There are numerous verses that seem to suggest that we should love ourselves:
· “This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:38-39; ESV; also Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31, 33; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8; Leviticus 19:18)
Some see in these verses a mandate for us to love ourselves. But instead, the mandate of these verses is to love others, without any command to love ourselves. Well then, how can we love others if we don’t love ourselves?
Well first we have to understand what self-love entails and what it doesn’t. Loving ourselves certainly doesn’t mean to think more highly of ourselves than we have reason to think. Instead, there is nothing in Scripture that would have us to inflate our self-image contrary to the truth. Instead, we are told to think accurately about ourselves:
· For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3)
James tell us that we are as substantial as a mere vapor:
· Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
Living in the light requires that we think about ourselves according to that light. This means that we need to see ourselves in a biblical way:
· For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:3)
Without Christ, we told that we must regard ourselves as “nothing.” Even if we have lived a life of perfect obedience to the Lord, we must regard ourselves as “undeserving” of anything good from the Lord:
· “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
We cannot earn anything good from the Lord (Romans 11:350. The only thing we deserve is death (Romans 6:23). Everything else is a matter of grace. Jesus even taught that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
How then can we love others if these are the ways we must think about ourselves? Instead of trying to establish our own worthiness or self-righteousness, we have to think in ways that have been prescribed for God’s children. Paul had prayed that we would:
· Have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
He assured us that:
· If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)
· For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
· But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10))
It is a rejection of these assurances to build up our self-esteem, worthiness, and self-righteousness before God. It would be equivalent to telling God, “What you are offering me in Christ is not sufficient for me.”
Clearly, when we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are not being told to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Ironically, if we love our neighbors in the same sense, we should be building their self-esteem. However, this cannot be the biblical intent! Well then, of what does loving ourselves consist?
Loving ourselves is something that we do naturally. Even though I had struggled for decades with self-loathing and depression, I still loved myself. How? I took care of myself. When I was hungry I ate. When I was tired, I slept. When I was lonely, I called a friend. In order to feel better about myself, I would take a walk or ride my bike. I would also build my self-esteem to compensate for my self-loathing. I would read self-help books and go to see a psychologist in hope of feeling better about myself. In short, I loved myself.
Loving ourselves is not something that we are commanded to do. It is something that we do naturally. Even the masochist loves himself and causes harm to himself as a form of self-atonement to feel better about himself.
How then are we to love others? By addressing their needs as we do our own! If anything, we are to regard their needs before our own:
· Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant. (Philippians 2:3-7)
We are called to model our lives after our Savior, the ultimate servant who died for our sins. Rather than loving ourselves by inflating our self-esteem, we need to clothe ourselves with Christ and abide in His word and assurances. This can be a very tiring and frustrating calling. Therefore, we are encouraged:
· Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)
What does love look like?
· Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Easy? No! It requires our daily divine bread.