The Last Paper Towel
Sometime last year, my oldest son and I were washing our hands at the same time. He finished before I did and began gingerly drying his hands on a paper towel. Generally, he dries his hands with the typical gusto of a fouryear-old boy, so I was puzzled by the unusual reserve in today’s handdrying technique. As I finished rinsing my hands and turned off the faucet, he looked at me and said, “Here you go, daddy. There should still be some for you.” That’s when it clicked in my head. My son had taken the last paper towel and there was no cloth towel handy with which to dry our hands, so he had been carefully attempting to pat his hands dry on only half of his paper towel.
He was largely unsuccessful – water had dripped and splashed from his hands and most of the paper towel was quite damp. Additionally, his actions were unnecessary – he hadn’t noticed that there was a whole stack of extra paper towels nearby. But pointing these facts out was the last thing I would do. In that moment, Kohen had acted and spoken in a way that showed what was going on in his little heart, and it was precious in the sight of his Father (and in the sight of his dad, too)! I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and generosity. Of course, in the months since this happened, I’ve had to remind him countless times to share with his brother, to think about the needs of others, and to help his mommy instead of pestering her. He still has growing up to do. But that hand-washing moment stays in my head – what a wonderful picture of service and love!
Jesus makes it clear that after the greatest commandment – which is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind – the second-greatest commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:38). He didn’t say that the Law and the Prophets didn’t matter. Rather, if removed from love for God and love for our neighbor, they would cease to matter. The Apostle Paul would later write, “The one who loves has fulfilled the law,” because the other commandments are summed up in saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-10). In a similar line of reasoning, he stated in Galatians 5 that we ought to use our freedom in Christ to serve one another “through love” (Galatians 5:13-15).
I believe this kind of love – a love that values other people and puts them first (Philippians 2:3-4); a love that seeks genuine service (Matthew 7:12); a love that sacrifices for others (John 15:13) – cannot be learned simply by being told to act a certain way. It must be taught both by instruction and by example. That’s why, in addition to the numerous scriptures which command and teach this kind of love, we also see the New Testament authors remind us that this is the kind of love we’ve already been shown (e.g. John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16). While it may seem obvious, God’s love is the “gold standard” of what it means to love (John 13:34; Ephesians 5:25)!
It should not be surprising that I want my sons to know and love the Word of God. It brings me great joy to hear my sons recite memory verses, talk about their favorite Bible stories, or sing during our family Bible time. How much greater a joy I feel when I see the principles of God’s Word in how they act and interact! How much deeper my satisfaction, when they show godly love! If I feel that kind of joy and satisfaction when my sons live in the Word of God and love according to his standard, how much deeper the joy and satisfaction God must feel when his children do the same. After all, Jesus said this would be the mark of his disciples: “If you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
When I make godly love the rule by which I live, it marks me as one of God’s people. One day, this kind of love may cause me to face persecution or require me to make life-altering (perhaps life-ending) sacrifices. When those moments come, I pray that godly love rules in my heart. Ultimately, however, that hypothetical “one day” is a distant and abstract discussion of love. Godly love doesn’t wait for “one day,” it lives as a sacrifice today. Fundamentally, the love God calls us to is intended to change us from the inside-out. It ought to change our hearts and, in turn, our thoughts, our actions, and our lives. When we make godly love the rule by which we live, it gives meaning to even the small daily sacrifices we make for one another – whether we are spending our time patiently listening to the discouraged, going out of our way to welcome the outsider, or just sharing the last paper towel.
- Noah Diestelkamp
He who gives should never remember,
He who receives should never forget.
People who think it is permissible to tell little “white lies”
often become colorblind.