Selfless love

World Religion Day February 2017.

Thank you for the invitation to share something from my own religious background about selfless love.

Selflessness runs counter to human nature, which is why being selfish is much easier than being selfless. Most of society is very much based on the “everyone for themselves” idea. It seems to have become an acceptable social norm that most of the time we do good only to those who will return the favour.

Selfless love, however, is the willingness to offer something without the desire or expectation to receive something in return. It means giving without expecting to receive anything from the recipient.

I am sure that all religions have teachings in this regard. I want to share some thoughts with you from the Christian tradition.

In the Bible, we have different words to describe love, one of which is the Greek word agape. Agape is described as a love that is more than just an emotion, but a principle we deliberately live by (William Barclay 1974 New Testament Words).

Central to Jesus’ teachings is His understanding of the law (Matthew 22).

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Another example is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he extends selflessness beyond the normal expectation with his call that we love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44). Selflessness means to put aside hurt feelings and wounded hearts.

Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) is yet another illustration. It is the story about a man from Samaria who encounters a robbery victim. He puts his own plans on hold and tends to the man’s wounds. After helping the victim, he pays an innkeeper to care for the man. The Samaritan gives selflessly of his time, sympathy and assets to provide care for a stranger.

What makes this story even more poignant is the fact that the story begins with a priest and a Levite who do not help the robbery victim and instead pass by on the other side of the road. It was the Samaritan – seen by the religious community that Jesus addressed in a negative light – who showed the most selfless love. The parable is thus also a message to the religious community to be aware of the fact that although we may have high standards in religion, we might still fail when it comes to selfless love.

In the Christian religion God gives His Son as an act of selfless love (Philippians 2):

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Christian action is a call to Christians to live a life of selfless love.

We are all challenged by the different religious books and principles by which we live, to look outwards, away from ourselves towards others, to live selflessly. May the world in 2017 experience this spirit of selflessness from many of us!

Frederik Nel