The Path from Selfishness to Selflessness
Dictionary.com defines selfishness as “devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.”
No one wants to be considered selfish. But the problem is the majority of people are selfish. Even those of us who call ourselves Christians.
And … selfishness is very difficult to see in the mirror!
Before you start to shake your head and deny it, selfishness is “the mother of all sins.”
Our love of self is what drives us to sin.
And we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
It hurts to add “selfish” to your list of personal characteristics, but many of us need to.
The good news is there is a pathway from selfishness towards selflessness.
The remedy is to learn how to love God and love your neighbors.
With that being said, I know it can be a challenge to just be told to “love God and love others.”
- What does that actually look like?
- How do you make this happen?
- How do you turn your selfish heart towards something other than yourself?
To help us see practical steps forward, we’re using Selfishness: From Loving Yourself to Loving Your Neighbor by Lou Priolo.
Understanding What Selfishness Is
Before you can address the selfishness in your heart, you need to understand what it is.
According to Priolo, you can describe and define selfishness in the following ways:
- Selfishness is the lack (or opposite) of biblical love.
- Selfishness is, for all intents and purposes, the practical equivalent of sin.
- Selfishness is directly related to sinful fear.
- Selfishness is superimposing my will on God’s will – that is, being self-willed.
- Selfishness is being more concerned with (interested in or motivated by) what I can get from others than what I can give to them.
These sinful motivations lead us to sin.
Whenever we honor ourselves more than we honor God or others, we are being selfish.
Fortunately, not only do we have a God who forgives us, but He also has the power to change us.
Let’s look at what we can do to turn away from selfishness and toward selflessness.
Recognize the Sin of Selfishness
First, we must recognize selfishness for what it is – sin.
Priolo writes, “Never lose sight of the fact that selfishness is the one sin out of which all others flow.”
Acknowledge your sin of selfishness.
Don’t defend it. Repent.
Remind Yourself How Much More Qualified God Is
One of Priolo’s definitions of selfishness focuses on being self-willed or attempting to control my life rather than accepting God’s will.
Priolo suggests, “Consider the perfections of the glorious God you serve and the purposes for which he saved you, and then remind yourself often how exceedingly more qualified he is than you are to govern your life.”
Seek the Love of Christ
Priolo writes, “We are so selfish – that is, our love of self is so strong – that a love much stronger than our own is required to overpower it.”
That is the love of Christ.
If we can grasp just a bit of Christ’s infinite love for us, it will change us.
Moreover, if we make it a goal to show Christ's love to others, we will push selfishness out of the picture.
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
– Ephesians 3:17-19
Read God’s Word
Spend time reading God’s word, specifically verses that describe love, and memorize verses.
This makes God’s word seep deep into our hearts where change begins.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
– 1 Corinthians 3:4-8
Consider Ways to Demonstrate Love
As you spend time soaking in God’s word, consider how you can demonstrate the type of love you are reading about to others.
For example, using the Scripture above, often recited at weddings, to come up with practical ways you can demonstrate love.
- Love is patient. I can demonstrate patience to my wife by not responding with hostility when she questions my reasons for doing something.
- Love is kind. I can demonstrate kindness to my husband by asking about his day and listening intently.
Make Decisions That Benefit Others and Glorify God
If you are being honest with yourself, there are probably many times when you make decisions according to how they benefit you.
It’s time to change that attitude.
Start trying to make decisions based on how they will benefit others, and as a result, glorify God.
Priolo suggests, “Ask yourself, ‘Is there not a more excellent way, a more excellent end or purpose that would glorify God or benefit my neighbor?’ before you finalize your decisions.”
Replace Fear with Love
According to Priolo, “People who are selfish tend to be fearful.”
They are motivated by fear.
Think about it.
Many times, our selfishness comes out when we are afraid we will suffer.
In contrast, the Bible tells us, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
Don’t allow fear to prevent you from obeying God’s command to love God and love others.
Study Christ’s Example
Keep your eyes on both God’s love to us in Him, and His love to man, and you will have the best instruction and incentive for your love.
Take time to study how Christ loves the church and consider how you can apply his example in your life.
Priolo suggests making a list of Scripture references and noting how Christ demonstrated his love, as well as how you can apply it in your life.
For example, Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
How Christ demonstrated love: While we were sinners, he died for us.
Application: I can forgive others when they sin.
Be a Giver
It is hard for selfish people to give.
They want to hold on to what they have and take what they can.
Do the opposite.
Be a giver and not a taker.
What have you been keeping selfishly to yourself that you can give?
Money, time, toys?
Ask God, “God, what do you want me to give away today?”
Find opportunities in your day to give of yourself - your time, your affection, anything you have been selfishly withholding from others.
Remember and Repent
Selfishness won’t go away overnight.
It is a battle you will have to fight continually.
Remember how selfishness drives all other sins and repent.
Demonstrate Genuine Love
Finally, Priolo suggests, “Identify those persons to whom your selfishness has been most obnoxious and begin demonstrating genuine love to them.”
Make a list of these people and find ways to treat them far better than you have been treating them.
Consider their needs instead of your own.
What can you do to meet those needs?
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
– Matthew 22:35-40