Advertising and Selflessness October 16 2015

Suppose you were given the responsibility of developing an ad campaign for selflessness. This would be a real conundrum because, as we know very well, ads are designed to make us want things, or at least to want one product over another.  What would your ad campaign look like?

I did a little informal survey recently of the themes of some ads on TV.  There are no surprises here, but these are some representative examples, without naming specific products or companies:
  •  Cars:  more looks, more status, more power, more safety, more reliability
  •  Toothpaste: Fresh breath, prevent cavities, avoid the dentist
  •  Travel:  Pure relaxation and enjoyment, and you’ve earned it
  •  Clothing:  Look good, impress your boss, be popular
  •  Cosmetics:  Look good, make an impression, look younger
  •  Weight loss products:  Have a “good image” of self, be proud of self
I’m sure you can think of many examples yourself.  There is nothing inherently wrong about any of these products.  We would want to know about these features so that we could make wise investments.  We don’t want to smell bad, look bad, or have our teeth fall out. However there is a manipulative aspect to the advertising. The manipulation is almost always an appeal to self.  That’s the job of advertisers, and they do it well.

In contrast, there was Someone who spent a lot of time “advertising” selflessness: the Son of God. Let's use just the first chapter Sermon on the Mount  (Matthew Chapters 5) as an example.  Even though it is one of the best known, most eloquent, and beautiful passages in the Bible, it has some truths that are hard for us to live out.  That’s because what He spoke about had to do with inner character, not outward appearance. Look at what Jesus was telling His disciples:
  •  Be gentle and merciful. Thirst after righteousness (5:5-7). This goes against our nature. Many people consider these traits as “weakness” or detrimental to our own well-being.
  •  You are blessed when you receive insults, are persecuted, and are falsely accused for My sake (5:11). This goes against our perspective.
  •  You are to humble yourself, forgive others, and ask forgiveness of someone you have sinned against (5:23-24). Our nature is to use these things to “gain an upper hand” against someone, to manipulate and to never admit we are wrong.
  •  You are not to defend yourself when wronged or treated unfairly, but are to turn the other cheek, give up your shirt and coat, and go the second mile (5:39-41). This goes against our natural ideas of fairness. With these verses, we are taking some sort of loss – financial, reputation, etc.
  •  You are to love your enemy (5:43-48). Jesus said that it is easy to love those who love you.  Anyone can do that (5:46) and most people do. We tend to stay away from those who might cause further pain or inconvenience. Yet Jesus tells us to love these people.
So as a recap, Jesus tells us to humble ourselves, even though it may cause us to appear weak (in the world's eyes), to give up our well-being and comfort for the sake of others, to be willing to suffer loss in our finances and our popularity, and to even show love to those who do us harm! This teaching on sacrificial love was radical for the disciples then, and it is radical for us now.

But as believers transformed by God’s grace, we have the privilege and reward of living at a deeper level, a level that the world is not able to understand. And ultimately, the way we live is an evidence of God's love and work in our lives, and it causes people to give glory to Him (Matt. 5:16).

Speaking of advertising, there are some organizations that appeal to selflessness in some of its advertising, one of which is the U.S. military.  We are going to do a couple of posts about the military leading up to Veteran’s Day.  If you have the time and inclination, send us short write-up of someone in the military who you have seen as an example of selflessness and sacrifice, inspired by their faith.  It will be an opportunity to honor those men and women who have served our country.  If we use anything you send in, we will keep it generic without reference to specific names, but even if we don’t use it, you can share it with your friends and family.

You can send your contribution to  Learn more about BCF’s ministry and Bible study materials at