Life Insight: Why do people help others?
The world cries out for help and there are often people who are very willing to provide service and soul care. What motivates them? Is God’s Spirit behind every good deed? Are altruistic acts always sourced in God? Certainly, the Lord directs many to act on behalf of His mercy, but there are other reasons why people will help others.
Dale Larson, in his book “The Helper’s Journey” gives a secular perspective on why people purpose to help others.1 He writes, “Your helping motivations and the encounters that led you into this work define who you are both as a person and as a helper.” (p. 4) Larson describes “great moments” that help people define their goal or mission as caregivers or helpers. Some experience helps them determine, “This is it” or “This is why I’m doing this.” Yet this kind of thinking has nothing to do with seeking to please God. What can it have to do with anything besides feeling good about self or some kind of emotional do-goodism?
Larson goes on to ask the question if man is basically selfish or naturally altruistic. He attempts to paint the picture that helping tendencies are not unique to man. Elephants care for each other, monkeys pick at each other’s fur for cleanliness and even rats care for each other. He writes there is “an almost universal tendency to become aroused in the presence of a distressed member of one’s own species and to act in ways to reduce this other’s distress.” (p. 13) He claims that even when paid for the service, the motivation for helping usually comes from within. You care.” (p. 11) He reports that 26. 8% of the population volunteered in 2009. He said that 30.1% of women and 21.1% of men volunteered.2
Larson highlights several benefits of caring to the caregiver. Health benefits have been reported, but are speculative. There are social benefits and relationships that are formed and often healthy. There are reportedly physical benefits of less aches and pains, psychological help in feeling of strength, self-worth and even immunity to illness and spiritual help in providing a basis for living that transcends self. He says,
All societies and religions have understood this relation between social connectedness, altruism, and immunity, and thus have emphasized the importance of caring for others, generosity, and service. Although barriers of they-ness can disrupt this connectedness, our collective health may ultimately depend on our ability to see ourselves in others.” (p. 26)
But isn’t all of this self-oriented? Whether I help others because “it makes me feel good” or “there are health or social benefits from helping,” is it not still about what “I” as the helper gets out of it? That is not necessarily bad, because it is good for society. However, it has no intrinsic or eternal value before God. Unless what I am doing is for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), because of my love for the Lord Jesus (Matt. 22:37-39) and I am dependent on the filling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), it is merely human works and as Paul describes it, “…wood, hay and straw.” (1 Cor. 3:12) It will be burned up at the judgment seat of Christ.
Do I want people to help others? Absolutely, yes, I do. However, do it to please the Lord, because you know you are complete in Jesus and you have a relation with God through Him. Do it because you believe it is part of the good works to which God designed you after salvation (Eph. 2:10). Anything man does is filthy rags, at best (Is. 64:6), unless it is done in His power.
Paul made this principle very clear as he wrote to Titus. He said,
· 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
· 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
· 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
· 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
Do good works. Do help others. Yet, do it for the Lord, not for self-exalting reasons, no matter how subtle they may be. Learn some practical lessons from this book about grief, loss and illness, but look to the Lord for blessing.
1Larson, Dale G., The Helper’s Journey.