Dangerous Unselfishness

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once told the story of the Good Samaritan as he encouraged people to live in a state of "dangerous unselfishness." He explained it this way:

And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

What a small turn of the question.....and what a big difference it makes.

The priest and the Levite asked, "What will happen to me if I help?"

  • I will be made ceremonially unclean.
  • I will risk the judgment of my peers and the people I serve for putting the welfare of a stranger above my duty to serve them.
  • I might be set upon by the same robbers that hurt this man. Maybe they're lying in wait.
  • I might be tricked. Maybe this person isn't injured at all but is luring me into a vulnerable position so he can rob me himself.

I will.....I will.....I might....I might.....The answers all revolve around fear. And that fear revolves around "me." 

The Good Samaritan asks a different question, "What will happen to him if I don't help?"

  • He will suffer more.
  • He will believe that no one cares.
  • He might die.

The answers are still about fear. But the fear revolves around what will happen to the man who needs help.

When Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," he means,

"Change the question. Stop asking what will happen to you if you help and start asking what will happen to your neighbor if you don't."

That's the question Jesus asked. And, in answer, he went all the way to the cross in his dangerous unselfishness for you and for me. He was much more afraid of what would happen to us if he didn't than he was of what would happen to him if he did.

Do this with me. Keep your eyes open this week. Where will you find the opportunity to be dangerously unselfish? Which question will you ask? What will you fear most?

And if God puts an opportunity for dangerous unselfishness in your path this week, will you encourage all who read these devotions by sharing your story in a comment to this post?


Gracious God, thank you for being a God of dangerous unselfishness, a God driven to action by what would happen to me, to all of humanity, if you chose not to act. Your dangerous unselfishness drove you to live a human life and die a painful, humiliating death to bridge the chasm between you and me. Live in me and work through me. Give me the courage to practice your brand of dangerous unselfishness when I see pain and brokenness and need in the people around me. Amen.

Kim Turnage

**original photo from the Billings Gazette


14 comments (Add your own)

1. Vikki wrote:
Thanks Kim - I will try to move beyond my selfishness into dangerous unselfishness. But now my fear is that God will give me what I ask for...I pray that we all might find the courage to meet God there.

Tue, May 12, 2009 @ 11:49 AM

2. Kim wrote:
In the grocery store, I walked past a woman reaching from a scooter for a bag of sugar. It looked like she couldn't quite lift it....but I was AFRAID that I would offend her by offering to help. What was I really afraid of? That I would make a mistake. In the end, I helped her, and she was so appreciative. It's so easy to let my fears for myself overwhelm the reality of someone else's needs.

Tue, May 12, 2009 @ 8:26 PM

3. Lois wrote:
Your comment on the women in the grocery store was great. How many missed opportunities have I let slip by? I will try to be present and live in the moments God places in my life. God does travel with us wherever we are. Thanks Kim.

Wed, May 13, 2009 @ 8:03 AM

4. Vikki wrote:
I think the "dangerous" part is the hardest...I have tried to be looking out for ways to unselfish this week and not sure I've really done it. I think, "well I haven't seen any opportunities" but maybe I'm not really looking. And so I pray that my eyes might continue to be opened to my selfishness and the world's needs.

Fri, May 15, 2009 @ 9:45 AM

5. Vikki wrote:
Is it still dangerously unselfish if you tell others that you tried to do something unselfish?

Mon, May 18, 2009 @ 10:19 PM

6. Anonymous wrote:
The power and the unselfishness of sharing the story comes in realizing and admitting how easy it is to talk yourself into NOT being unselfish. And the story can always be anonymous.

Tue, May 19, 2009 @ 9:01 PM

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