One of the fundamental planks in Jesus’ teaching platform was the practice of selflessness. He said, “The last will be first and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)
That concept is expanded in the New Testament epistles. One example of this can be found in 1 Corinthians 10:24, where we read, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”
The concept of being selfless poses quite a challenge however, as it is nearly universally accepted that selfishness is both intrinsic to and strong within the human race.
Philippians 2:21 states that, “Everyone looks out for their own interests …”
In other words it doesn’t come naturally to think of, or to put others first… but apparently it can happen.
Most of us know about Isaac Newton and his legendary encounter with a falling apple and the subsequent laws of gravity introduced in the 1600’s.
But probably not many know of the role that Edmond Halley played in Newton’s life (some have suggested that Newton wouldn’t have been known at all without Halley).
Halley challenged Newton to think more carefully through his initial conclusions. He corrected some of Newton’s mathematical errors and arranged geometrical data to support Newton’s theories.
Halley then applied gentle pressure to the uncertain Newton to publish his work. Halley also edited and supervised the publication of “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.”
Halley even paid for the publication, though Newton was much wealthier than Halley, and could have easily paid for the printing himself.
Newton became prominent almost overnight. Halley received very little credit. However he did use what he learned in the process, along with his studies in astronomy, to predict the orbit and return of a comet that was later named “Halley’s Comet”, though his notoriety even for this discovery was largely received posthumously.
Historians have called Halley’s actions the most selfless example in the history of science.
Halley remained a devoted scientist who didn’t care who received the credit as long as the cause was being advanced.
There are examples of selflessness in Bible history as well. John the Baptist, who could easily have attracted more attention and a greater following, said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Barnabus was content to serve in a background manner to introduce others to greatness.
And Jesus, always the supreme model and superlative example, exhibited selflessness in a variety of ways; practically by coming to seek, serve and save, pictorially by washing His disciple’s feet and powerfully by laying down His life.
So … selflessness doesn’t come naturally, but it can and does happen.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself” (Philippians 2:3).
Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church.
— Faith & Reflection