Love Is Not Self Seeking

Joke: Which Bible character was super-fit? Abs-salom.

Love is the greatest gift that God gives. In 1 Corinthians 13, we have an elegantly beautiful description of God’s type of love. To help us understand all that love entails, the apostle Paul includes some things that love is not. For example, love “is not self-seeking” (verse 5), also translated as love “does not insist on its own way” (ESV).

The Greek phrase literally means “does not seek the things of itself.” Self-focus, which is the antithesis of love, marked the Corinthian church. 

This was evident in the church’s divisiveness regarding leadership (chapters 1–3), its attitude toward Paul (chapter 4), its attitude toward legal issues with other Christians (chapter 6), its attitude toward the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11), and its attitude toward spiritual gifts (chapter 12). 

Paul wanted these believers to stop focusing on their own needs and preferences and serve God and one another.


  • Why do we find it dificult to not focus on our own needs?
  • Do you think we live in a ‘Dog eat dog’ world?’ — Do you have any examples of this?

How Do Rid Ourself of Selfishness 

The corrective to self-seeking is God-seeking. The remedy for selfishness is love. Jesus said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

The second [commandment] is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). Love for God and others is to mark the believer; not love for self.

Some have mistakenly interpreted “love your neighbour as yourself” as teaching self-love in order to love others. That is, we must love ourselves first before we can truly love others. But this is not the teaching of the passage. 

Self-love is assumed to be the default condition; Jesus was teaching that concern for others must equal the natural concern we have for ourselves. 

Also, Jesus was appealing to the Torah, specifically Leviticus 19:17-18, which reads, “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.” 

The context deals with treating others fairly, without vengeance, and with love. It has no reference to self-love.

This focus on others and their needs correspond to Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”

The command appeals to the selfless actions of Jesus Christ as the ultimate example. The New Testament often mentions the need to turn from self and toward helping other people.

A person who demands his own way, who tramples on others’ rights for the sake of upholding his own, or who insists on having his due is not showing love. Love is considerate of others, always.

The one who loves is willing to forgo recognition and lay down his rights for the sake of the loved one. Jesus showed love in this way: He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). No self-seeking there.

The New Testament and ‘Self-seeking

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10 ESV).

When we love one another we publicly, and privately, esteem them more honourable than ourselves. Instead of drawing attention to our own accomplishments or good characteristics, we point out those things in the lives of others.

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight” (Romans 12:16 ESV).

Loving unselfishly means that we do not think of ourselves as better than others. That is prideful thinking and stifles humility. Acting as if you are better than others makes them uncomfortable around you because it makes them think they are worthless. Or it will cause arguments and futile debates between Christians trying to outdo one another. Neither of these attitudes depicts the unselfish love of God in our lives.

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:1, 13 ESV).

One who practices love that is not self-seeking will strive to never let his or her opinion be the basis by which someone else questions his or her faith. We should always express ourselves in a loving way, not a confrontational way. The Christian is commanded to serve others (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10); it is difficult to maintain a prideful attitude when one’s motivation is serving others.

Selfless love cares for, and encourages, others

As believers we are to “care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25 ESV), we are to attempt to restore a fallen brother or sister as we comfort them. As much as possible, we are to agree with one another and live in peace. When we live this way, the “God of love and peace” will be in our midst (2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV).


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