Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. Romans 15:2
Please – Negotiating for one’s own good. That’s the idea behind the classical Greek use of aresko. It is essentially a passive act, that is, an action that reflects back on the subject. It isn’t passive in the sense that we don’t do anything. It is passive in the sense that the objective is to please ourselves. But Paul and the other New Testament writers turn this around. In their use, aresko is not about making my world a pleasant place for me. It’s about effecting a blessing for you! Paul calls us to do all we can to make the other person’s life good, to build up the other person at all costs. This uncharacteristic emphasis in Greek finds a perfect fit in Hebrew. After all, love is benevolence toward another at cost to myself.
We need to add one other facet to this Hebrew use of a Greek concept. The action is intentional, deliberate and purposeful – and it has nothing to do with having a prior relationship with the other person. In other words, it isn’t necessary that the other person first become a friend before we seek to build him up. All that is necessary is the duty to do so. Of course, we can clearly see this aspect of aresko in Yeshua’s actions toward His enemies. If love means anything at all in Christian thought, it means benevolence toward enemies. That’s what it means to act like God.
Notice that the use of aresko automatically expands the idea of neighbor. If aresko doesn’t depend on a prior friendly relationship, then “neighbor“ can’t be defined in terms of those whom I like or who are right at hand. This is the parable of the Good Samaritan in our own lives. The Good Samaritan didn’t know the injured man at all, but it didn’t matter. The man was in need, therefore, gracious action was required. The principle here is about duty, not feelings. Furthermore, the Good Samaritan wasn’t out looking for someone to care for. God arranged it. The opportunity to offer good for another only required recognizing the duty to do so when the occasion presented itself. Aresko is intentional in its anticipation that God will graciously arrange circumstances in order that we might please someone else. It is the expectation of goodwill actions toward others.
The most difficult part of aresko behavior is not the desire to do good. Some of that desire is simply natural identification with our own kind. This is why strangers rush to help someone in need. The difficult part is doing good for someone else when we feel bad about ourselves. If we are fighting discouragement, despair, disappointment or disobedience, we won’t have much energy for pleasing another. We will be turned inwardly, not believing we have much to offer. Our emotional state prevents outward action. That’s why it has to be duty – and once we fulfill that duty, we discover our preoccupation with self disappears in the joy of helping someone else.
Are you looking for a “neighbor” today, even if you don’t feel like doing anything?
Topical Index: please, aresko, benevolence, Romans 15:2