It sounds kinda selfish and self-centered on the surface, I know. And if it were, it would surely be a most unattractive trait.
I believe that Christianity is a religion about love– most notably, loving God and loving our neighbors. However, I think we’re too quick to forget to extend the same to someone else the Bible calls us to love: ourselves.
When Jesus said the greatest command was to love God, and that the second greatest was to love others, he added a quantifier. He said, “and love your neighbor as yourself.“
Loving one’s neighbor, according to Jesus, presupposes we love ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I think the biblical command to love ourselves gets lost in the shuffle of life. Some of the time I think we clothe this neglect of self in a false piety, as if serving others without nurturing ourselves somehow makes us better than others, or somehow makes us more acceptable to God.
Other times, I think it’s simply a matter of neglectfulness– losing yourself in the hustle and bustle of a busy life.
And then there are some of us who are comfortable loving God and others, but just don’t know how to love ourselves.
However, if we were loving God but not loving our neighbor, would we not sound the alarm that something about our faith was out of whack? I certainly hope we would– one cannot love God if they are not loving their neighbor. In the same way, when we love God and our neighbor but are not loving ourselves, we arrive at a faith that is every bit out of synch as when God or neighbor is been left out of the equation.
I was reminded of this truth when doing some personal reading this week. I was reading Morgan Guyton’s new book, How Jesus Saves The World From Us. (You can grab your own copy, here.) In the book, Morgan talks about the choice we have between living by the spirit, or living by the flesh– something he discusses in terms of breath versus meat. When we are breath, we are full of life– but when we are meat (living by the flesh), it’s as if we become something far less than what we were destined to be. He writes:
“Meat is such a perfect metaphor for human life that has become dehumanized, because meat is dead life. Meat is always a once living animal that got killed for the sake of consumption. It’s the reduction of life to a consumable object.”
As I wrestled with this idea of dehumanization and “dead life” that exists for the consumption of others, I couldn’t help but think about the unavoidable result that happens when good and wonderful people forget or neglect to love themselves.
For those so busy loving God and others that they forget to make it a priority to love themselves, it’s only a matter of time before one feels as if their life has been reduced and dehumanized to the point where they are dead life that only exists to be consumed by others.
And when you get to the point where you’re burned out, feel like dead life inside, and are full of resentment that your life exists simply to be consumed by others?
Well, if you’ve ever gotten to that point you know that the world can fall apart quickly, and many good things you’ve done can quickly come undone.
I believe God wants us to do great things with our lives, and to guide us he gave us two commandments. However, when we forget that the second commandment includes self-love and self-care, we are living a life that is less than fully God-honoring.
Let enough time go by, and you’ll feel like dead life that’s being consumed by others.
In order to truly live life the way God intended it, and in order to be fully Christian, we must learn that loving ourselves is every bit as important as loving our neighbors.
In fact, loving yourself is one of the greatest commandments.
I’ll be offering some additional thoughts in a future blog, but I’d love to hear from you: What are some ways you could better love yourself?
I spoke on this recently at a retreat. Sometimes I think Jesus’ statement isn’t a command so much as it is a reflection of the way things are: We love others to whatever degree and in whatever way that we love ourselves. If we offer ourselves compassion and kindness, we’ll extend it to others. If we hold ourselves to impossible standards and internally criticize everything we say, we’ll love (erm, hate) others in the same way.
After the shooting at NIU, the churches and ministries brought J. Eric Gentry to talk to us. He made the same point, that you can lose your integrity if you give and give and give without self care. A person becomes vulnerable to alcoholism and affairs and all kinds of things if they weren’t so spent. This is a good reminder. It’s my horses and dogs who taught me the most about self care.
How about saying no to things you don’t want to do but other expect you to? I wouldn’t expect people to do things for me that I could do for myself just because I wanted them to, but I feel obligated to do for them when I’m asked.
For me, on a purely practical level, I can give of myself to others, with a ‘servant heart’ and seek nothing in return, but after a certain time doing this, or a certain number of people to whom I give of myself, the natural man in me just gets tired and fed up, and starts seeing himself as a doormat, being used to clean dirty boots (even though the serving has been entirely voluntary), and then starts to resent those he is serving, and views them as ‘taking advantage’ (even if some ARE taking advantage, Jesus still commands us to give!). Therefore, in order to placate that most natural part of me, taking the time and effort to create space for myself and experience a bit of ‘self-love’ is a good thing, and eases the burden that we all must share if we are to truly follow Jesus. Then I can be refreshed for a bit more serving.
I also learnt while on a mission-trip ‘work experience’ from Bible College, that I must allow others to minister to me, for if I know how ‘it is better to give than receive’ myself and wish to serve others, then allowing others to serve me is a loving act to them, since I allow them to get the ‘blessing’ from serving me!
So long as we dont go in the direction of loving ourselves and ignoring others (which is very easy to do). Jesus is not commanding us to love ourselves, but rather taking it for granted – in the same way you already love yourselves, so love your neighbour. Its easy to pervert this message.
Yes. I am discovering the same gentle but serious command to care for, love the self God gave me. Here’s a recent post on this, which includes a little message for myself and others, “Love yourself as I have commanded you to love others. And by this you are loving Me.” http://www.theresawyatt.com/easter-love/
Hey, Dr. C. I was watching some episodes of “Naked and Afraid” last week. When you see the diversity of His creation depicted there , you begin to realize we know very little about our God. We can get so caught up in a works based sanctification that we forget He has done it all. Yes , there are natural consequences to sin, which though not us, still exerts a huge influence on our lives. But Paul says we have the Righteousness of Christ. Yet, how often do we keep trying to be worthy of His love. And is it not true that in time we always come up short of our expectations for ourselves though we always have the best intentions to do otherwise? Isn’t that the exact same struggle that Paul had in the latter part of Romans 7 ? And he actually had a direct, personal encounter with Christ.
For decades I walked on eggshells as a believer. It wasn’t until I listened to Steve’s podcast series on his book , Scandalous Freedom, that I gave myself permission to sin. I cried for probably a half hour. He said something very profound : paraphrasing , Steve said that the only Christians who are ever going to become more holy/moral are those who realize that if they never do , God wIll not be angry at them. Ultimately, whether we admit it not , we are all looking to be loved. And the only one who has and still does that for each of us perfectly is God. If we can really ever grasp that truth –and I’m not there yet even after 34 years as a believer –but I do get glimpses of His love for me and it keeps me going in the race. For me , and I would venture to say for many believers who read Ben’s blog, it is far easier to forgive and love on others who have stumbled or offended , than it is to forgive ourselves for our offenses. Yet, in God’s eyes, ours are no worse than those we freely choose to forgive of others.
you expect for me to love you when you hate yourself my friend?
~ Crosby Stills Nash & Young
It seems to me that if we follow the advice of Jesus and become as a little child, we have found that love of self. To become as a little child can only be the work of spirit and grace, a full surrender to divine providence. What is then awakened and vital in us is seeing our neighbor as we see ourselves: imago dei, or as we are the image of God we see that likeness clearly in others. In effect, “Love your neighbor as yourself” means your neighbor is yourself, that when they are hungry our stomach growls. It is joyfully compelling to feed them. The delight we take in others is the delight we take in the father. All the healthy and natural characteristics of a child–playfulness, spontaneity, curiosity, creativity, tenderness, discovery and so forth–come into full fruit. The love we have for ourselves is actually the integrity of God’s image in us allowed its unique manifestation.
For me, to become as a little child is the central theme of Christ’s message, for nothing else is possible in the kingdom of God without it, and everything else Christ said and did comes back to his relationship (“being as a little child”) with the father, “who doeth the works.”
The qualitative degree of love is the quantified value resulting in how much we are actually inspired and motivated to support constructively and productively the recipient; our self, others of mankind and God. According to the Messiah in everything we must do to others as we would have others do to us to fulfill the law of life in God’s image that we might live. I can only know to value others as much as I can know to value myself. If I know no love for myself then that is ALL the love I can know to give the Lord my God and my neighbor.
The math is that if I share 100% of the love that overflows from my cup, filled first by God, with 100 people and each one only reciprocates 2% then my cup overflows by twice as much even if God gave me no more. If my cup is empty because I refuse to drink from God’s infinitely abundant well of love then I have nothing to share with my thirsty neighbor. It is destructively self centered to believe I am anything or could be anything of worth without God. It is good to be moderately selfish by allowing God to fill my cup that I may be found of sufficient worth to add to the cups of others that they may be found of even greater worth to add to the cups of others. To everyone else I am an other.
Love you Ben! As children of God we no longer live as meat but in the Spirit. There is plenty to share for all in the Spirit including and beginning with ourselves.
Great post! I have said this for years. One can’t properly love others unless they love themselves. And many of us don’t properly love ourselves very well; how can we? We have been taught that God is angry and harsh with us. He doesn’t love us either; he will punish us unless we keep his strict commands.
However, when we hear the good news that God is not angry as many of us supposed and that he loves us all unconditionally, then we can internalize his love for us, begin to love ourselves, and begin to see others as God sees them. Then we can love others as we love ourselves.
I guess I have to make the rejoinder while the Bible does include depictions of compassion, self-love, love for others, and so on, the notion that Corey is opposing of ‘Loving God means hating your neighbor’ is also in the Bible as well. You basically have to pick through and pick-n-choose which side you want. The many authors of the Bible stretching through hundreds of years had disagreed among each other on so much that there is no coherent message. The fundamentalists you can very well say made the wrong choice, but it’s still a choice either way.
The Jesus figure’s commandments about loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek are in the same New Testament as things such as “The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.” (Revelation 14:18-20). Note that murdering enough human beings to create miles upon miles of a literal river of blood like that would mean a body count of well over a trillion people.
That’s not even getting into how the book of Revelation says that Christ personally condemns people to hell and that those who are condemned scream out for mercy, crying and proclaiming that they wish to receive Christ’s love. Despite this, Christ informs them that it is too late and he shall enjoy the pain of their future tears in eternal torment. This, again, is in the exact same New Testament as accounts of Christ washing people’s feet and proclaiming that the ‘Good Shepard’ seeks to rescue all lost sheep.
In short: Self-love and love for others is both Biblical and anti-Biblical at the same time. Either way, it’s a personal choice that people make for themselves, first, and then choose to defend with Biblical support, second.
I’m trying to love myself by taking better care of myself. I’ve always measured my value by achievement and, honestly, I’ve neglected myself while trying to achieve. I have some chronic health-issues(rheumatoid arthritis,) and my neglect of my health – extra weight, lack of physical strength, lack of proper rest – make that chronic disease worse. Yet, taking time to get exercise, to rest and relax, to eat well rather than easily and quickly has always seemed “selfish” to me. How dare I take time out for a walk, go swimming or sleep in when I could be on-line, hustling up the next project or working on something “productive.”
How silly. How wasteful. I’ve recently had a fairly profound flair that caused some damage that most likely won’t go away when the flare in under control. It’s been a wake-up call. I can’t be “productive” unless I take care of myself. I also have to get my head around the fact that, I am worth more than what I “produce.”
My condition may, eventually, disable me. Both my parents were disabled, so I didn’t realize that I had such issues with facing disability, but I do. At some point in my life I’m going to have to decide that I’m worthwhile even if I’m not “productive,” if I’m not generating income. And, damn it, that’s hard. Everything I see around me tells me that people who can’t work are worthless.. a burden… a “parasite.” Loving myself, taking better care of myself, even if I lose the ability to work? How?
I’m not there yet, but it could come. And, paradoxically, if I don’t learn to love myself well enough to take care of myself better, I make it more likely that it will come. It’s a lot for me to think about…
Loving myself means doing the best I can for myself, just as I do for others. It also means valuing what I can do, even if it’s not what I’m capable of right now, and valuing myself for just who I am, not what I do at all… And I’m not there. But I see that I need to work on it.
Is it even possible to fully love God and others when people can’t love themselves? Many times in things I’ve heard from pulpits and read in Christian books, etc., the implicit message is that 1) we have no right or basis to love ourselves because we are such terrible sinners; and 2) Christian life is about self-sacrifice, therefore there is no room for self-love.
Ironically I’ve observed children’s sermons where a cup and water are used to illustrate that we have to be filled first before the overflowing love can benefit others.
We can operate at a deficit, but only for a limited time. If we try to do that as an ongoing modus operandi, we are headed towards failure or worse.
I remember a kitchen wall decoration a friend had years ago – it said “recipe for JOY –
I always liked that it even seemed to put things in the right order – Jesus first, others second, and yes, take care of yourself too. For me, a little me time is alone time. Jesus was reported in the scriptures to have frequently slipped away to be alone, and pray to His Father. Me thinks we should do the same.
And then there are some of us who are comfortable loving God and others, but just don’t know how to love ourselves.
Ronny to Benjamin:
I was raised up in a church, where I was taught there was nothing lovable about me. Also, that it was a horrible sin on my part, if I even felt good about my parents bragging on me, about something I’d done. So one of the main teachings there, was that I was to dwell most on my sins and or what I had been taught, were my sins. And at 16 years old, I was born of God and thereby learned, how greatly God/Jesus Christ loved me. 🙂 But because of what I’d overheard some church elders saying, four years before this, I still thought God must be highly disappointed in me. Now days, I know better, for God has shown and taught me better. 🙂 Now, I can much more love all people, just because I now know, that God/Jesus Christ loves all people and that, just as God/Jesus Christ loves me! 🙂
And when thinking about it, it was God, when I was being born again, who in that way, also caused me to love and care about all people; but it was some of the teachings in my local church, which much blunted that. But then, as I say, in time God/Jesus Christ, delivered me from such! 🙂 And in time, what God/Jesus Christ has done for one and for some, they will do for all! 🙂