Have you ever wondered what it means to be completely selfless? Now that I have a few decades under my belt, I think about the word selfless and selfish more often than when I was younger. I want to know more about the two terms as I believe they hold part of the key to my continuing journey to become more like Christ.
What is selflessness?
There is little question the ultimate example of selflessness to have ever existed is Jesus. He and God are one, after all. God created and owns everything that exists, so it only makes sense only Jesus could be completely selfless. We humans failed first because of selfishness in the Garden of Eden and continue to do so. Yet He created us and loves us so much He died for us.
The wisdom of God is far too vast for man or woman to truly comprehend. Please take my words as those of only one man's understanding which will always be incomplete in this present form.
The next most selfless person I have read about in history has to be Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. the apostle Paul in the bible. When you look at his life and all he went through, he had to have been one of the most selfless people to have ever lived. Was he perfect? Not always in his life, but in the end, he was as close as a human can come from what scripture shows us. How could he have done all he did and endured so much hardship if he weren't extremely selfless.
There are so many ways to look at selflessness and selfishness; how could anyone ever measure it? Jesus helps us better understand what it means to be selfless in the following verses from the bible:
"'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" (Matthew 22:36-40 ESV)
There is no doubt in my mind to love the Lord our God and our neighbor as ourselves is as close to being selfless as I can get while in this flesh.
Can selflessness be measured?
Still, I have sought a way I could gauge my selflessness more objectively. The only somewhat objective measure I have found, although it is far from perfect, is in what I do with my money. In other words, where do I give it and where do I spend it? To answer that question tells me where my heart is.
In today's world, we work to provide shelter and food for our family, so it seems selfless to work for a living to provide for our family, buy a home, and transportation. Yet, there are so many ways to allow selfishness in each of these areas. Anytime our spending becomes extravagant, are we not being selfish? But then, how does one define extravagance?
What one person sees as extravagant is being thrifty to another. Human standards don't stand in such a subjective term. The only way to understand such a thing is through the eyes of our Lord. This is one of those "What would Jesus do or say" moments. The answer lies in how He defines it. How individual His answer will be is beyond my ability to know, so why not give it some thought, submit it to prayer, and see what He tells you in your heart?
Beyond providing for the necessities of life, what we do with money helps us see how selfless or selfish we are. This begs the question, "Where does the rest of my money go?"
It would seem to save a portion of the money to fund our eventual retirement may be prudent, yet the amount saved is debatable. Saving too little or too much could be rooted in selflessness or selfishness, depending on the amount. Again, the amount is a subjective measure, and what may be too little to one may be extravagant to another. This begs the question, "What amount of savings is too much and how much is enough?" Again, the Lord can provide each of us individually with an answer through prayer.
What about our giving?
In my mind, the most important thing that shows where our heart is when it comes to selflessness is in our giving. Do we give a 10% tithe? Do we base the tithe on our gross or net income? Do we give offerings above this amount, and if so, how much? Can we afford to tithe, or can we afford not to tithe? So many questions!
How do you give? There is no doubt an important part of a Christian's life is giving, not to receive, but to bless the church and others. How selfless are you in this act?
My personal belief is to tithe on the gross and give offerings above the tithe. I have always felt compelled to be obedient in this area of my life, although my motives for many years were not selfless.
When I first started giving, it was in part out of fear of being disobedient and partly selfish. I became a Christian in the '70s when the "charismatic" movement was coming into full swing. For many years there was a strong push to giving and receiving, which ushered in the "name it and claim it" or "blab it and grab it" generation.
Looking back, much of the teaching at the time may have made some of us even more selfish, believing we would always get back a multiple of what we gave.
There is some truth to receiving far more than you give. However, it doesn't happen as a windfall each time, as was taught so often back then. I am sure by giving I have received far more in return. This harvest has been steady over time. It has not been a harvest of greed which seemed to be the case back then.
Can anyone be truly selfless?
To become selfless seems as though it would be easy. Look at the word itself, "self-less," meaning less of self. The issue is if selfless means less of self, does that mean if you are "sel-fish" you are fishy? I'm sure selfishness will smell too over time.
Sorry, but I couldn't resist a little old man humor!
The world is a selfish place, and everyone has a selfish heart – as the bible says:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV)
Where it not for Christ and Christianity, who knows where the world would be today. I am so thankful God has given us the opportunity to have a new heart!
"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)
As I see it, selflessness, like love, is a matter of the heart and cannot be measured objectively, as no one other than God can see inside our heart.
How can one be as selfless as possible while on this earth? That is a question for the ages. So long as we are here, we will face temptations, and the temptation of selfishness will certainly be among them.
Whether we are or are not selfless, we can and should press on to be as selfless as we can. To strive and to press on is part of the human condition. It always has been and always will be. The good thing is so long as we press on, we know God will work in and through us to make us more like Christ.
"I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14 ESV)