Tuesday, August 4, 2009

We should all love ourselves more!

It seems to me that in the mind of many people, mystery surrounds the concept of love, and especially self-love. If I told a standard christian that they need to love themselves more, after their initial expression of shock, they would probably explain to me that the problem with this world is that people love themselves too much; that pride is loving oneself, and is the ultimate sin; that we are to instead love others and love God. Also, there sometimes seems to be an unspoken supposition that almost everyone on earth does love themselves. I would disagree with all of these intuitive positions, and I will show that Biblically we are to love ourselves, and that the problem with our culture, even in the christian community, is not too much self-love, but too little.

Let me begin by quoting the two most important commandments:
Matthew 22:37-40
"Jesus said to him, '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.This is the first and great commandment."
And the second is like it:
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.'”

For the record, we are lovable! Every person on earth is valuable and lovable, scripturally, even though we are all fallen beings.
Psalm 139:14
"I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well."

Notice the phrase "love your neighbor as youself;" it implies that you should be loving yourself. Since all the law and the prophets hang off of this, I think it's an important concept to truly understand - so that's mainly why I'm writing this blog to describe my understanding of what the Bible teaches about godly self-love. The other reason that I'm writing this blog is that I was talking to a friend about this yesterday, and he said that I was talking way too fast, and should write a blog to explain my point of view. So I did. :) By the way, this will be a somewhat lengthy blog, but it's well worth it!

Now I'll begin by clarifying some basic definitions that I like to use:
  1. Selfish: Is making an idol of self, and not being a servant to others. Not taking proper care of oneself, but pursuing childish and self-destructive wishes - gluttany, overworking to be rich, etc.
    Philippians 2:3
    "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself."

  2. Self-centered: Misunderstanding one's place in the universe; thinking that everything revolves around us, rather than understanding that our true place in life is to revolve around God, serve Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him.
    Revelation 4:10
    "The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne..."

  3. Self-Interest: Loving oneself in a godly way, taking an interest in what is truly best for oneself and going to God to meet those needs. (True self-interest will always drive us to God, and never away from Him)
    Psalm 23:3
    "He restores my soul;He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake."

Obviously, I am for self-interest (which is a subset of true self-love, which I will define extensively in just a moment) and against self-centeredness and selfishness. By the way, this is the end of the introduction - all that you've read so far only introduces the topic, and now I will delve into actual content!


And what is the biblical way to show love? The biblical model of showing love to humans is the same whether it is applied to showing love to others or to self - we are all human, and none of us is more or less lovable than anyone else. In today's culture, many people think of love as an emotion, or perhaps thoughts of esteem, but true love is much more than that: it's a choice about how to view and treat people. I'll map out several verses throughout the Bible that instructs us on how to love (others and self):

To love someone is to delight in them.
Proverbs 3:12
For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

We delight to hang out with those we love, but here in America, where we so seldom have time to ourselves, we have forgotten how to be alone; how to enjoy our own company. In fact, I am reminded of a quote that I like: "I always have plenty of company, especially in the morning, when no one calls."

To love someone is to want what's best for them.
Romans 10:1
" Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved."

You'll notice that loving someone isn't always wanting them to get what they want, but wanting them to have what is truly best for them, which oftentimes will mean dying to themselves. In the same way, we are each to love ourselves and want what is truly best for ourselves, not just what pretty deceptive trinkets Satan dangles in front of our eyes.

To love someone is to actively help them get what is best for themselves.
James 2:16
"And one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"

As you can clearly see from this verse, true love is not just passively sortof wanting what is best for someone, but actually striving for it! We want whats best for others, and are willing to sacrifice so that they can have it. We love ourselves, and diligently seek those good things that God has for us.

To love someone is to show tough love, not just spoiling them.
Proverbs 13:24
"He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly."

That's right, when I speak of self-love, I'm not talking about some sort of wishy-washy liking of self that prompts one to spoil themselves. No, I am talking about that intense, fearful, powerful love that God has for us when He insists that we cannot come to come heaven as we are, but must die and be reborn. I am talking of a love that everyone wants, but no one wants to experience. You must love yourself enough that you don't let yourself slip into sin and accept your own excuses - you must love yourself enough to take away from yourself what you think you want most in life. You must love yourself enough to discipline yourself for this marathon that is life.

[Important note: just as a father who disciplines a son should challenge him, and keep him accountable, he is not to be verbally abusive or overly harsh. In the same way, it is not right be overly harsh or verbally abusive toward yourself!]

To love someone is to teach and guide them.
Proverbs 22:6
"Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it."

Now this is a very very extremely important point. When you correct someone, it's not best to simply tell them where they should tell where they should be in life, (ie "you need to trust God more") but rather to actually show them how to do to that! Pat answers don't work to teach others, and they won't work to teach yourself. You need not only a destination, but a path to get there. And if you can't find the way to get to where you want to be in life, get counsel from others! (others who can actually teach you, btw, not just those who will give you more pat answers)

To love someone is to be gentle and gracious when they slip up.
Ephesians 4:32
"And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you."

I'm trying to wrap a whole lot into this point: the idea that love is patience, not judging others when they fall but helping them, kind and gentle in rebuke, and full of compassion and gracious speech. This is a big deal not only because it's exceptionally hard to show others this kind of love, but because so many people have a double standard about this. So many christians will try to be gentle with others, but will mentally rips themselves up one side and down the other when they mess up. This is not godly! This should not be happening! We need to be patient, kind, and gentle to ourselves! Or else we will never learn. You do not learn best from those who yell at you, but those who care for you and patiently lead you - like the good shepherd.

To love someone is to be concerned with their physical well-being.
1 Corinthians 6:19
"Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?"

Also thinking back to the verse I quoted from James, we can see that if we love someone, we will be not only concerned with their mental and spiritual well-being, but also the day-to-day practical sort of needs. If we love ourselves, we will do our best to maintain fitness and health and stuff like that.

To love someone is to praise and encourage them when they are on the right track.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Too often we rebuke each other for our short-comings, but do not praise and encourage each other for what we do right. Even more, we tend to criticize ourselves excessively, yet starve ourselves of praise. When we truly love someone, we praise them for what they do right - and that includes ourselves!

As a side note, given the above explanation of love, could anyone really say that most people love themselves? Not really. People spoil themselves and are selfish, to be sure, but true self-love is not something I see an awful lot.

As you can clearly see, we are meant to love ourselves. Not in a cheap, shallow, worldly kind of selfishness, but agape love! We should accept ourselves in humility, want what is truly best for ourselves enough to show ourselves tough love and pursue what we need even when we don't feel like it - we are to study and guide ourselves in the ways of righteousness, being patient and gentle with ourselves when we slip up, and encouraging ourselves once in a while, rather than only criticizing. God enjoys hanging out with us, and enjoys hanging out with Himself; why then should we not enjoy hanging out with Him, and enjoy hanging out with ourselves?

I want to add something very important. It is not accident, no mere matter of verbage, that God instructs us to love our neighbor AS ourself. He also invented math, and you might notice that God implies a correlation between loving self and loving others. Our love for others should be equal to the love we have for ourselves. I would go so far as to suggest that we will always love others as we love ourselves, or else hate others as we hate ourselves. Why? Because the same thing that makes your neighbor valuable and lovable makes YOU valuable and lovable. If you do not understand that basis for love of others, you will not truly love self. Conversely, if you do not understand your own value, you will not truly understand the value of others.

This may not always appear to be the case, as when a person praises others, but constantly puts themself down, or when a man is so proud that he will not lift a finger to help someone who is dying right next to him. But I maintain that in the first case, the one who praises others praises what they do, rather than having unconditional love for them: the most unkind, proud, and cruel people I've ever known have the ones who admit to hating themselves, but insist they love others. I also maintain that in the latter case, those who are proud do not love themselves, or accept themselves for who they are: faulty, weak beings like the rest of us. Because they do not accept themselves, they lie to themselves in their mind about who they are, and make themselves believe that they are better than they really are - for if they were for an instant to see what they actually are, they would condemn and despise themselves without love as they condemn and despise everyone else! Pride, then, is the opposite of true self-love, because you cannot truly love or accept yourself if you lie to yourself about who you are.

This proper self-love is humility, because we don't seek to hide from the fact that we are small weak frail creatures absolutely dependent on God, we love ourselves as such, and through self-interest, we seek what is best for us in God, and become reliant on Him. When we are reliant on God, we are fully and completely satisfied and joyful, and praise and gratefulness springs forth from our lips, and we find naturally that what we most love to do, other than simply enjoying God, is to glorify Him and boast about how amazingly wonderful He is to everyone we meet! That is true and biblical love: loving self will enchance how you love others, and loving yourself and others will enhance how you love the Lord. You do not divide your love, but multiply it: the more you love one, the more you love all!

God Bless!

By the way, I know that this is all pretty controversial stuff, so I would love to hear feedback from you all! :)

**All scripture is quoted according to the NKJV translation, unless otherwise indicated

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