The Grace of Unselfishness
Unselfishness, which includes self-denial and self-sacrifice, is one of the chief characteristics of Christian life. It is in the very essence of true Christianity. The Lord Jesus is the great pattern of it. Consider how Philippians 2 sets this forth. He did not think of His own place and right. He did not cling to the Divine form and glory that were His. He laid them aside to take the lowly form and circumstances of a servant; as Man to be thus among needy, sinful men. Not only this, but when scorned and hated by those to whom He came in deepest love and grace, He took upon Himself the judgment for our sins that we might be fully blest.
The Mark of Unselfishness
What marvelous things this chapter unfolds for our meditation! It is the grace of One who, though rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. If this mind which was in Christ Jesus be in us, unselfishness will be a distinguishing mark. “Love one another as I have loved you.… By this shall all know that ye are My disciples” (John 13:34, 35). Many heroes of history were brave and stoical, but the moral and spiritual beauty of unselfishness is little seen in them. Men extol examples of self-sacrifice, which express perhaps what is best in man. Even the worthies of the Old Testament, much above the great ones of profane history, do not give full expression to this Christian character. In the Lord Jesus alone we have its perfect manifestation. He has given us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21).
The Inspiration for Unselfishness
To Him, then, we must look primarily for both inspiration and instruction. We may also consider with much profit His devoted followers whose lives are brought to our attention by the Spirit. Look at Timothy in his great interest in God’s people; or Epaphroditus who was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, that he might fulfil his service. And what shall we say as we ponder the record of Paul’s unselfish life!
This virtue develops by the contemplation of, and communion with our Lord, in whom it is perfectly expressed. The best way for this is found in a prayerful study of the Gospels, so full of His fragrant life, works, and words. A man may be naturally brave, industrious, even or generous, but not, I think, naturally unselfish. This springs from another source. It is of the new, the Divine nature—the life imparted in receiving Christ by faith.
The Cultivation of Unselfishness
Yet, practically, it is a plant that needs constant cultivation. It will not grow in the fields of this world, but in the garden of the Beloved, while its fruits will be in ministry to others in this needy scene. For this, the greed and selfishness so native to us must be rebuked, and the way of self-sacrifice learned in the secret place with our Lord. More anxious should we be to have our lives exhale the fragrance of His character, than to be marked as great, as the world counts greatness, or rich in that which man esteems. Ambition, pride, eagerness for riches, which induce men to be ruthless toward those who stand in the way of their cherished attainments, pass unreproved, or are even applauded by the world, and the selfishness of it all passes unnoticed. Purity, truth, courage may be extolled apart from Christ; but true unselfishness is the mark of those who sincerely follow our Lord Jesus.
What is Unselfishness?
But let us be very practical, and begin at home. In how many ways we might deny ourselves, instead of yielding to self-gratification which may disturb household arrangements, or interfere with plans agreeable to others. To fit our ways with the plans of others, instead of working for our own pleasure or forcing our own way—that is unselfishness. To suppress our own feelings, hide our own inconvenience, withhold complaint, leave out the tale of our trouble or ache when others are in trial, are suffering or are burdened— that is unselfishness. To perform a service for others, for a sister or a brother, which may take us out of our usual routine, be attended with some difficulty, yet do it cheerfully— that is unselfishness. You have some particular object or place in view, but you find it will give needless trouble, and give up the cherished thought— that is unselfishness. Not only at home (there first, however), but at school, in the office or workshop, you may find a multitude of ways in which you may exercise this excellent characteristic, making things more easy and pleasant for those around you, though it give you extra trouble or inconvenience. To cheerfully follow such a course is unselfishness. And withal doing all heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men (Col. 3. 23).
Examples of Unselfishness
A multitude of examples might be given, all showing that unselfishness is not the accomplishment of some great achievement (which is usually accompanied with great pride), but rather the tenor of life, shaping even the details of our intercourse with one another. “Consider one another to provoke unto love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). “By love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). “For even Christ pleased not Himself” (Rom. 15:3). “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5). “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another” (Rom. 12:15, 16).
The Contrast of Unselfishness
By contrast the selfish man is full of himself and his own affairs. There is no end to his talk concerning his abilities, his work, his success, his failures, his ailments. It is always his this, that, or the other. If the conversation turns to other things he becomes uninteresting and listless. The unselfish person will be a good listener, ready to enter into the concern of others, ready to help if possible, not bringing forward his own interests or worries to those already burdened. A wounded heart may find more balm through sympathetic listening, than in talking and suggesting or even doing that which, though really helpful, may be done in an ungracious manner.
The truly unselfish do not act in an obtrusive manner, and though acting in self-denial, seek to hide rather than trumpet it abroad. They do not hint or remind others of what they have done. Fame, applause, or material gain fall to the brave, the generous, the great of this world; but the truly unselfish reap little present reward, and find most in a secret joy with the Lord and approval of conscience.
First and last, the motive, the spring of action, for an unselfish life must be found in the Lord Himself, and His approval be the object desired. He should command our hearts. If He governs them, there need be no fear but that His mind and spirit will be out-breathed in true unselfishness.
— By John Bloore, reproduced from the March 1933 issue of The Witness.