Blessed Selflessness

  • Jeff Crotts
green grass and blue sky

This past Sunday I began preaching, The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ sermon that spans Matthew 5-7.  This sermon can be summarized with two words: pride crushing.  What appears as an immediate contradiction is that Jesus begins this sermon by repeating the word, “Blessed” nine consecutive times.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

People try to reconcile Jesus’ oxymoronic statements by applying, “Blessed” as God’s approval.  What author Max Lucado called the Applause from Heaven.  Certainly, God approves everyone of his children but please do not miss the most basic reality that God gives you from this three-chapter sermon.  Jesus preached this sermon so that you will actually experience blessing!  Personal joy and real happiness.

We live in a cultural vacuum that is sucking personal happiness right out of the soul of man and these days the suction speed is set on high.  So, the question is how does a pride-crushing sermon get you to a happy state?  Let me sketch out a very simply formula that might help.

When we allow God to crush our pride, then we are freed to stop relying on self, and then we are freed to fix our attention wholly on God and this is what frees our hearts to experience God’s joy.

This simple equation is just that simple. This is easy to read and understand on paper and very difficult to apply.  The problem is our sin, sin that the bible calls pride, pride that runs deep inside each one of us.  We need a spiritual crowbar to dislodge pride’s internal grip of self to release us from self-reliance.  Only then can we truly love God and neighbor, selflesslessly.


I confess that I am painfully aware of my own selfishness.  I find that in most everything I do and everyone I approach I am self-oriented.  I compare this experience with talking to someone on FaceTime.  You see the larger image of the person on your phone screen while you also see your smaller image of yourself up in the corner.  When you are truly engaged and listening the person you are talking to, you forget about the smaller image of you.  You are not concerned with how you are coming across, what you look like or your facial expressions.  It is almost funny to watch someone who is supposed to be FaceTiming with you who is focused on their little image on the on the other line.  Mirror Mirror on the Wall.

Selflessness is making a conscious decision to focus away from self and onto to God and others. 

We need Jesus’ sermon for help.  C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity compared hearing this sermon to being hit by a sledgehammer:

As to ‘caring for’ the Sermon on the Mount, if ‘caring for’ here means ‘liking’ or enjoying, I suppose no one ‘cares for’ it. Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledgehammer? I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual condition than that of a man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure.

I think it is important to understand that practicing selflessness (or “denying yourself”) has to be done by faith for it to be a blessing at all.  Raw submission to Jesus’ commands will ultimately make you worse off.  The dead religion of mechanical obedience will suck you dry when you fall prey to the empty promise that you can deny yourself by yourself.  You can’t!  The old Welsh preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:

A person may play Beethovan’s Moonlight Sonata accurately without a single mistake – yet not really play what the composer had in mind…the pianist may mechanically strike the right notes at the right time, yet miss the essence, the soul, of the composition…accurate playing is not what makes him a great musician.  It is the expression of what lies behind the notes that enthralls his listeners.

Blessed selflessness has to flow out of a transformed life made new by the Holy Spirit.  This is the exact point Jesus is making when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3) and then “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (v. 4).  On the face of it, Jesus’ first two beatitudes (“Blessed[s]”) appear to contradict themselves.  The promise that you are happy when you are “poor in spirit” and when you “mourn” only makes sense in the context of self-denial.  When we see and recognize the sin in this world and the sin inside our hearts, we grieve, and this very grief is what frees us to turn away from it!  This is the blessing of self-denial, the blessing from focusing on God, blessed selflessness.