Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Selflessness or Unselfishness

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:

Selflessness or Unselfishness

Richard Hollerman

In the Old Testament, Isaiah tells of the tragic condition of the human race: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (53:6; 1 Peter 2:20).  Those who are out of Christ go their “own way” and this self-chosen way is not God’s way.  While unbelievers may manifest certain altruistic traits, God says that they allow “self” to rein in their life.  It has been observed that I, me, my, and myself are found more than 40 times in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.  Solomon was focused on himself but came to see that this kind of life was “vanity and striving after wind” (2:26).  He came to see that only focusing on God could provide the answer to life (12:13-14).[i][i]

When one comes to Christ for salvation, he heeds the Savior’s call, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).  One must deny himself and allow Christ to direct his life.  Paul describes this as a crucifixion of self and a death to sin (Romans 6:2, 6).  We “lay aside the old self” and “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24; cf. Colossians 3:9).  This involves an entirely different reorientation of life, one that is different from the ways of the world.

Paul describes the change of focus when we come to Christ: “The love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  Notice particularly the fact that we are no longer to “live” for ourselves, but are to live for Christ.  We do this because of the marvelous, transforming “love of Christ”!  Paul commended Timothy, his young “son” in the faith, saying, “They all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:21).  This is the orientation of the world—seeking our own interests.  The apostle writes, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4, ESV).  Again, we see that our orientation changes.  We focus on Christ and because of this we can focus on the needs of others.

Selfishness is “caring only or chiefly for oneself; concerned with one’s own interests, welfare, etc., regardless of others,” “characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself.”[ii][ii]  This is the trait that God saves us from and replaces it with an interest on God and Christ Jesus (primarily) as well as an interest in others.  Obviously there is a hierarchy here, for our concern should be for other brothers and sisters in God’s family (cf. Galatians 6:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15), but it extends out to unsaved unbelievers and even enemies (Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:17-21).

Are we unselfish or selfless in our relationships?  Do we love our husband or wife and relate to him or her unselfishly?  Do we bless and train our children unselfishly?  Do we care for and honor our parents unselfishly?  Do we have a selfish attitude regarding our physical brothers and sisters, or do we respond to them unselfishly?  Are you unselfish on the job, regarding the other as worthy of your time and attention?  Do you unselfishly help and bless your neighbors—perhaps helping with their lawn work, or helping with household jobs, or lending them a tool?  Do we cook or bake a food item and share this with friends and acquaintances?  All of this should help us to determine how selfish or how unselfish we are with our time, our possessions, our finances, and our interest.


[i][i] What Does the Bible Say About (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p. 361.

[ii][ii] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary




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