Cooperation: The Second Great Commandment

I was asked recently to define "cooperation" and in thinking about it, I realized that it is essentially equivalent to the Second Great Command as taught by Jesus Christ, who quoted the Law of Moses:

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [Matt.22:39, Lev.19:18]
Jesus went on to explain on other occasions that loving your neighbor includes doing good to your most despised enemies, but I want to focus attention today on the "as yourself" part of the commandment. No person ever hates himself, the Apostle Paul reminds us, but feeds and cherishes his own body. Some people may do self-destructive things, but only out of ignorance or despair; in our natural state we do for ourselves what we approve. I refer to this as a person's agenda.

An agenda is a list of things a person or organization wishes to accomplish. In a meeting, it is the topics that need to be discussed. In a negotiation, it is the items to be gained or bartered away. In ordinary life it is just those things the person wants to accomplish in a particular period of time -- perhaps places to go on a trip, or things to buy. Some people's agenda may include exerting power over another person, or experiencing some pleasure such as a good book or mind-altering drugs or a panoramic view of nature.

The essense of cooperation is aligning my agenda with that of the person I am cooperating with, so that we both achieve our respective agendas in the cooperative effort. Thus I have loved that person exactly "as myself".

There is another kind of love that Jesus taught -- again from the Law of Moses -- which is without reference to my own agenda. It is the love for God:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength
[Deut.6:5, Matt.22:37]
Jesus translates the Hebrew word "strength" as "mind" in this text, showing that this is an intentional act, not just a warm fuzzy feeling. There is no reference to yourself or your own agenda. You can only be a follower of God, a disciple of Jesus, by denying yourself and giving up your own agenda -- totally. This is not cooperation, it is total submission. The Creator of the universe and the Lord of all creation deserves nothing less. The Darwinists understand this -- and it offends them; therefore they cannot tolerate any form of Intelligent Design anywhere (nevermind that they know design when they see it). It also offends the rest of the people, who compensate by choosing to believe in the god of their own making, a god they can invent and thus control. Of course they too cannot live with moral relativism: when another person tramples on their rights, they want Justice, the kind that is only possible in a world of moral Absolutes.

Cooperation is not the same as the First Great Commandment, but it flows from it. Altering your own agenda to align it with that of another person (who might not reciprocate) requires confidence that doing so is not self-destructive. Otherwise you are not loving the other person "as yourself" but in place of yourself. A true love for God, the all-powerful, all-Good Lord of the universe, such a love knows that obeying His commands is not self-destructive but rather self-affirming. He is, after all, our Maker; He knows what is good for us. Cooperation is good for us. The selfish egoists are wrong.

Non-cooperation is embedded in the sinful human heart. It is right there in the first Temptation in the Garden: "You shall be as God, knowing good and evil." God does not cooperate. God does not change His agenda for us, we must change our agenda to become conformed to God's. Thus it is only by cooperation that we show ourselves to be once again the People of God [1Jn.4:7,8]. I think if I had a spirit of non-cooperation, I would seriously question whether I had any saving faith in God at all.

Non-cooperation is at odds with a variety of social interactions. Even the most selfish egoist needs services only available from other people: hardly anybody grows all their own food any more, and nobody manufactures their own medicines and builds their own cars and highways. You can pay for these products, but if you are rude to the provider, they might refuse service at any price. Cooperation is a courtesy. And where do you get the money to pay them? Very few of us are independently wealthy; the rest of us must cooperate with some employer to obtain the funds (wages) to buy the goods and services we need and desire. Even the wealthy must cooperate with the banks who guard and protect their wealth. This cooperation is self-serving. By aligning ourselves with and promoting the employer's or seller's agenda, we attain also our own. Thus again we love our neighbor as ourself.

In a market economy -- almost everything works that way, even under socialist regimes -- the buyer and seller get to negotiate the terms of their cooperation. In a seller's market the seller pretty much gets to specify the terms and the buyer can take it or leave it. In other words, the buyer does all the cooperating. In a buyer's market it's the other way around. In a completely free market there is balance, and both parties can barter the terms of the relationship, with mutual cooperation. Once the terms have been decided and agreed, both parties are obligated to fulfill their side of the bargain, thus to achieve the agreed shared agenda. That is the nature of cooperation. Reneging on the contract is the same as pretending to agree when in fact you have other plans; it's a form of dishonesty not tolerated by God [Ecc.5:5, Matt.5:37] nor society.

There are two kinds of non-cooperation taught in the Bible. First, we must never cooperate with The Enemy. Resist the Devil. Other people are not the Enemy, at worst they are POWs to be rescued from the Enemy's clutches. The non-cooperation we reserve for the Enemy does not apply to ordinary people -- except in the second case, which is where God has given us a particular task to do, and that task is in conflict with somebody's personal agenda. Jesus came to die, and when Peter tried to stop him, Jesus called him "Satan" and refused to cooperate. Jesus sets the agenda, not Peter. Peter learned his lesson well, and when the Jerusalem authorities tried to stop him from proclaiming the Gospel message, he refused to cooperate with them. This is appropriate non-cooperation. There will always be conflict and non-cooperation in this age because Jesus came to bring not peace but the sword, but that is between the Good Guys and the Black Hats; it has no place within the same team.

Tom Pittman
2006 September 5

I have since given a lot of thought to the First and Second Great Commandments (1+2C) in contrast to what I now call "Relationshipism" (see links on my home page). 1+2C wins.