Love Selflessly

By Erin Bird

This week, we continue our How to Love series. Last week, we looked at God’s call for us to “Love Humbly.” We saw that humility isn’t thinking lowly of yourself, rather it is thinking less of yourself, which in turn allows you to consider the needs of others before yourself. This week’s topic extends this idea even further.

Let me begin by admitting the obvious: it is incredibly hard  to truly love “selflessly.” However, I think for many of us that it is impossibly hard to be truly “selfless” because we have the wrong definition of “selfless” in our minds. When many people think of what it means to be “selfless,” they think they have to live with an “absence of self.” Many Eastern religions (or Eastern-influenced spiritual practices) encourage people to “empty themselves” through meditation or other practices.

However, I don’t believe this is truly a biblical definition of “selfless.” I think the Oxford Dictionary helps us get closer:“[C]oncerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own.”

You see, selflessness isn’t the “absence of self.” It is simply a shift of focus away from self to the needs and wishes of others. It is setting aside your own desires to attend to the needs of those around you. And we see this most clearly in the person and work of Christ:

  • As we saw in chapter 6 of the book of Mark last year, when Jesus was mourning the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, we see Him selflessly set aside his desire to go be alone to minister to the crowds. He eventually gets the alone time later in the chapter, but not until after he sets aside his own desires to care for the spiritual and physical needs of the people.
  • As we also saw in Mark 5, when Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter of the local synagogue ruler, He stops everything to give His time and attention to a woman who had secretly touched His robes. He eventually makes it to the home of the synagogue ruler, but not until after He gives the attention, restoration, and love the woman needed.
  • But most of all, we see the selflessness of Jesus, the only person to have ever lived on earth without sin, through His willingness to die in the place of sinners (that’s you and me!). That is the most powerful visual of selflessness you will ever see!

But note: Even in the world’s most selfless act of dying on the cross for humanity, Jesus did not flush His desires from His heart.  Hebrews 12:2 tells us Jesus did desire something as He faced the cross: joy! But rather than seek joy in a selfish manner, He set aside His righteousness and heavenly throne to die our earthly death as payment for our sins so He could give us true, eternal life. And seeing us come back into a relationship with Him and His Father is what brought Him joy.

So when you love someone with humility, it’s okay to experience joy in it. Your love for those around you isn’t to come through an emptied heart. Rather, your love should be expressed because of the overflow of your heart. And out of the overflow of the gospel at work within you, your love with shift from a self-focus to an others-focus. And THAT is what selfless love is all about.

So may you selflessly love someone this week. And if you experience some joy in the wake of it, may you thank God for it!