vs. Selfishness
Giving to others’ basic needs without having as my motive personal reward

Key Verse

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
I Corinthians 13:3

The operational definition of love is “giving to others’ basic needs without having as my motive personal reward.” A motive is a reason for speaking or acting a certain way. I Corinthians 16:14 says, “Let all your things be done with charity.” God Himself is love, and when He dwells within us, we can be motivated by His love. His love is unconditional, offered even when the recipient does not deserve it. Love meets practical needs and communicates worth, acceptance, and belonging. For example, a loving person would willingly sit by someone who is lonely or choose a teammate that others overlook. Love is the highest, purest motivation in our interactions with others. God gave us commands to help us know how to love Him and others. To love God with all one’s heart is to keep the greatest commandment!
Loving one’s neighbor is second. As we receive and extend God’s love to others, we discover it even has the power to conquer fear, hatred, and selfishness. Furthermore, all other character qualities are ways we can communicate this foundational quality of love.

A trained horse yields its power to its owner. Similarly, meekness is a person’s strength yielded to God’s will.
Like a raging forest fire, a person’s anger can render great and costly destruction.

The opposite of love is selfishness. People often say they love someone, but their love may be based on what they can get, not on what they can give. That “love” is actually self-love, also known as selfishness. Conflicts arise because the selfish person’s priority is to do what is best for himself. (See James 4:1.) Unconsciously he thinks, “What’s in it for me?” as he considers first his own needs and wants. He is too focused on himself to take care of those who are hurting. A selfish person may refuse to speak with a visitor at church only because he is more comfortable talking with people he already knows. Or he may do the opposite and befriend a new person in hopes of gaining attention. While a selfish person may try to impress others with his actions or pretend that his motivation is to care for others, God is not deceived. He sees the heart and knows its every motive.

Evaluation Questions

  • Have I personally experienced God’s love through His salvation?
  • Do I forgive and respond with kindness to those who have hurt me?
  • Am I willing to practically help those God brings into my life?
  • Am I easily provoked or impatient with others?
  • Do I envy the possessions, abilities, or opportunities of others rather than rejoice with them?
  • What good manners and courtesies do I practice in order to honor others?
  • Do I consider what is best for someone else, even when it causes me inconvenience?
  • Am I quick to affirm positive qualities in others rather than criticize their faults?
  • Does my love persevere when someone is difficult to love?

More About Love

“The knowledge that God has loved me to the uttermost. . . will send me forth into the world to love in the same way.”
Oswald Chambers
Transformation results as we behold the Lord and yield to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). As we see God’s character through testimonies in Scripture, we grow in our understanding and obedience to His Word. Here are ten aspects of Love with supporting verses found in God’s Word.

God enables me to:


Receive His love.

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Ephesians 3:17–19

Look for people in need.

“But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:13–14

Treat others as I want to be treated.

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31

Meet practical needs.

“And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.” Titus 3:14

Be patient with others.

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” I Thessalonians 5:14

Overlook the faults of others.

“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” I Peter 4:8

Care for others.

“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Be willing to sacrifice.

“And Jesus answered and said . . . There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now . . . with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” Mark 10:29–30

Love my enemies.

“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:20–21

Become a channel of love.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34

Love in Scripture

Boaz Shows Love to a Newcomer

“Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.”
Ruth 2:13
When the Israelites began to conquer the Promised Land, they sent two spies into the city of Jericho. In Jericho lived a woman named Rahab who believed in Israel’s God, so she hid the Israelite spies on her roof. Because of her faith, God spared Rahab’s life when Israel took the city. Rahab later married an Israelite, and they had a son they named Boaz. When a famine came upon Israel, Boaz’s relative, Elimelech, moved his wife Naomi and their two sons to Moab. During the years in Moab, the sons married Moabite women. However, tragedy struck when the father and both sons died. Now widowed, Naomi decided to return home to Israel. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, was determined to go with her. When the two women arrived in Israel during harvest time, Ruth offered to find food. God’s Law to Israel allowed the poor to gather fallen grain from the fields and made provisions for childless widows to remarry. As Ruth picked up the grain dropped by the reapers, how would the landowner and his workers react to her, a foreigner? Would anyone notice the practical needs of these two widows and offer to be a channel of God’s love to them?

Revealed in Nature

Emperor Penguin

The male emperor penguin demonstrates genuine love by standing almost motionless for over two months in below-zero temperatures to provide the warmth necessary to incubate a single egg. During the nesting sequence, he goes up to 120 days without eating.

For Kids

Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum

The Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum uses examples from the lives of men and women in the Bible whose walk with God resulted in good character or whose lack of faith produced poor character. Through this study, children are encouraged to follow Christ’s example of self-denial and sacrificially share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ in practical ways.

View the Love booklet sample:

Get the complete Love booklet with all four lessons & activities:

Free Resources for Love

Enjoy these selections from the Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum that are fun and memorable!

Bible Story Coloring Page
Verse & Definition Word Search
Related Hymn Sheet Music
“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”
Amy Carmichael