Recapturing Biblical “Self-Love” With Augustine’s Help

If Christians read the writings of the fourth century church father Augustine, they will discover a biblical definition of self-love that can help Christians to fulfill the Christians life.

When they come to the evangelical table to exchange ideas, many Christians place the term self-love in the psychological chair. For example, Christians discuss salvation, forgiveness, and spiritual growth as elements of self-forgiveness. In this model, liberation form sin comes when the soul absolves itself from all the pain that it caused its psyche while it got drunk, indulged in sexual immorality, and self-destructed on Instagram. After they look to God for redemption, many at the evangelical table attempt to grant themselves a secondary form of salvation, following the secular, therapeutic models of self-love.

Though the this concept of self-love now has a reserved spot at the evangelical table, the concept lacks biblical justification. Jesus did not tell his disciples to forgive themselves. He told them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt. 16:24b-25).” Moreover when Christ tells his followers to love their neighbors as themselves, he appeals not to humanity’s inherent goodness but to humanity’s inherent evilness (Mk. 12:31). Jesus declares that all of us come into the world corrupt and evil and with hearts wrapped around the pole of selfishness. As Paul notes in Ephesians 5:29, no one comes into the world hating their own body. In short, the command to love others as we love ourselves does not demands us to practice self-love. Rather, God encourages us to transfer our self-centered self-love to others. Such self-denial appears to leave little room for the evangelical notions of self-love.

Yet according to the fourth century church father Augustine, Christians do not have to abandon the concept of self-love. Rather, they should guide the term back to its vintage, theological seat. Augustine writes,

Ourselves we love the more, the more we love God .

The church father believes men and women should pursue self-love, for love descended from God’s righteous character. Though men and women could not fully discover God apart from the Scriptures, their love of love would direct them to their need to know God. As their knowledge of God grew, they would grow in their ability to love love which has originated in their minds through the handiwork of God. The love of love that originates in the human soul will lead Christians to love God and others more. To borrow from John Piper’s terminology, Augustine believes men and women will be most satisfied when God is most loved. Augustine writes, “The mind’s self-love is true…for its own good, only when grounded on the love of God.” The man or woman who pursues the love of God loves their own souls the best. In short. Augustine believes God-centered self-love spurs men and women to love God and neighbor with biblical truthfulness.

According to Augustine, such righteous charity needs be highlighted by the church for it benefited human society. The church father writes,

What is love perfection? To love our enemies, and to love them to the end that they may be our brothers.

Proper self-love leads the believer away from self-concern to a concern for God that then manifest itself in a concern for another’s well-being. The Christian who is motivated by love longs to see his cruelest enemies become his dearest spiritual confidants. Instead envying the wealth or fame of his antagonist, the man who knows biblical self-love will pray and work for his foe’s salvation. Augustine notes, “You love him, not what he is but what you would have him be; thus, when you love your enemy, you love your brother.” In short, Christian self-love does not lead to self-forgiveness but to the forgiveness of others.

For Augustine, this understanding of biblical self-love became the defining test of the Christian faith. Those who love love express their faith in Jesus through loving others. Augustine concludes,

If you love the Head, you love the members; if you do not love the members, neither do you love the Head.

Since Augustine thought all Christians should love non-Christians as if they were Christians, he believed all true Christians should love both the head, Christ, and the body, those who had believed and those whom Christians hoped would one day believe. In short, those who knew biblical self-love will love others well because God leads, “us to do things for the benefit of those we love.”

Though the physiological idea of self-love runs afoul of Scripture, Augustine employees the term theological to express the rich Biblical ideal of Christian love. Evangelical Christians should not dismiss self-love terminology from the evangelical table. Rather, they should help the term return to its vintage, Augustinian seat that champions love of God and the love of neighbor as the truest manifestations of self-love.

Consumers or Servants

Consumers or servants“So, when do I get one,” was the perhaps most innocent and revealing questions that I have encountered from a kid.  Several of us had just spent about an hour running an energetic Easter egg assembly line consisting of hard candy, pencils, and chocolate bunnies. And as we were placing the bags and eggs back into their boxes, one kid naturally wanted to know how to get her share of the goodies. She was surprised and a touch disappointed to learn that we had been working to serve others. But on the upside, she learned an invaluable lesson: Church is not just about us.

As adults, we too need to be reminded that church is not about us.  Though we all recognize Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and know we should use our freedom in Christ to serve one another (Gal 5:13), we still at times look at church, wondering what we will get out of it. While we don’t see the church as the ticket to free candy, we see it as the ticket to free childcare, entertainment, and community.  We want other people to teach our kids, to sing for us, and to care about our problems without offering to serve those who care for us. Instead of asking, “What can we do for the body;” we ask only, “What will the body do for me?” In so doing, we downsize the radical service of the Bible to common, everyday service of self.

Love, community, and peace are not found in relaxing, fun actives or in cool worship services. They are found in radical, unnerving obedience to Christ. And being obedient to Christ means we have love God with everything and then care more about our neighbor’s needs than our own. We have to willing sacrifice for others, counting them more important than us. This calling is ridiculously hard. But to follow Christ as individual and as a church, we have to live to serve.

And, we need to teach our kids this Biblical mindset. Although I firmly believe kids’ ministry should be evangelistic (avoiding the common pitfall of training unbelieving kids to be missionaries,) I also think we need to practically demonstrate God’s love for others in front of our kids. We need to go beyond wacky Wednesday and Super Sundays. We need to include kids in mission trips, fundraising drives, and service projects. We need to help our kids see that true faith is not a call to consume but call to give.

I’ve been blessed to work with many teachers who have great ideas for serving others. What things or activities have helped your kids learn how to care for others?

God The Father > Peter The Father

Night blog postIts easy to think you are a great parent! I did. Then I had a baby who cries, and cries, and cries. As I watched my son beat most every one of our scheduling, medical, and social engineering concoctions for sleep, I came to the realization that I have some serious limitations. Thankful God’s parenting skills do not! 

As I have sat up with my son coveting sleep, I’ve capture a better understanding of God’s fatherly love for us. Although my son is cute and personable as all-get-out, I still become weary, tired and irritable with the little dude after a few tough weeks. When his needs class with my sinful heart, my patience begins to evaporate.

 But here is the great news: God’s loving patience for me never ends.  Time and again, I sinfully wander away from the truth to worship my ego, stuff, and personal peace and affluence. I insult the very nature of God, the God who has given me way more than a onesies, a crib, and dissolvable food. Yet, God still loves me. He is continually gracious to me. He continues to lovingly discipline me. He continues to grow me in wisdom and understanding. He continues to provide me with health, food, an income. And, he continues forgives me, extending his merciful hand of fellowship through the blood of his son. Although I’m ready to tap out of fatherhood after a few rough hours, God lovingly cares for me for eternity!

As one theologian from yesteryear said,

Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.

Having children has helped me to see what a poor father I am. And it has also helped me understand what an awesome and great Father our God is. When I compare my heart to God’s, I cannot help but confess that God is “worthy of worship worthy of praise!”Oh to be parent more like God! 

As I gear up for the next round of late night tears, I know there is hope. (Yes, every baby goes through phases, seemingly faster than diapers.) But the hope I’m talking about comes from Christ. Because we have been loved by GOd the father, I know and want to love my son even in the hard moments. We are our father’s children. And there is nothing my son can inflict upon me that I have not already inflicted upon my heavenly father. Yet, God continues to love me. And equipped with a gospel mindset, I can patiently love my little man.  

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another – I John 4:11