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On Developing Selflessness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Aloha Brothers and Sisters. 

This morning I would like to offer a few remarks for you to ponder regarding developing selflessness through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This divine human attribute of selflessness is a wonderful characteristic that most if not all Christians hopefully strive to develop and become.

Selflessness is a quality which as Bishop Burke Peterson stated, “when it (selflessness) becomes part of our lives, it produces as an outgrowth in individuals who are happy in their relationships with others and at peace with themselves and those around them…..for whatever reason, who find a fuller and more abundant life. You see, there are those among us today who are completely selfless – as was he (Speaking of Jesus Christ).” (1)

To help teach to you this concept let me offer a definition of the behavior of a selfless person with once again the assistance of Bishop Peterson.  “A selfless person is a person who is more concerned about the happiness and well-being of another than about his or her own convenience or comfort.  A selfless person is one who is willing to serve another when it is neither sought for nor appreciated, or one who is willing to serve even those whom he or she dislikes.  A selfless person displays a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to purge from his or their mind and heart personal wants, and needs, and feelings.” (1)

Instead of reaching for and requiring praise and recognition for oneself, or gratification of his or her own wants, the selfless person will meet these very human needs for others. Let me note here that the secular ‘Humanist’ movement throughout the world is often critical of Christians regarding this principle stating that Christians often offer kind behavior so that they can receive religious and spiritual rewards. The truest form of selflessness does not need or is not predicated with reward or recognition. 

Selfless behavior, as taught by our Savior, is to provide loving Christian actions without any desire for recognition of reward or praise for the provider. This is taught by our Lord Jesus Christ often in the New Testament, as Jesus blessed and healed numerous individuals and then asked that the rescued individual tell no one of the Lord’s actions. This understanding of not seeking recognition was highlighted in the Master’s teaching to his disciples found in Mark 10:42-45, “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, …whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for man.” (2)

To illustrate further this lack of attention to the Master and his selflessness, let me read from Philippians 2:5-11 of the New Testament provided by Paul the Apostle. “Let this mind (And I suggest this mind set in part is humility and selflessness) be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Where God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (3) We should learn from our Savior that even he our Master gave up personal position in order to serve others. Under the greatest sufferings Jesus Christ was selfless in order to bring about the Atonement to mankind. He represents our greatest example of selflessness.

The most selfless of all service in the heavens or upon earth was offered as Christ, the “Beloved Son, which was … Beloved and Chosen from the beginning,” when he came before Father and said, “Thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” Moses 4:2 (4)

Now that we have emphasized this wonderful divine attribute of selflessness with definition let me suggest to you in our development of this principle how we as Christians can further develop this behavior in ourselves. First let us look at how great spiritual leaders have promoted this characteristic.

Often our development of selflessness calls for a commitment of our wisdom and temperance. King Benjamin of the Book of Mormon understood this concept when he spoke: “I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked , visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.”   “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.”  Mosiah 4:26-27 (5)

President Kimball stated in an address to women: “Selflessness is a key to happiness and effectiveness;it is precious and must be preserved as a virtue which guarantees so many other virtues. There are so many things in the world which reinforce our natural  selfishness, and neither our men nor women should be partakers thereof. We have grown strong as a people because our mothers and our women have been so selfless. That ennobling quality must not be lost, even though some of the people of the world may try to persuade otherwise….Let us be conscious of doctrines which preach unity but end up dividing.  We hope our women as well as our men will be conscious of the philosophies of the world which would attempt to reverse the wisdom of the Lord when he tells us that “we can find ourselves only by losing ourselves.” Ensign, Nov. 1978, pp. 103-4 (6)

Another leader in our church Sister JoAnn Jolley offers this helpful advice, “Offering compassionate selfless service does not imply spreading ourselves so thin that all of our relationships become weaker. Husbands, wives, parents, immediate families and some of our own needs should receive high priority.  Each individual must than determine how far he can effectively extend himself beyond these circles while still maintaining order in his or her life and charity in his or her heart. We can hardly comfort all of humanity at once; but those to whom we do extend our love and concern are entitled to our deepest and most abiding compassion. Once our commitment is made, timing is essential. A person in need cannot wait to be comforted. His time is today: His pain is now; His loneliness is immediate.”  (7) 

Sister Jolley added, “There are moments when in compassion a touch is dear.” She relates, “I treasure memories of hands that held mine tight against pain, safe against fear, steady in the face of changing fortunes and troubled dreams. Hands often speak as voices cannot. They are a delicate comfort and cannot be forced upon the receiver, but when warmly offered and gratefully accepted, they import a tangible emotional help and strength.  Hands bless, ordain, and heal. How appropriate, then that we employ them as instruments of compassion.” (7)

Now that we have touched upon the great teachings of our Master and a few inspirational church leaders regarding the development of selflessness, let us move to how selflessness can improve in our families here at Brigham Young University Hawaii and in your future growth. Please you married couples pay attention to these thoughts on selflessness in a marriage and family life.

In preparing a talk, Gary Gray, a high councilor in the Santa Maria California Stake, relates the following information from his lovely wife regarding selflessness and serving one another. He wrote of his inquiry of his wife, “So tell me, what does a wife need the most?”  His wife answered, “A wife needs someone who’s willing to help her do the things that she does for everyone else in the family.  She needs an uncomplaining, good-natured helper who can keep focused on cleaning, cooking, shopping, child rearing, and organization…someone willing to do these things even if deserved recognition and praise do not always come.” (8) I believe she is talking in part about receiving selfless support from her eternal mate.

Brother Gray responded. “What about the priesthood? Isn’t it important to a wife that her husband holds the priesthood?” His wife kindly responded, “Yes, it means a great deal to me. But what’s important is using the priesthood, not just holding it. A priesthood holder should look for ways to use his priesthood to bless his wife.  When a wife has to ask for help and service, she wonders if her husband is really aware of her needs.  When a husband is sensitive to his wife’s needs, emotions, and daily trials, she feels valued and appreciated.” (8)  

Sister Gray went on to state: “Just two more things, first, he should listen to her.  She shouldn’t have to compete with the television or the newspaper or other distractions. He should listen with his heart to what his eternal companion has to tell him.  If we’re going to spend eternity with each other we ought to know each other’s thoughts, opinions, worries, frustrations, and hopes.”  She went on, “And second, he should simply love her.  He should love her when she is impatient and frustrated after a busy day, or when she burns his dinner, or when she has trouble loving herself, or when she is four and a half months pregnant and doubts her ability to meet the needs of another child.  And he should love her when she asks if they can eat out after a long day.” (8)

The Grays went out to dinner that evening.  Brother Gray later gave his talk and concluded by stating “true marriage” as President Kimball said, is based on a happiness that “comes from giving, serving, sharing, sacrificing and selflessness.” From Marriage and Divorce – Deseret Book Co., 1976, p. 12 (9)

A mother serves selflessly by giving birth to a child and ideally continues her selfless service throughout the child’s life.  For life to continue, the process must repeat itself. When one is serving, another is being served. Faith, love of God as well as fellowman, and self-esteem all depend on how we practice serving and being served. Perhaps this principle is best defined as selflessness – the giving of oneself both in serving others and in being served by others.

From personal experience let me add that my observations of women who are great mothers practice selflessness perhaps almost every moment of their existence. There is evidence that women/mothers may even have higher reticular activation systems in their brains to respond to their offspring more immediately. I have watched some of the greatest acts of selflessness in mothers throughout my life often in the most unassuming and non-recognizable situations. My own dear bride and mother of four has amazed me my whole life with what seems like a selfless never ending vigilance of love and concern for our children, now all grown. Our three daughter’s manifest a most nurturing and loving concern for their children. I am sure this love and concern is in large part to the wonderful selfless mother they model and enjoy every day. Forgive me Carol as I know you would not like this acknowledgement publicly.

Now let us turn to the many members in this room that are not married yet and want to develop their potential to be selfless in their personality. Brothers and Sisters, in my profession, throughout my career and now once again in my cherished role here on this wonderful campus, I have been asked for many years what behavior to look for in a potential mate for a successful eternal marriage. 

There are many outstanding traits to look for in a potential mate for an eternal marriage. I could easily spend many devotionals with you on this subject. Let me focus on one of these most prized attributes. Let me suggest to you that being selfless or at least a sincere desire to develop selflessness is one of the most important characteristics you will ever find in a mate for an eternal marriage.  This means finding a partner as we have been talking about who is selfless above his or her own needs.  This means finding a partner who will always place his or her needs secondary to you and your children.  Is this possible?  Yes it is possible and warrants finding a partner who is faithful to God, his or her love to you and dedicated to selflessness in service, especially to you. If both individuals have this selfless behavior toward each other than neither one in the marriage is troubled about not receiving their share of attention.

To illustrate how to help recognize selflessness in members of the church let us view this outstanding video entitled “Lift.”  I believe you will all see and listen to the development of the true meaning of selflessness in ordinary men in the church who become extraordinary and develop a higher behavior of selflessness. I might note that I am sure that none of these men thought their acts of selflessness would turn into a church video.

[video] (10)

Thank you for watching this spiritually uplifting video.  You might think this type of service viewed in the video is unique and perhaps rare. Certainly the content of the story is in tune with developing selflessness but I want you to know that I am aware of a very similar project that recently occurred in Kahuku just down the highway five miles from here.

All of you are capable of developing extraordinary acts of selflessness every day. All of us have opportunities daily to make others better with kindness and in turn find happiness.  We all must recognize the daily enticements of worldly pleasures that may divert us from the path of happiness.  However, the path to true and lasting happiness is, repeating the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words, “virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” Joseph Smith Teachings p. 255-56 (11) Adding to this theme Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Rectitude is a perpetual victory, celebrated not by cries of joy but by serenity, which is joy fixed or habitual.” “Character,” Essay: Second Series 1844 (12)

On a personal note let me share with you an experience in which I witnessed selflessness that brought tears to my eyes and helps prove my point of finding the greatest personal serenity through a selfless service to others. 

A while ago I was involved in a voluntary mental health project to take care of the hungry, the less clothed, the sick, and to address the spiritual and temporal needs of homeless people on the leeward side of this island. We were to walk the beach and bush areas in the Waianae area and seek out individuals that were homeless. In my assignment I met many troubled individuals but none more memorable than a small middle aged Hawaiian woman living in the bush and tree area next to the Waianae Boat Yard. This area is a well- known homeless site here on Oahu. I was introduced to this sweet troubled woman by another woman that I will refer to as Ruth (This is not her real name). She would not want me to draw attention to her by using her real name. Ruth, who I grew to admire and care a great deal about that week, was a woman who once was a Catholic nun but had left the nunnery to work more directly with the under privileged citizens of Oahu. Ruth was a perfect example of living a life of contentment. Everywhere we went that week everyone knew her and I can say seemed to love her. I could almost immediately understand why she was so loved. She was heavenly. She was far from financially wealthy. She seemed happy and was very interesting to talk with. We talked a lot about religion those days and nights. Ruth was saintly in my opinion. She was selfless in her service.

My experience with this small troubled Hawaiian woman that Ruth took me to would probably not have happened without Ruth’s guidance. Ruth led me one night through literal darkness and bush to reach this poor woman. This dark journey could not have been more symbolic to me. Ruth and I learned from this troubled Hawaiian woman that she had been homeless for the last two years. She did have a tent that I stood by with my flashlight in the dark of the evening, but she commented to me where not to sit down because of the stinging spiders. This spider spot was approximately eight feet from her tent lodging. She shared information with us because we were interviewing her for placement into more suitable housing and care. In our medical interview she reported that she had been raped and had become HIV infected from the rape. Because of her confirmed HIV infection she was turned away from several housing opportunities. She was most gracious and loving in a grandmother type manner to Ruth and myself. We established this woman eligible for suitable housing and I am sure for more nourishment with food and clothing. I don’t believe I will ever be more humbled and certainly more blessed than I was trying to serve this sickly woman. I don’t know how selfless I was during this experience but I do know the spirit was with me at a very high level. I could not have been more fulfilled after that evening assisting this poor woman.

As I hope we strive to develop selflessness in our lives please remember it is unfortunately common to find ways to excuse ourselves with unjustified excuses not to serve. Bishop Burke Peterson stated: “Being selfless does not come naturally to most of us. Often it is easier to say, “I can’t,” or “I’m made differently,” or “I don’t have time,” than it is to become involved in making life happier and more pleasant for others.”  (1)

In closing let me read to you from Matthew 25: 34, 37-40. (13)

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world….

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and thee drink?

“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee?

“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Selflessness is a beautifully expressive word. It is a divine word expressing a divine pattern of living. I pray we all seek this attribute and manifest it to others as we develop our lives.

Thank you for listening to my words today. I pray these words and thoughts will influence you in your development toward Selflessness.

I say these words in my Saviors name Jesus Christ my Master, Amen.




(1) Address by Bishop Burke Peterson, 2015 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. Right and Use Information (Updated 2/21/2012) Privacy Policy (Updated 3/18/2014) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


(2) The New Testament: Mark 10: 42-45


(3) The New Testament: Philippians 2: 5-11


(4) The Pearl of Great Price: Moses 4: 2


(5) The Book of Mormon: Mosiah 4: 26-27


(6) Ensign, November 1978 Pages 103-104 – Address by Spencer W. Kimball


(7) Address by JoAnn Jolley, 2015 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  Right and Use Information (Updated 2/21/2012) Privacy Policy (Updated 3/18/2014)  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


(8) Address by Gary L. Gray, 2015 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  Right and Use Information (Updated 2/21/2012) Privacy Policy (Updated 3/18/2014)  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


(9) ‘Marriage and Divorce’ by Spencer W. Kimball, Page 12, Deseret Book Company 1976


(10) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – LDS Video Series, ‘ Lift.’


(11) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: ‘The Teachings of Joseph Smith,’ Pages 255-256.


(12) ‘Character’ Essay: Second Series, Ralph Waldo Emerson 1844


(13) The New Testament: Matthew 25: 34, 37-40