Putting others first is a central teaching in the Bible. Jesus Christ exemplified sacrificial love and service to others throughout his ministry. His followers are called to emulate his example.
This post will examine key Bible passages about prioritizing others over oneself. We’ll look at the calling to serve, love, give, and put others’ interests above our own. Here are the key takeaways:
- Serving others demonstrates Christ-like humility and love
- We are to give generously and meet the needs of the poor and oppressed
- Loving others involves laying down our lives and rights for their benefit
- Unity in Christ requires mutual care and honor
- Sacrificial love advances the kingdom and reflects God’s love for us
Now let’s explore these principles in depth.
The Example of Jesus
Jesus gave us the greatest example of loving and serving others. Though divine, he took on human flesh to save us from sin (Philippians 2:5-8). He gave up heavenly glory for an earthly life characterized by humble service to all–especially the marginalized.
As his followers, we’re called to emulate Jesus’ sacrificial example. Mark 10:45 says:
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice–his very life–to secure our salvation. His ministry involved tireless giving to others through healing, teaching, feeding the hungry, and befriending outcasts. Philippians 2:4 commands us to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others. Jesus perfectly modeled this others-first mindset.
Serving One Another
Many Bible verses instruct Christ’s followers to serve each other. Galatians 5:13 states:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
We belong to Christ and to each other. While God has freed us from sin and death, we must not use our freedom selfishly. Instead, we are to serve our fellow believers out of love.
The Bible portrays such mutual service as an act of worship. Jesus said when we serve any brother or sister in need, we are serving him (Matthew 25:40). Therefore, we don’t serve others out of mere obligation but as an offering to Christ.
Such service includes sharing our financial and material resources. Acts 4:32 describes early believers selling possessions to meet each others’ needs:
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
This generosity allowed the impoverished to have their basic needs met. While communism isn’t mandated, serving others entails sacrificial giving at times.
Christ-like love goes beyond surface-level kindness. 1 John 3:16-18 states:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Genuine biblical love involves sacrifice–laying down our lives, possessions, time, and desires to tangibly serve others. It’s more than sentiment; it’s action.
Husbands must especially love their wives through self-sacrifice, following Christ’s example:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
Likewise, we’re to “outdo one another in showing honor” within the church body (Romans 12:10). This involves humbly putting fellow believers first by yielding time, resources, and rights to build them up.
Financial generosity is a recurring Bible theme. Wealthy believers are cautioned against trusting in their riches (1 Timothy 6:17) but commended for generously sharing with the needy.
Cornelius, for example, gave alms generously (Acts 10:2). Dorcas was “full of good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36). Other examples include the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:2-4), the Philippians (Philippians 4:14-18), and Philemon (Philemon 1:7).
Jesus praised the poor widow who gave two small coins–all she had (Luke 21:1-4). Paul said our giving should be regular, proportional, generous, voluntary, and cheerful (2 Corinthians 8 & 9).
Such giving reflects God’s generosity toward us. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). Generosity begets blessings.
Perhaps the pinnacle of putting others first is Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48). This instructs us to show Christlike love even to hostile persecutors. Romans 12:14, 17-21 elaborates:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is utterly countercultural. We’re to return good for evil–even to those who harm us. Refusing revenge and overcoming hatred with undeserved love demonstrates trust in God’s sovereignty and hope in his power to change hearts. Christlike love seeks an enemy’s highest good.
Biblical Unity Demands Mutual Care
Scripture repeatedly urges believers to live in godly unity. This requires humility, patience, compassion, and mutual service.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Maintaining unity demands deliberate effort to care for others despite differences or personal preferences. It may involve bearing others’ burdens, overlooking petty offenses, and seeking reconciliation.
Romans 15:1-2 pleads:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Though we have Christian freedom, we’re to limit freedoms that could harm weaker believers. Their spiritual welfare takes priority over our rights. This fosters unity amid diversity within the church.
Reflecting God’s Love
Ultimately, putting others first reflects God’s vast love for us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The Father sacrificed his Son to save us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We love and serve fellow sinners by God’s enablement and to point them toward Christ.
As 1 John 3:16 teaches, Jesus’ self-sacrifice is the supreme model of what it means to lay down our lives for others. He took the place of sinners on the cross, absorbing God’s wrath so we could be forgiven. Our willingness to serve and suffer for each other displays Christ’s love.
The Bible clearly instructs Christians to follow Jesus’ example by putting others’ interests above their own. This is lived out through loving our enemies, serving our spouses, giving generously to the needy, honoring fellow believers, and bearing with one another in unity.
While we are saved by grace rather than works, good deeds are the fruit and evidence of living faith. Prioritizing others over self is essential to following Christ amid a selfish world. Our lives are no longer our own; we’ve been bought at a price to become servants like our Savior.