Unselfishness ... 3

Thinking unselfishly

Our alignment with God’s Kingdom requires a new focus and work ethic. It starts by focusing on a new agenda of which we are not the focus. In finding a solution to a need, we must take our benefit out of the equation. God's plan for us, such as to love our neighbor and to spread the good news, are practically impossible for the selfish to consider. To become unselfish requires us to embrace different attitudes to worldly norms of thinking, and acknowledge that it is selfless virtues that lead to our Christian success. Personal attributes of generosity, sacrifice, humility, empathy, forgiveness, mercy; that accompany an unselfish spirit, align us with the needs of others. They make it possible for us to love others unconditionally and motivate us to take action. If we do nothing our faith is all but dead, but reducing self-importance and increasing others importance makes us much more likely to achieve our godly and earthly goals.
Unselfish thinkers are more likely to choose what is best for a group or team, even if it is not ideal for them personally. Unselfish thinkers are more likely to be consultative; they will share advice as well as ask for advice from others and hear all sides of a story, because they don’t claim to know all the answers. Unselfish thinkers give other people the benefit of the doubt, assuming the best about others rather than assigning limitations upon them. Unselfish thinkers reflect on other people’s welfare, while not thinking about showering themselves with more luxuries. The good of the many often comes before the good of a few.
Kind and compassionate people are regarded as delightful souls; and their actions reveal an underlying gracious way of thinking that enhances relationships. Christians, more so than other people, should be capable of forming unselfish relationships with others due to their graciousness that comes from humility. They are willing to give respect to all those created in the image of God, and to put the needs of those others whom God loves ahead of themselves because they are not jealous, possessive or needy of attention, but most of all just want to share His love. Their time is not given over to satisfying themselves, but is wisely and judiciously balanced so they can serve others. Their behaviors will be aligned in consideration toward others: to generosity not greed, to mercy not revenge, to responsibilities not entitlements, to altruism not egoism, to carefulness not carelessness, to sacrifice not competition. Developing unselfish thinking patterns along these lines, will make our corresponding actions become “second-nature”. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18 NIV)
Unselfishness helps to generate changes, create benefits, and make improvements. John F Kennedy gave us a nationalistic version of this attitude when he challenged us to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” God’s followers in effect need to have this same attitude by considering personal questions like: "What can I do for God’s Kingdom, rather than what He can do for me.” By obeying Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor, we can ask empathetic questions like “What we can do for our neighbour”, and “Is this what I would want someone to do for me”? The most beautiful souls are free of themselves to become attentive to looking out for the needs of others. By serving others we are taking the priority off our own needs and wants. “Dying” to ourself, is letting go of the notion of self-importance and self-centredness, by actively extending grace, energy and love to others through our actions.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23-25 NIV)
Not many of us stand to gain the whole world but sometimes we selfishly act like we are trying to, bit by bit. We are silently in competition with the Jones'. It's all a vanity, for our possessions will be left behind when we die. In reality, we will lose all our possessions and wealth to "death". Worldly wealth and treasures on earth, have no purpose to us when we die, and money is not the currency of Heaven. The treasures of Heaven are rewards we receive for our unselfish deeds. Only our soul passes on, when the earthy body dies. To generate a different currency while here on earth that has lasting value, we can start by contributing our excess to those it will help. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20 NIV)
Sooner or later we will search for and make purposeful choices to serve Christ and others and not to serve our own selfish ambitions. Removing the “what’s in it for me” mentality, will greatly limit the influence of sin in our lives. Sins like pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth; are all diminished when we reduce or eliminate self-interest, and focus on inner beauty not materialism. Both righteousness and unselfishness, doing what’s right and acting unselfishly, are necessary qualities of the followers of Christ. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21 NIV) When we give up our selfish lifestyles and follow God’s work unselfishly, we’ll set ourselves up to become the best soul that we can be; the person whose actions make a difference in a most beautiful way, a person known to possess a "heart of gold", not a "heart of stone".
Jill's self talk
"The greatest enemy of Christian love is our own self-interest. But when I, and individuals like me, think less about ourselves, and start doing more good to help others, we will be capable of fulfilling the Lord's commandment."

Giving generously

A person of unselfish character is typically a generous giver. Yet we still need to be reminded that at the heart of our reason for being generous givers, is that most repeated verse in John: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son”. (John 3:16 NIV) Not only did the Father give His Son, but Christ also gave Himself, and then God sent the His Holy Spirit to give us His life. God wants to benefit everyone, but thankfully it benefits us individually. It is God’s character to give Himself to make us better and to become as spiritually whole as is possible.
Unsurprisingly God desires us to give just as He did; for us to be the conduits of His love. So closely does Christ relate to those He loves, that He considers helping someone in need is equivalent to helping Him. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV) “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45 NIV) It is our Christian work to make others better off. Our “doing” is the measure of our unselfishness. Our “not doing” is the measure of our selfishness.
In John Chapter 6, we read the wonderful story of the boy giving his lunch to help feed the five-thousand. It’s remarkable not only for the miracle that Jesus performed, but that under the circumstances of being surrounded by hungry multitudes the boy didn’t conceal or quickly consume his food for his own sake. It’s also remarkable what God was able to do with what the boy unselfishly gave up for the good of others. Under-estimating what God is able to do with what we give for the needs of others is not taking into consideration God’s involvement in our work. We might think our resources are scarce, but faith convinces us that God can use them abundantly. When a person is bound by selfishness it is impossible to give with a similar manner to Christ’s unconditional and sacrificial giving, yet the boy in this story did just that.
Like the food that the boy donated, the difficulty in giving our time is that it is a limited resource. Giving can be sharing our skills, time, possessions, resources or friendships. Is there some resource or ability we have, that would be beneficial for someone else in need? There is a myriad of ways to provide for the needs of others if we are prepared to sacrifice a bit of what we have.
For instance we could sacrifice some of our time to spend it with an elderly person who is lonely. Such simple things are not always easy, and can appear to be a poor use of our time. Yet to bring them some food occasionally, or some magazines to read, or some new clothes; is actually helping Christ by doing a bit of His work. Just a quick visit would brighten up their day, yet more importantly it would help answer those Christian questions we should be asking ourselves, like, am I caring for my neighbor as I would like to be cared for, if I were them?
Unselfishness is a sort of self-adjustment, based on godly thinking and love for others, and being willing to concede to the greater good of other's needs over ours. It is closely related to the manner in which Christ gave His life for mankind. The grace of God is wonderful and it demands a response from our heart. If we are to be receivers of God’s grace, then it would be hypocritical not to also, be dispensers of grace too. Simply put, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 8:10 NIV) No resentment, no conditions, just good will; based on feelings of gratitude of having been saved into a Kingdom with an abundance of love. The Apostle James points out that all good things come down from the Father (James 1:17), so when we acknowledge many of our blessings come from Him we can be especially happy to give back to His work.
There is no better verse to remember about unselfishness, than, "God loves a cheerful giver". (2 Corinthians 9:7) It coincides with Old Testament advice given to the Israelites: “Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:10-11 NIV) An appreciation of God’s love will cause us to be both generous and selfless, because that is His teaching and that is His way. Being unselfish requires being always willing to give generously. “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” (Luke 6:35 NIV)
When we choose to give to a cause enthusiastically, we have to trust that God takes care of what happens to what we give. We may never know what ultimately happens to what we give, but we sincerely hope that it is used wisely, and will even cause benefits and “miracles” in the lives of others. Once we have chosen judiciously and given generously, we put it in their hands with no strings attached, knowing that ultimately our motive was simply to contribute to God’s work. We trust that God can make good use of what the church, charity or poor person receives because that is our sincere intention. While God is involved, we shouldn't let the fear of waste be an excuse to hinder generosity. Don’t rely on the rich philanthropist to be generous or think that our humble donation is unnecessary. For really, how much value can we add to God’s Kingdom if we are selfish?
Generosity and unselfishness is a by-product of faith in God. Faith is more than just believing in the goodness of God; it is also believing that what God says, is right for us and good for us. Being good, is good for us. A true believer should embrace goodness in all its varieties without question or hesitation, to become more like God is. To get to the point of true Christ-like giving, we trust that God will come through for us when we obey His word, trust that He is doing all manner of things that we can’t even see happening, and is busy at work even in the unknown, for good. To take that step in faith, is to get out of the boat “of self” and our familiar worldly support mechanisms, and into the water “of faith” where our Master and Commander provides all the buoyancy needed.
To be unselfish and generous requires trusting God’s grace and provision even when it feels that we will end up with less as a result. Obediently and sacrificially giving to those more in need, is to trust that He is more qualified to take supernatural care of us and our resources when giving them away; more so than when we are thinking narrowly and acting selfishly by withholding our resources.
It is illogical to think that once we are rich we can become unselfish and more generous. To be unselfish requires forsaking many things, including materialism and the desire to accumulate more things for ourselves. The story of the rich man shows that scenario is very hard. He might have been sad and reluctant to give away what he had worked hard for, but Jesus’ invitation to follow Him is not really conditional on the man being perfect. Jesus wouldn’t turn anyone away, rich or poor, who sought to follow him; but remaining selfish while following Jesus would not be compatible at all.
Jesus’ directive was a challenge that would test the man’s obedience as much as his selflessness and generosity. Would he be able to fit in with Jesus way of life and teachings? Perhaps the rich man, like us, was also very busy, and his time would be a big sacrifice as well. Perhaps the rich man was quite religious, and would have to give up religious customs and lifestyle to embrace Jesus’ new philosophies. There are many scenarios that would likely involve difficulties, sacrifices and changes that would be equally challenging of the man’s inclination to obey Jesus’ directive to be selfless and more generous. The invitation to follow Jesus is also an invitation to serve the needs of the poor. Jesus told another parable, that He will come back like a thief in the night, so we should not be slothful or irresponsible in our giving of service, lest we displease Him or miss His return. (Matthew 24:42-51) There is little time or opportunity to waste for the unselfish, who have God's love on their mind.
Any unselfish deed that is an expression of faith is more pleasing to God than a hundred good intentions never acted upon. Only through discipline and obedience can we live in God’s perfect will, so that we can embrace godly principles, and be empowered by the Spirit. In partnership with the Holy Spirit, we can crucify the sin within us and thereby live by His power. In order to adhere to Kingdom values, and to receive something of more eternal value from God, it is noble to sacrifice things of perceived value in this world. What God commands might sound hard, but is good for the world, good for mankind and good for individuals, when acted upon.
Authentic faith empowers us to do good. With faith we can do more than just have good intentions, we can have unselfish and godly actions. Like the centurion Cornelius mentioned in Acts Chapter 10, God saw his giving of gifts to the poor, and heard his prayers, and arranged for the Apostle Peter to specially come to preach salvation to him and the many Gentiles there. "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." (2 Corinthians 9:6 NIV)
Jill's self talk
"I cant help but give, when I see an opportunity to help. I trust God will also help, because He is a lot more giving than me."

Sharing the Gospel

Withholding God’s grace has no part in God’s Kingdom. There are two further reasons God wants us to give and share: the first is by giving we can further grasp and experience the nature of His Kingdom. As we cultivate our generosity and unselfishness, we will connect with God’s heart and align with His plan and the Gospel of grace. If we start to give sacrificially, as Jesus did, what then happens is extraordinary. We look at the poor not as undesirables from another social class, but as our brothers whom we ought to love and help dearly. We stop trying to justify our reluctance to give to others based on the reasons behind their predicaments and quash our thoughts of superiority. As we cultivate our generosity, unselfishness, faith and love we will establish a meaningful connection with the Lord as a witness to others of God’s influence in our lives.
The second reason is that by giving we will actually promote His Kingdom through our deeds. People need the hope that the Gospel provides, and sharing with them seeds of godly wisdom will go a long way in producing fruit. Our empathy can put their shoe on our foot, and our shoe on their foot. We think from a different perspective: if we were in their situation and they were in ours, and they didn’t try to help us, what would be our experience based on the consequences of their selfishness.
To be unselfish requires courageously sharing the gift of our faith and values. Is it too presumptuous for us to think we can adopt the mission that Isaiah said Jesus came to do? By emulating Jesus we too can generously share the Gospel through word and deed. “Proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners ... recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”. (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18 NIV) The power of the Gospel can release the oppressed from their chains, not only of poverty, but of the deception of thinking that God does not exist or care about them. By unselfishly sharing the Gospel, we can assist God to heal and bind up the wounds of their rejection. Through our acts of kindness we begin to give sight to the blind who cannot see Jesus’ love in today’s society. Unselfishness accomplishes the Lord’s work through sharing the Gospel of love with loving deeds and words of hope. If God’s love is in our hearts we must use it, more and more, pouring it out and being re-filled, for the Bible says this is the way to know Him more deeply. (Ephesians 3:14-19, Ephesians 4:15-16)
Jill's self talk
"Just as I have been saved by receiving God's grace, I call it an honor and duty to share the message and invitation of God's grace with others."

Concluding remarks

Every Christian is faced with the same challenge; we can’t become more loving and God-pleasing, without letting go of our pre-occupation with ourselves. Selfishness is holding us back from being successful Christians. Pleasing God ultimately requires being unselfish. For God to work through us, we need to be humble and unselfish, so that we are able to work with Him and for Him to do what it takes to achieve His purposes.
As a final incentive to live the unselfish life, part of our union with Christ is that “my burden is light”. (Matthew 11:30 NIV) For the selfish, the weight of expectation, entitlement and exhibitionism grow heavier by the day. But the soul that is free of the weight of the chains of selfishness is a soul free to become beautiful, eased of many burdens that God takes from us. For only by using all the virtues of humility, empathy, industry, courage, discipline and generosity, are we able to be called “good and faithful servants”. Encourage each other to live the “light life”, to ask the unselfish question “what can I do to please God”.
Jill's prayer
"Lord, I repent of my selfishness and pride, and pledge to change. I will choose humilty, I will choose generosity. I will choose to be selfless."
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