“Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” – Romans 15:2
Perhaps you remember or have seen reruns of the TV series Bonanza, one of television’s most popular and longest running Westerns. Among the characters Hoss Cartwright, played by Dan Blocker, was always my favorite. Hoss, the middle son of wealthy rancher and patriarch Ben Cartwright, was a giant of man (in real life Dan Blocker, a former college football star, stood six-feet-four-inches and weighed 300 pounds), though a gentle-giant with a heart as big as his stature. Hoss would never have harmed a flea, unless provoked into standing up for someone else. He was one of those guys who could walk in a saloon and if a brawl started up he was easily capable of singlehandedly whipping every cowboy in the place, except he would first try anything to avoid violence until it became the only option. Otherwise, Hoss was just a big old teddy-bear who out of genuine compassion and quiet humility would do anything to help others.
Such is not always the motive behind good deeds. I recall going on my first trip to Central America a number of years ago to do mission work. Indisputably the work we did was good and helpful to the people we were engaged with. But I must confess to being a bit quick to pat myself on the back, and in so many words letting others know what a generous human being I am, not exactly in the same spirit as Hoss Cartwright.
In his classic book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster warns of the distinction between “self-righteous” service and true service. Self-righteous service, he says, comes through calculated human efforts to “help those people,” while true service is borne out of whispered promptings, and divine urgings. Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal”, while true service does not distinguish between small and large service. Self-righteous service needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort, while true service is contented with hiddenness (humility).
Eventually, working alongside my fellow, more experienced missionaries I began to understand the distinctions and my arrogance deflated a bit. As the Apostle Paul instructed, “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” I repeat, for his good, to build him up, not for my good, to build me up – as exemplified by the character of that gentle-giant Hoss Cartwright.