According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of selfless is: “to show great concern for and willingness to give unselfishly to others.” It says ‘willingness to give,’ which indicates that selflessness is a choice; you have to be willing. Another edition gives the definition as, “to be devoted to other’s welfare or interest and not one’s own.” When I think of the word devoted I think of taking a vow. We are to be willingly devoted to serve others.
David Nelmes (2007) describes selflessness as agape love. He says agape is unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take or be a taker. It devotes total commitment to seek your highest best no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not. This is the original and only true form of love.
This is the kind of selfless love that Christ has for us. It is pretty humbling to think that Jesus selflessly laid down His life for us and loves us no matter what we do. We could do the greatest thing…or the very worst thing…it will never change how he loves us. He loves us freely without receiving anything and without condition.
Jesus is our standard and the perfect picture of selflessness. First, as God Himself, Jesus submitted to the will of the Father and secondly, He sacrificed himself for the sins of the world without condition.
What does it look like to consider a life of selflessness? How should it impact our relationships? How do we live out love in a selfless way? How do we get to a place where we can serve and give without condition and without expecting anything in return?
Well, to begin with, as basic as it may seem, we need to check our purpose and our priorities.
Are you ever so busy you find yourself on survival mode just trying to figure out how you will manage to complete the next task? How in the world could you find time to do something for someone else? So then what?
When I find myself there, I know it is once again time to…pause…step back…and reset my boundaries. The Word clearly tells us to, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
When in the midst of times like that, when life becomes so full (even full of all good things), it seems an impossible task to purpose to give selflessly by putting others first. This is especially true when considering that sometimes being selfless can prove uncomfortable because of the unanticipated effort required. Sometimes a selfless act might mean we need to do something we might not want to do. Or maybe it turns into a bigger time commitment than we thought. However, God tells us in Philippians 2:4 to put others first by “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Of course, we need to keep healthy boundaries in check. Sometimes, we may need to say “No”…and that’s okay. It is part of knowing the difference between inconvenient versus unhealthy. On the other hand, maybe it’s a small shift in our perspective that’s needed to become others-directed. Selfless acts may simply be the little things that include opportunities to be more thoughtful, considerate, and kind to those who God has put in our lives. When we begin to make ourselves available to the needs of others, the Holy Spirit will lead us.
Again in Philippians 2, we read, “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (1-3).
From 1 Thessalonians 2:14, we know we are to imitate Christ’s humility: “For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus.” If we are to be imitators of Christ we must be purposeful to be more like Him in order to live a life of selflessness with intention. We should serve selflessly out of shear gratitude for who He is and what He has done for us. We should give to others unconditionally with no reciprocity, because God loves them, too, and that is how God gives to us. We are called to be imitators of Christ and live in a way that reflects Him.
Are we willingly devoted to serve others?
In the name of Jesus, may the Lord help us to develop an ability to serve others and make us ever mindful of the needs of those around us. May the residue of His Holy Spirit, living in us, permeate our lives as we grow to selflessly love like Jesus. Amen.
-Guest writer Jane McCann and her husband John are Love Defined small group leaders. They have been married for 32 years and have 3 adult children. Jane has been a school teacher for 33 years and enjoys spending time with her 2 grandchildren in her spare time.