WE LIVE IN an age in which we are encouraged to make decisions that further our personal benefit. This attitude is so pervasive that it extends even to our spiritual lives.
There is a danger in making our faith so personal and inward, so focused on the first commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, that we forget to keep the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Though our culture would tell us to look out for number one, Christ’s upside-down kingdom offers a different and subversive message: Lose your life and you’ll find it. The church was designed to display the “manifold wisdom of God” by creating a community full of people who, like Jesus, put others before themselves and seek the common good. Christian community is intended to be a living witness, to demonstrate and to anticipate the future of the world that has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.
In other words, it’s impossible to keep the second commandment without loving God with everything we have, but it’s also impossible to keep the first without loving our neighbors as ourselves.
A thriving common good and the quality of our life together are deeply affected by the personal decisions we all make. The commons—those places we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space—will never be better than the quality of our own lives and households.
But what does that look like on a practical level? How can the choices we make as individuals reinforce the common good and promote human flourishing? As I’ve asked myself these questions, I’ve come up with 10 personal decisions we can make to further the common good.
- If you are a father or a mother, make your children the most important priority in your life and build your other commitments around them. If you are not a parent, look for children who could beneﬁt from your investment in their lives.
- If you are married, be faithful to your spouse. Demonstrate your commitment with both your ﬁdelity and your love. If you are single, measure your relationships by their integrity, not their usefulness.
- If you are a person of faith, focus not just on what you believe but on how you act on those beliefs. If you love God, ask God how to love your neighbor.
- Take seriously the place you live. Make the context of your life and work the “parish” for which you take responsibility.
- Seek to develop a vocation and not just a career. Discern your gifts as a child of God, not just your talents, and listen for your calling rather than just looking for opportunities. Remember that your personal good always relates to the common good.
- Make choices by distinguishing between wants and needs. Choose what is enough, rather than what is possible to get. Replace appetites with values, teach your children the same, and model those values for all who are in your life.
- Look at the business, company, or organization where you work from an ethical perspective. Ask what its vocation is, too. Challenge whatever is dishonest or exploitative and help your place of work do well by doing good.
- Ask yourself what in the world today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice. Decide to help change that, and join with others who are committed to transforming that injustice.
- Get to know who your political representatives are at both the local and national level. Study their policy decisions and examine their moral compass and public leadership. Make your public convictions and commitments known to them and choose to hold them accountable.
- Since the difference between events and movements is that movements involve sacriﬁce—which also connects to the true meaning of religion and what makes for social change—ask yourself what is important enough to give your life to and for.
Finding the integral relationship between your own personal good and the common good is one of the best contributions you can make to our future and to our hopes for a better life together.
I hope that you’ll consider taking this journey toward the common good with me.
Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners. This column is adapted from his book The Uncommon Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided (Brazos Press, May 2014), the revised paperback version of On God’s Side.
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