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)