The Bible is pretty clear on its expectations for how we treat others. We are to treat others the way we want to be treated (Mt. 7:12) and we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mt. 22:39).
What this usually boils down to is a matter of equality and fairness. But if we’re honest, what we actually want isn’t equality and fairness. What we want is preferential treatment
I was first hit with this realization while reading Jen Wilkin’s book In His Image. I’ll quote from it here:
Nothing makes me more aware of the way I want to be treated than when I’m staring down one remaining piece of coconut cream pie. It is my favorite pie to make and to eat. When I see that there is only one piece to be had, my first thought is always to inhale it secretly in the corner. It takes every ounce of will-power to ask if anyone else would like it. I usually size it up to see if it can be subdivided in some equitable way. Even if I successfully offer and serve it to someone else, I’m consumed with the nobility of my deprivation and am likely to reward myself with half a package of Oreos as a consolation prize.
Scarcity has a way of revealing our true understanding of the Golden Rule. Here’s the bare truth: when there is one piece of pie, I don’t want to deny myself and bless someone else with it, and I don’t want to divide it equitably. I want the whole piece. And that’s precisely why I should give the whole piece to someone else—because in doing so, I fulfill the Golden Rule. Yes, at a bare minimum I want to be treated fairly by others. But what I really want is to be treated preferentially.
My love of preferential treatment displays itself in a thousand ways. I want the best concert seats, the best parking spot, the upgrade to first class, the most comfortable seat in the living room, the biggest serving of pie, the last serving of pie, all the pie all the time…
You may not be so susceptible to the allure of coconut cream pie, but we are all equally susceptible to the pleasure of preferential treatment.
Chances are you—like me—want people to judge your failures based off of your good intentions. Chances are you want people to celebrate your successes rather than point out the missteps you made along the way. You probably want people to show you patience and kindness when you’re being difficult. You probably want to be given the benefit of the doubt. In short, you want better than you deserve.
This desire for preferential treatment is to guide how we treat others. As Christians we are not called to level the playing field. We are told to tilt it in favor of others. We are to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility we are to count others more significant than ourselves. Each one of us looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3–4). And we can do this because we have a good God who will graciously supply for our every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
You and I are called to love our neighbors. But love isn’t a matter of good manners and a simple kindness toward others. Loving others like we love ourselves means giving others better than they deserve. Better than we deserve is exactly what God has given us in Christ. In turn, it’s exactly what we should happily give to others.