Self-Denial—a compound word, not literally from the Scriptures, used to describe the biblical concept of denying oneself for a God-appointed purpose.

Love—not the romantic or the brotherly kind, but the unconditional and enduring love of God.


‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us’ (1 John 3: 16).

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).

‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16).


In today’s consumer-driven world, some may say the idea of self-denial is out of place. Unless, of course, it is connected with fulfilling our own dreams and looking after our own nests. We can deny ourselves our favourite food with the goal of losing weight. We can deny ourselves spending to save for a new car.

But with a theme like ‘Love in Action’ for the 2024 Self-Denial Appeal, looking at love and its connection with self-denial is a good place to start. Not only is it a good place to start, it is the best place to start.

The love we are talking about over these next six weeks is the love of God. Jesus came to us, sent from Heaven, God in the flesh, to show us a new way to live. It is the way of love, the ultimate demonstration of which is a supreme act of self-denial—Christ’s submission to a cruel and unjust death by crucifixion for the sake of all humanity.

‘For God so loved the world,’ says John 3:16, ‘that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ This is central to our understanding of the nature of God. ‘God is love’ says one of the shortest sentences in the Bible from 1 John 4:16. God cannot help but love because love is who God is.

God loves humankind. Even the worst of us are seen by God through the lens of love because love is at the heart of all God has made. God did not create the world and everything in it, including humankind, on a whim or as an experiment. God created the world so that God’s heart of love might proliferate and flourish among creation. It was, and is, to use Salvation Army Founder William Booth’s term, ‘boundless love’.

The love of God and the expression of that love through self-denial was highly counter-cultural in the time of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth and continues to be counter-cultural today. You can see this coming out of the heart of God in Jesus’ words and actions throughout his earthly ministry.

When Jesus was asked by leaders of Judaism to pinpoint the greatest commandment, his response placed the love of God at the heart of the law of God as they knew it. It was to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’. Then he said the second greatest was like it. It was to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:36–40). ‘All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments,’ he said.

Exactly what is this love? The Hebrew word is hesed, used over and over, for example, in Psalm 136 where the Psalmist announces ‘his love endures forever’. Hesed combines the understanding that the love of God is both unconditional and enduring. It is lavish and generous love. It is the highest love, wanting nothing but the highest good for us all. Love pours out of the heart of God because ‘God is love’.

The Greek word for the love of God used in the New Testament is agapē. When Jesus said, ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34) and ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’ (John 15:9), love was translated agapē. Like the Hebrew hesed, agapē is the highest form of love, literally meaning ‘charity’. It embraces the concept of both mercy, as in the Good Samaritan parable Jesus used to describe the love of God, and sacrifice. In John 15:13, Jesus clarified the extent of agapē when he said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’

The Self-Denial Appeal, now in its 138th year, is first and foremost about the action of God’s love reaching out across the world, embracing suffering humanity. It is God being one with us, and the love of God flowing through us to spread the love, by uplifting others through our generous giving. It is the heart of God tending to the struggle on earth.

How we thank God for his love is by giving ourselves up to it—allowing it to fill us, reach us deeply, heal us, and transform the darkness into light in our lives and circumstances, so we can, in turn, be carriers of his love, the love that changes everything for everyone.


  • Spend some time reflecting on Romans 8:38–39. What does it mean to you that nothing can separate us from the love of God? Write down your answers and consider sharing what insights you have gained and how you felt with a friend. You can also pray.


God of goodness, I come into your presence so aware of my human frailty and yet overwhelmed by your love for me. I thank you that there is no human experience I might walk through where your love cannot reach me.

If I climb the highest mountain you are there, and yet if I find myself in the darkest valley of my life, you are there. Help me today to love you more. Help me to rest in that love that asks nothing more than the simple trusting heart of a child.

During this time of self-denial, help me to listen with my heart to your voice of love, guiding, counselling, forgiving, affirming and preparing me to be your hands, your face and your voice of love to the world. Amen.