A Vested Interest and Love

Jemar Tisby

How do you get people to care about what concerns you? What makes some people take action on a topic while others remain passive? If you’re passionate about anything at all in life, you want to convince others to be passionate about it, too. But that’s not an easy endeavor.

 A Vested Interest

I spend much of my time talking to people in the racial majority about issues of race, justice, and Jesus. Most people listen politely and maybe even ask a few questions, but very few become active participants in the pursuit of racial justice. But recently I heard someone from this group reflect that she didn’t start caring about issues of race until she made friends with an African-American couple and they recounted the vivid experiences of discrimination that they and their children endured. She said, “It wasn’t until I had actual friends who were being affected by racism that I developed a vested interest in the topic.”

 I like the term “vested interest.” It speaks volumes.

 A Vested Interest in Racial Justice

If you’re among the racial minority in this country, you have a vested interest in issues of racial justice.  Why? Because you live through the realities of racial injustice on a daily basis. As an African American, I have been so conditioned to consider racial identity that it has become a subconscious habit. When I enter a room, I automatically look to see if there are any other black people. I easily change from a vernacular dialect to Standard English in different settings. I am subconsciously aware of the glaring absence of minority voices in important settings like the church. Yes, I have a vested interest in race because, like it or not, race is a reality for minorities.

But what if you’re in the racial majority? What if systems, institutions, and power structures tend to work for your benefit? What if property values actually increase when you move into a neighborhood? What if you’ve never had a meaningful relationship with someone from a racial minority? What if many of the topics that minority groups discuss don’t register with you? In other words, what if you don’t have a “vested interest”?

 A Vested Interest in Image Bearers

While frustrating at times, the knowledge that some people in the majority don’t have a vested interest in race also comforts me. It tells me that we are not so different. All of us need a specific reason to be concerned about a particular issue. I know I have a vested interest in race because it concerns me. But I am not nearly so concerned about the realities that the handicapped, the elderly, or the non-English speaking communities face. Why? It’s not because I despise people in those groups; it’s because I don’t yet have a vested interest. The reality of being a member of these groups hasn’t been part of my own personal reality. It’s not a good thing, nor is it a bad thing. It just is.

But this is just the way the world operates. The world says, “Unless an issue affects me personally, I don’t have to care.” Yet the conversation about “vested interest” takes on a new significance when Christians are involved.

The Bible gives us the concept of the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27), saying that we as human beings are all God’s creation, and as the crown of that creation we are made in his image and likeness. We share certain characteristics with our Creator. We can think; we have a will; we feel emotions; and we can, in a derivative way, create. Most importantly, we all have inherent dignity and significance. Because we all share the image of God, Christians have regard for all other image bearers, no matter how different their images may be.

 A Vested Interest and the Great Commandment

But the idea of being an image bearer gives us only a general concern for others. How do we develop a “vested interest” in other people? That’s where love comes in.

Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God. He says that the second greatest commandment is like it—to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–38). We see from this that love begins with God. In fact, he loved us before we loved him. And when we accept that love by putting our faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior, we begin to love God. This love compels us to love others, but not just anyone. It compels us to love our neighbors.

Who is my neighbor? That is the question Jesus addresses in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). This parable—and the whole Bible—show us that our neighbor is anyone in need, particularly those who are near to us.

So where do you live? Where do you work? Who is in your family? Who are your friends? And who is in need among them? These are your neighbors, and Christ tells us that we should love them.

 A Vested Interest in Your Neighbor

Love for our neighbors means that we have a “vested interest” in their good.  We should endeavor to alleviate whatever is affecting them for ill. For some this will be racial injustice, while for others it will be economic poverty. The possibilities for the negative effects of sin are endless, but the Christian’s capacity to do good to others is equally boundless.

We believe in a God who so loved the world that he gave his Son to save all who would believe (John 3:16). God has a vested interest in all people and the whole of creation. While we have a general concern for the world, God gives us neighbors as our specific sphere of influence.

We can’t have a vested interest in every issue, but as Christians we must have a vested interest in the concerns of our neighbor. That is how we demonstrate love for God and love for others.

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