Philippians 2:3-4 reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”

In every friendship, our aim is to glorify God, to live selflessly (not seeking our own interests), and to place the other’s interests (what’s best for them) before our own. That means, we need to practise loving sacrificially (showing kindness, care, and compassion) even when it’s difficult to do so. 

When the other comes first

Randy Alcorn, author of The Purity Principle, says, “Satan’s greatest victories and our biggest defeats come when he gets us to ask, ‘Should I choose what God commands me… or should I do what’s best for me?’” It’s all too easy to neglect moments of sacrifice and selflessness, and miss opportunities to love others. 

One night, in university, I changed the topic of my term paper the night it was due. While I typed quickly, my phone kept beeping. My friend texted, “Hey, can you write a prayer for my friend, she’s dealing with…” I put my phone down, and looked up at the clock: 10:45 p.m. Her friend was facing a serious difficulty. How was I going to write a prayer and finish my paper for 12 a.m.? 

Deep down, my heart told me to finish my paper and wait to create the prayer. After all, my grades, my success, my future were on the line! My initial response was to serve my best interest, rather than care for my friend’s loved one. I said a quick prayer, asking God for guidance. God led me to place my friend’s needs before mine and to give up time for her. I composed the prayer and sent it off, before I finished my paper. 

Surrendering the gift of time to God allowed my friend to help her friend. God’s love was displayed. 

Selfless love in guy-girl friendships

Selflessly loving others also applies to guy-girl friendships. As you may have experienced, guy-girl friendships can be complex. A girl likes her guy friend, and can’t stand him giving attention to another girl. A guy likes a girl, but hesitates to share his feelings. When she thanks him for being such a good friend, he decides to end the friendship, thinking all hope is lost. 

The truth is, we are called to love each other even when we don’t receive something in return. It may be difficult, but taking the initiative to cultivate a selfless love pleases God and can protect a great friendship from falling apart.

When my guy friend didn’t reciprocate feelings for me, my selfishness took the lead and I cut off the friendship. One of my biggest regrets was showing kindness to him only to get something in return. Instead of loving selflessly, like God commands us to, I refused to show him Christ-like love and lost a friend.

Learning to obey God’s commandment to love others like we love ourselves comes with maturing that happens over time. God is your hope and your Father; he’s going to take care of you. 

Here are some questions to help you identify potential selfishness and practise selfless love:

1. Do I seek to serve my friend more than those in my spheres of influence (home, school, work, clubs)?

2. Do I show generosity to those who cannot give me something in return?

3. Am I more expectant in what I can gain from a relationship or grateful for what God has provided?

Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird, authors of Love Defined, call us to ask ourselves: 

“Am I careful to make sure the time spent with him [or her] honours Christ? Am I trying to find my identity and worth in the amount of time I spend with him? Do I use him [or her] to satisfy me emotionally? Am I honouring my future husband [or wife] in the way I touch this friend?” 

Ask yourself these questions. Take some time to pray through your answers, and ask God to help you love your friends selflessly and sacrificially. 

Honest heart-talk

In guy-girl friendships, we commonly struggle with wanting to maintain a healthy friendship without leading our friend on. We don’t want to send the wrong message—and that’s a good thing. We also want to protect the friendship, even when we’ve developed romantic feelings for the other person. And yet, things can go downhill fast. 

Before I lost my guy friend, I wish I had been honest with myself (or had spoken with a mentor and a trusted friend), and asked: if their focus fell on someone else, would I respond with kindness or bitterness? I know that if I choose a negative response, I’m pursuing a friendship for the sake of “my interests,” and I’ve placed unfair expectations on that individual. When we notice these self-centred responses, we can evaluate how to move forward in a selfless way.

Paula Hendricks, author of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl, asks, “Do you desire to live under the control of God’s Spirit or live life your way?” My answer reveals whether I’m willing to change the way I speak, carry myself, and act towards that friend, in order to see our friendship maintained. Maybe that sounds silly, but sometimes we live in a daze of “I’m worried about losing my friend” and refrain from seeking wisdom and counsel to take care of the friendship.

Freedom to love

In many ways, we can see that choosing to love selflessly often means walking in obedience to God. 

Each day you can take hold of this truth: the root of love is knowing that, “God is love” and “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:8,19). 

God defines love, so as we grow closer to him we learn how to love well. The reason we love has nothing to do us, or even the other person! The reason we love has everything to do with God choosing to love us. That’s what fuels our kindness, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and patience towards others. 

When we love selflessly, we show Christ-like love to our friend, whether they have feelings for us or not. We choose to love because we are not expecting to gain something. We are grateful for the gift of their friendship and the opportunity to point others to Christ together. 

When we love sacrificially, we focus on serving people at church, school, and home; and maintaining a solid group of friends. Instead of trying to please someone (or seeking their approval), we aim to please God. Instead of trying to catch our girl/guy friend’s attention, we’re focused on performing for God alone. 

Boundaries in friendship

As we show love in our guy-girl friendships, we may find ourselves offering too much time, attention, and acts of service to them. We may worry that investing less in that one friend will result in rejection or disapproval.

Here are a few ways that challenge us to love selflessly while maintaining healthy boundaries in friendships:

  1. Pray. 

Even small decisions can be placed in God’s hands. A simple prayer like, “God, should I take on this opportunity?” Or “Is this the best time for…?” provides peace in decision making. 

  1. Respect your capacity.

Know how much time you can give to someone, and if they need your help or someone else’s. Sometimes we need guidance to give people space, or seek counsel elsewhere.

  1. Remember what’s important.

This step begs me to consider: Am I willing to change my schedule or priorities to please my friend? If so, jot down what’s important to you and seek to make room for those items.

  1. Recognize your emotions.

Keep an eye out for recurring emotions; sometimes they can reveal what works for us. For example, if we feel overly worried or anxious about what a friend says or thinks, we may need to step back from the friendship and consider if it’s good for us.

  1. Ask: is there a middle ground that meets the others’ needs and mine?

Seek a compromise when you and the other want to see a task/plan happen. If a decision can’t meet either of your standards/needs, maybe you need to say “no” or create different options.

These steps continue to help me establish boundaries that strengthen my friendships, and forego ones that aren’t the right fit. 

For more information on loving selflessly and honouring boundaries, check out Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “Boundaries.”

We’re all learning how to love selflessly and sacrificially. Trust God and know that he’s walking with you!

Reflection Questions:

What’s the difference between a self-centred friendship and a selfless friendship?

When do you think it is wise to seek advice from others?

How does God change the way you think about loving others?

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