Do we need to love ourselves more? theologians have claimed believe they answer is a responding, “Yes!” When the read Mathew 22:29; Romans 13:9, or James 2:9 with a heavy bent towards secular thinking, they conclude that God is all about us loving ourselves more. They say things like the following, “You cannot love others until your love yourself.” Or, “We can only begin to love others when we start loving ourselves.”
We love hearing these words. We love being told to spend more time meditating on our wants, our desires, and our needs. As fallen people, we love celebrating ourselves especially when we have the religious right to do so.
But the Bible never calls us to love ourselves. We do that just fine without any divine urging. As Paul notes in Ephesians 5:29, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” Our spiritual problems, eating disorders, and broken relationships do not arise from a lack of self-love. They arise from an overflow of self-love.
Now admittedly, some Christians will be quick to point out the anorexic girls, the suicidal teenagers, and the depressed middle-aged men all appear to be driven by anything and everything not labeled ‘self-love.” These three people are struggling because they do not care about their body, the life, or their well-being.
But according to the Scriptures, these destructive habits are actually driven by selfishness. In Psalm 37:4, we are told to, “Delight yourself in the Lord, And he will give you the desires of your heart.” The girl who is wasting away, the teenager who is depressed, and the man who struggles for meaning all feel lost because they are seeking to find life and fulfillment in something other than God. They have rejected Gods commands have tried to find joy through winning the support of others, through good grades, or through large sums of money. And when those idols failed (and they always do), these men and women find themselves surrounded by darkness and despair.
Commenting on this very phenomenon, Edward T. Welch hits the nail squarely on the head in his book, When People Are Big And God is Small:
That’s the paradox of self-esteem: Low self-esteem usually mean that I think too highly of myself. I’m too self-involved, I feel I deserve better than what I have. The reason I feel bad about myself is that I aspire to something more. I want just a few more minutes of greatness. I am a peasant who wants to be a king. When you are in the grips of low self-esteem it’s painful, and it certainly doesn’t feel like pride. But I believe that this is the dark, quieter side of pride – thwarted pride.
Our deficiency, is Jesus. We need more Jesus in our life.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25).
Jesus and the apostles tell us to love others with the love we devote to ourselves because we all love ourselves dearly. We all know this. We do not have to tell a baby to be selfish, to scream for food, or to demand candy. The little people of the world do these tasks effortlessly because they love themselves. You do not have to tell anyone to care for their desires. We all do it. We may not do it in socially acceptable or logical way. But ultimately we are all seeking after the things that believe will bring us happiness: academic degrees, meth, physical fitness, new shoes, food, and on and on. Self-love is something we all engage in because we are all sinners. God taps into the idea of self-love to give us and analogy, a picture of what true love looks like. True love looks like caring for others with the same innate ability with which we care for ourselves. As Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). The law exists because we are all naturally self-centered people who need to be re-centered on Jesus. To arrive at true love, we have to deny ourselves and follow Christ.
Though it is helpful and biblical to think about love through our human lens, the ultimately example of love in seen in the work of Christ. As I John 4 makes clear, love is sacrificing all for someone else regardless of that persons worth. Love is not selfish; it is selfless.
We were never worth saving. We were enemies of God, who delighting in mocking, attacking, and destroying the creator of the universe. Yet, God died for us anyway. He came not because sinners deserved saving. The wages of sin is death. Jesus came because he loved us. This is the best definition and motivation for love. We love others because God first loved us. We do not love others because we love ourselves and then discover that others need to be valued.
We love because we have been loved by our heavenly father. To extend true love to others, we must stop putting our desires in the center of our little universes. We need to start making the God of the universe the center of our universe. Only when we love God and cherish him above all else will we be able to find solutions to our problems.
Telling sinners captivated by self-love to love themselves is akin to telling a drug addict to consume more meth in hopes of finding relief. Deliverance from sin and hope for the future never come from within us sinners. They came from outside of us. They come from God.
So are you ready to abandon the crazy, stupid, love of the self and embrace the true love that comes through Christ?