In Following Christ, No One Should Seek Their Own Good
May 25, 2012
Sermon written by Ernesto Martín Guerrero Zavala, director of INESIN and pastor of Buen Pastor Church, Grijalva, Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas. Translated from Spanish
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10: 23 & 24
New International Version

Father of the heavens and the earth, see that we are enslaved. We are slaves to material possessions, to money, to consumerism, to technology, and we are also slaves to our resentment and nonconformity. We cry out for your liberty to make us free. Open our ears and hearts so that your words of life lead us to a new creation, where all things are made new. We ask all this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen


The apostle Paul said, “I have the right to do anything, you say—but not everything is beneficial. ´I have the right to do anything´—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” When Jesus calls us to take up the cross and follow him, he doesn´t do it to bring misfortune upon us, but because he knows there is no other way to be completely free in this world. In taking up the cross and committing to following Christ, men and women become freer than they ever were before. Paul gives testimony to this freedom when he assures us that we have the “right” to do “anything,” or as the Latin American Catholic Bible says, “everything is permitted.” But we must be careful! In its complete sense, the freedom that “everything is permitted,” is only bestowed to those who take up the cross and follow Jesus. Why? Because the vast majority of interpretations of “everything is permitted” cause many of the world´s political, social and economic disasters. For example, the world´s rich and powerful lavish riches and pleasures upon themselves and steal from and deny the world´s poor and weak. The powerful assume the right to buy tomatoes at giveaway prices and use their political, military and economic power to maintain insultingly low wages for producers. They, in essence, determine the value of what is created by the hands of the poor.

Now, let´s do an exercise. Think about everything that has gone wrong in our society, for example, global warming. Reflect on the way that all of these problems are the consequence of one person, or a few, or, worse, yet, all of humanity, living out the understanding that “everything is permitted.” According to this understanding, people have extracted minerals from territory originally inhabited by indigenous communities. To do so, they have brutally subjugated these populations and stripped them of all dignity. And why not? If “everything is permitted,” who cares how much gas we consume? And who cares how much we pollute the planet because, in the end, “everything is permitted!” Who cares if a man decides to abandon his sons and daughters to form “another family?”

Could it be that “everything” is not “permitted?” If everything were permitted, we could invade oil-rich countries and pretend that they have weapons of mass destruction. We could hunt down their young people every night until we kill them all and with them, all chance of future social resistance. If everything were permitted, we would be able to detonate grenades in high-profile parties. If everything were permitted, we could go to war and we could agree to ceasefires with drug cartels…whatever is most convenient; we could distract communities while we reform their constitution to allow continued looting of natural resources. If everything were permitted we could rip off our house help, paying them a death salary for doing what men would never dream of doing and cleaning what stay-at-home mothers would consider a curse to clean. If everything were permitted, we could catch our brothers and sisters from Central America to rob them of all the money they carried to reach the United States. If everything were permitted, we could trap young Honduran women and force them to work as prostitutes. If everything were permitted, we could don a federal police uniform and extort those driving on the highway. If everything were permitted, we could remove the indigenous population from the Chiapanecan jungle and allow foreign interests to construct, on that same land, lavish tourist complexes. If everything were permitted, we could promise churchgoers heaven in exchange for their tithes and offerings.

We teach that, as Christians, we will be saved enjoying comforts that we interpret as “blessings,” attending churches that are increasingly lavish, dancing, shouting and applauding until we feel a sense of peace return to our hearts…who cares if we don´t visit jails or hospitals? Who cares if people in other countries are living in extreme poverty and dying of hunger? Who cares if business owners unjustly refuse to provide their workers with benefits because doing so would take a bite out of their juicy profits?

Since “everything is permitted,” it´s easy to make an unending list of all the horrific things we do in and to the world. But, if “everything is permitted,” who cares?

The world is turned on its head because everyone claims the right to do what they want under the guise that “everything” is permitted. But really, “everything” is only permitted for those who have taken up their cross to follow Christ. In choosing this path, they have denied themselves and are willing to suffer and die with Christ. We must not forget that Christ, instead of seeking his own good, handed himself over to death for the good of everyone.

Only the person who takes up her cross and denies herself is capable of understanding that she has the “right to do anything,” but “not everything is beneficial.” The disciple crucified for the world with Jesus Christ is completely free and, as a free person, can decide what would otherwise be impossible: that which is beneficial and constructive. That which is beneficial and constructive is in line with the work of God, promotes justice and gives life, both for humanity and humanity´s home, planet Earth: the land, air and water.

Only the person who takes up his cross and denies himself is capable of living out the understanding that “everything is permitted” but “not everything is constructive.” In other words, not everything builds up, not everything is life-giving, not everything enriches communities, and not everything strengthens the hearts of our brothers and sisters. Some of what we see, for example greed and power-abuse, is negative, heartless and destructive.

In reality, “everything” is permitted to me only when I stop seeking my own good and seek, by all possible means, the good of others. And that is exactly how Paul explained it: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone lived according to this norm? One country would not invade another to snatch its riches. No one would get a job through bribes or because she has friends in high places. There would not be low-quality public works: no falling-down bridges, no potholed roads, no government officials made rich taking advantage of the money of others, no sexually abusive pastors or priests. If everyone lived according to the norm “no one should seek their own good,” we would simply be living in a different world than the one we currently inhabit.

And the church? Could it be that we too fall into the trap of thinking that “everything is permitted?” Is the church a perfect example of people that don´t “seek their own good, but that of the other?” Can you imagine that kind of church? What would be different in the church if no one sought their own good, but that of the other? Surely there would be an enthusiastic and committed community who could bring food and healthcare to the poorest among us. There would be not one distressed person in the church who wasn´t comforted. No one would say that his possessions were his alone, but all would dedicate what they have to address the community´s needs. Without doubt, the church would be a living message of hope to the world, and as such, would lead by example, showing everyone that another world really is possible.


When Jesus called men and women to take up their cross and follow him,
he knew that it would be the only way to change the world. Amen.

Instituto de Estudios e Investigación Intercultural, A.C.

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