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How to Be Selfless: An In-Depth Guide for Selfish People

Exploring 9 tips on selflessness from the example of Jesus.
how to be selfless
Listen to this devotional

When I think of selflessness, I can’t help but think of my parents’ example.

My father worked hard to support my family financially and never missed a day of work. Though my mom worked from home, she was always available to talk and support my sister and I through our insecure and awkward years of life. Together, she and my father strived to love us and be there in every high and low.

As you read this, I hope you too can remember those in your life who have shown you this kind of selfless love, whether it be a family member, a friend, a mentor, or someone who simply decided to care for you. These moments, and these relationships, are ones that get etched in our memories; they are powerful and impactful in our lives. 

While we know this to be true, and may desire to be selfless ourselves, it can be easy to draw a line in the sand that we are unwilling or afraid to cross. 

Luckily God knows this about us and has given us great examples in the Bible to teach us how to be selfless.

This study will look specifically at the example of Jesus as he provides a guide for us on how to be less selfish. In this, we will provide a total of 9 tips for how we can selflessly follow the example of Jesus in our own lives.

Be inviting

Being inviting means welcoming, validating, and including others in our life, heart, and friendship.

It is not always convenient, but it is a powerful display of selflessness that can have a profound impact on those around us. Jesus shows us this through his example below.

“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

Mark 10:46-52 NIV

Jesus was not afraid to stop what he was doing (potentially inconveniencing himself) to selflessly invite others into a connection and relationship with him. Nor was he afraid to be different from the crowd. Jesus had a heart to be inviting.

While others around Bartimaeus just wanted him to be quiet, Jesus acted differently. He did not tell Bartimaeus to be quiet. He did not tell him to stop shouting. He did not communicate that Bartimaeus was not good enough or that he was behaving wrong.

Jesus was inviting. He was interested. He was giving. He saw past Bartimaeus’s behavior into his heart. 

Take action

Decide to be inviting, inclusive, and welcoming of those around you who are different or in need physically or spiritually. Here are a few ways you can practice “being inviting” to someone around you who is in need:

  • Welcome them into friendship by initiating time to connect
  • Invite them to share their heart and life by sharing your own
  • Decide to ask questions out of a desire to care and connect

Reflection questions

  • Who can you selflessly and vulnerably invite into your heart and life?

Be admitting

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

In this passage, Jesus teaches that we should focus on, own, and weigh the wrongs in our heart before pointing out the “specks” in others. This is an essential element of selflessness: to care more about how we’re impacting another person than how they’re impacting us.

Admitting our own mistakes, sins, and weaknesses is actually a very important part of loving other people. When we admit the truth about ourselves, we not only protect ourselves from being self-righteous and critical of other people, but we also can more adequately heal those around us of the “speck” in their heart.

Rather than be motivated by self-protection, self-righteousness, or self-interest, we can help others because of the care we have for those God has put in our lives.

Reflection questions

  • Do you tend to focus more on your own or others’ sin and shortcomings?
  • How do you think your relationships would change if you more readily admitted your own flaws and mistakes before pointing out someone else’s?

Be forgiving

Once we admit where we need mercy, we are better able to forgive others for their shortcomings.

Being forgiving is a form of giving to others; it is a way of selflessly clearing a debt in a relationship. Forgiveness is not something that can be faked but must be arrived at genuinely and honestly.

There are times in marriage and relationships where I am convinced others have wronged me. I feel that I won’t be satisfied until the injustice is pointed out and dealt with.

This mindset only drags things out, heightens the emotions between me and my friends, and certainly doesn’t help us to resolve our arguments or feel close.

God teaches me that when I can admit my own faults, I will be more able to forgive, show mercy, and feel blessed.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Matthew 5:7 NIV

God values and appreciates when we show mercy to those around us. Mercy is something near and dear to God. He decided to display his love to us through showing us mercy (Romans 5:8). 

Since this is the way God loves us, we can love others in the same way, through showing them mercy and forgiveness. 

Reflection questions

  • Would others describe you as someone who is quick to forgive?
  • Do you have mercy on others because you are aware of your own weaknesses and sins?

Be available

An important part of selflessness is the decision to value another enough to be available for them and interested in them.

Availability communicates that we value another greater than ourselves. It is an act of self-sacrifice and selflessness that places oneself aside to listen to, consider, feel for, and understand someone else.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.

One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

John 5:2-3,5-6 NIV

Jesus often displayed his availability to others around him in a way that was shocking and ground-breaking. He noticed people that others ignored. He would touch people who were cast out.

In this passage, he interacted with and listened to the needs of a man who was paralyzed (and had no other friends – John 5:7). Jesus didn’t just speak to him, but took an interest in and helped him. Jesus was selfless in his availability to feel, talk, and work with those around him. 

Take action

Here are some ways you can practice being “available”:

  • Make time in your day to be available for a phone call or a talk with someone else.
  • Take an interest in others by asking questions and getting to know their heart.
  • Think of someone with whom you would like to build a closer relationship, and try to like what they like  (i.e a TV show, video game, sport, food spot). Work to see it and enjoy it as they do.

Reflection questions

  • How do you appreciate people being available to you? How can you extend this to someone else?
  • Who are the key relationships God put in your life? How can you be interested in them and communicate your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual availability to them today?

Be serving

Being serving is a great way to give selflessly in humility. It is a way to prioritize those around us, dedicating our thoughts and emotions to the needs and desires of others.

And as Jesus shows us, if we have any power or authority in a relationship, we should use this position to serve.

Jesus told them, ‘In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called “friends of the people.” But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.’

Luke 22:25-27 NLT

Here, Jesus teaches us to not concern ourselves with our position, status, or performance. What matters is deciding to concern ourselves with serving the needs and desires of others. This is what it truly means to be a real friend. 

Selfless friendship is the best kind of friendship because it is not predicated on getting our needs met, but acting independently of how the other person treats us. When we love and give to others, our fulfillment comes from knowing that serving is pleasing in God’s eyes.

Take action

Here are some ideas of ways you can choose to be serving today:

  • Ask someone around you if there is anything you can do for them.
  • Prioritize the needs of others as if you feel the need for it yourself.
  • Do chores around the house without someone asking you (my wife likes this one for me).
  • Pick up groceries for a friend or neighbor.
  • Drop off a friend’s favorite meal.
  • Volunteer in your community.

Reflection questions

  • How can you embrace the ‘lowest rank’ and become a servant in your household, at work, or school?

Be admiring

Admiring, praising, and encouraging those around us is a way to be selfless.

When we do this we are able to shift the focus from ourselves (our envy, competitiveness, or insecurities) and instead focus on admiring and encouraging someone else.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names

Philippians 2:3-9 NLT

In this scripture, Jesus’ example teaches me that my value and fulfillment do not come from my status, my success, or how I am seen by others. Jesus gave up divine privileges and didn’t cling to status of any kind. Instead, he humbled himself and served others. 

When we follow Jesus’ example, we won’t focus on the admiration and praise we can earn or receive, but we’ll start looking for ways to share encouragement with others around us.

Jesus lowered himself, so that he could elevate others. He set an example for us to follow. In the end God made sure that Jesus knew his value and was himself fulfilled.

Take action

To practice being “admiring,” think of people you envy, compete with, or have difficulty loving.

  • Choose to think of ways you admire them (example: what are their strengths or how can you learn from them?)
  • Text them words of encouragement.
  • Think of ways you can make them greater.

Reflection questions

  • What do you learn about Jesus’ humility towards God and how did that translate to how he lived while on Earth?
  • Like Jesus did, how can you empty yourself and live to serve and love others?
  • Who is someone you know who is selflessly humble that you can admire and learn from?

Be empathetic

Empathy is the ability to sense, understand, and imagine what another person is thinking or feeling. It is the ability to put ourselves in the spot of another to perceive and understand what they might think, feel, need, or desire.

God and Jesus demonstrate this in the scripture below. When we see and are grateful for the empathy Jesus displays for us, we are able to do the same for others.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

– Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV

God and Jesus see our thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires. They are able to understand and act in empathy and love toward us. This empathy produces in us confidence and peace as we rely on the graciousness of God. 

In the same way, we can foster peace and confidence in others around us by practicing empathy ourselves. When we respond with gratitude for the empathy God has for us, we are free, secure, and confident to empathize with others. This is the ripple effect of empathy. 

Take action

  • Pray about God’s love for you and how God and Jesus have empathized with you
  • Pray about a few other people in your life and what they are going through. Ask God to help them with some of the things you think they might need. Praying for others not only helps us empathize with them, it’s also a way to spiritually serve by asking God to meet their needs. 

Be initiating

Jesus was a leader, not just in his words or ability to move a crowd.

What really made Jesus a leader, and even attracted the crowds to him in the first place, was that he would initiate giving to others who could not give back to him. 

He repeatedly asked the beneficiaries of his love to say nothing to anyone else. Other times he would leave before the person could even find out who he was. In this way Jesus initiated by giving without expecting any return.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NIV

Jesus died for us, knowing that many of us would not care and would rather choose to still live self-absorbed lives. But he did it anyway so that we could have the choice and chance to be free and live a new life.

When we see and believe this personally, it changes us. We become not only willing to live selflessly ourselves, but we desire to. We initiate giving to others, not in expectation of any return, but really to thank God.

Take action

  • Think of an organization or group of people you would like to serve or support who wouldn’t be able to give anything back to you.
  • Surprise your friends or loved one with a gift, for no reason.
  • Initiate caring about a stranger today, even by simply saying hello when you pass by. Watch this video for inspiration and to see the positive impact of initiating kindness:

Be persevering

One way to examine the purity of our selflessness is to see whether or not we persevere in love even when it is difficult.

Oftentimes in my marriage, I am amazed by how my wife continues to extend mercy to me and patiently encourages me along in change, even when I am stubborn, self-consumed, and unchanging. I know her persevering love is rooted in her appreciation for God’s own persevering love, mercy, and patience in her life.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8 NIV

No matter how often we feel it is not true, the Bible calls us to live as though we are always in debt to those around us in our love.

God loves us enough to pay the price for our sins, if we choose to accept it. We can never adequately repay this debt, but we can continually remember to love one another because of how much we have been loved.

God urges us to not treat his love with contempt, but to respond in gratitude (Romans 2:4), living our lives as if we still have a debt remaining in our relationships with those around us. This is what it means to persevere in selflessness, even when it is hard.

Take action

  • Pray about someone you get tired of loving.
  • In the moments that it is difficult to love, and reflect on how God loved you.
  • Decide to love those around you out of a love for God, not just based on your feelings toward the person.
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