability to gather scientific evidence. From our inception, we were created with emotional and physical gifts resulting in a benefit seen when we act out our behaviors in a Christlike way. Science and its research in behavior have led us to know that a simple random act of kindness is good for our health and is proven to be involved in releasing hormones that contribute to our mood and peace of mind.
Knowing that we benefit emotionally from this is terrific news, but why are some more inclined to charitable acts than others?
These questions rely on knowing God’s intentions for us regarding altruism and understanding more about who we are as human beings.
The Emotional Intelligence in Christ textbook shared research on Kin Selection behavior. It gave us a background on how all animals exhibit Kin Selection, resulting in our engaging in self-sacrificial behavior that benefits our relatives. We do this unconsciously, as seen in our political alliances, wealth passing, and simple acts of food sharing. The important thing is that it has led to the categorization of altruism into four distinct types.
- Kin altruism happens when you unselfishly support your family members and loved ones or make personal sacrifices on their behalf.
- Reciprocal altruism occurs when you help someone knowing that, at some point, they may help you in the future as well.
- Cultural group altruism involves supporting someone who’s part of a group you are associated with, including ethnic and social groups.
- Pure altruism results from helping someone from a place of empathy, knowing you will see no benefit, often in high stake situations.
God’s Intentions for us are real!
What is critical to know is that all these types of altruism are motivated by the source of our creation, and God’s intention for us. God’s intentionality ensures that certain activities you may have been doing are stopped, outsourced, or delegated. He gives us focus on our vision, the end goal, and the action steps needed to focus on the charitable nature within us.
God’s version of intentionality gives us purpose and direction, eliminating the need for striving. We follow him and walk according to His will. God wants us to be altruistic, and by doing so, we are walking in His will. So how do we know his intentions regarding altruism for us?
First, God showed us his intentions when the earth was created and all things in it. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” What is sure and what we hold to be true is that God was there from the very beginning, the author of all things, and intentional about creating us and the earth.
Second, it was His intention in how we shine our light and showcase ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Shinning our light for Jesus means that we are a good example, and when other people see our good example they will know that we love the Heavenly Father, and they, too, will want to honor Him. As we become more like Him, we develop the living, loving spirit He intentionally put in us. We do this by knowing Him and living His Word.
Philippians 2:14-16 tell us to “do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish amid a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” Shining our light also means considering other people’s needs and helping meet them. Encourage instead of criticizing. Be patient. Give others the benefit of the doubt. If you hear gossip, distance yourself from it or change the subject. When you encounter a difficult person, remember that they were made and are loved by God. Remember that, above all, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31).
Lastly, he intended and designed us to be altruistic. Genesis 1:28, which has often been called the “cultural mandate” – “And God blessed them; and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Humans were created with the intent of abundant living. Fruitfulness and growth, multiplication and expansion, and structure and organization are all part of God’s plan. God gave us the intentional job of supervising or taking care of the world and its expansion. This job includes stewardship of society and how we care for the natural world. It is often defined as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.
Can we be genuinely (totally) altruistic? In his Evolution and Ethics, T.H. Huxley noted that every major human religion and most philosophies have independently arrived at the same conclusion – that the best way to conduct oneself is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He also stressed that pure ethics was the human conscience’s and society’s domain. In the absence of God, the existence of altruism becomes a central problem of philosophy and, later, sociobiology. It becomes impossible without altruism to derive ethics in this.
Acts 20:35 shares, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 says: “Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy… And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and does not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.“
So, yes, we can genuinely be as altruistic as He intentionally created and teaches us to be. God has also given us great models of altruistic behavior like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela, to name a few. We can’t necessarily strive to be one of them, but being altruistic in our leadership and life starts with us living God’s intention for us in the commandments.
How Emotional Intelligence drives this:
Being Christ-like can be shown in the simple things you achieve every day. This Christ-like emotional intelligence can be in recognizing others for good work, asking about an important event in someone’s life, or making an extra effort to assist an employee in a task they may struggle to complete. All you have to do is be intentional like Christ, pray for the work of His Holy Spirit, and sincerely believe in the power of putting others first and make it an active choice.
Ask yourself, how intentional am I in measuring my value in life by those I help along the way? Or have I intentionally made someone’s life better today?
This moral compass God intentionally gave us allows us not to stop to think before we rush to rescue. It allows us to be the person most of us would like to be. Altruism is beautiful and inspires us when other people act on it and makes us feel good about ourselves when we act upon it. Now that you know how intentional God was when He created your altruistic nature, we will explore part two of the series, where we will learn how Christ modeled this behavior, teaching us the true acts of altruism.