The Truth About Self Love

I’ve recently heard of a focus among many Christians that has been described as both a “new movement” and “a forgotten way” – something mystical that will enhance our Christian walk. New? Old? Which is it? And what are we missing out on that is simultaneously newly discovered, and recovered? Self Love.

I hate to break it to anyone, but this is nothing new, nor has it been lost, and there is most certainly nothing mystical about this way. It is, however, not the way of Christianity; it is the opposite of Christianity.

Self love is the way of life from the beginning, since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden. If we ask ourselves, “Why did they eat?” The answer is that they loved themselves, and the idea of who they could be apart from God, more than they loved God. So they ate.

Why did Cain kill Abel? He loved himself more than he loved his brother, or his God. The reason anyone hurts another person is that love for self is greater than love for another. Why do we fight? Why do we quarrel? Because we want what we want, we think we deserve better than we have, and so we fight to get it (James 4:1-3).

The truth about self-love is that it’s natural. We are born loving ourselves; no one has to teach us how to love ourselves. Look at an infant, they want what they want when they want it, whether it’s food, dry diapers, to be cuddled or left alone, and they cry when they don’t get their way. We may not define it as self-love, but isn’t it? Self: The total, essential, or particular being of one person. Love: An intense affectionate concern for a person. Sounds like Self-Love to me.

If that definition is not the definition, then whose definition do we use? Someone whose writing makes us feel good? Or the standard of love: God? I say we go back to the originator of love, and of ourselves, and see what God has to say.

God has no problem defining the greatest love; through the Apostle John, he writes, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)  This is the opposite of indulging, promoting, defending, or insisting upon one’s own feelings, needs, desires, entitlements, and rights – which, I believe, is the focus of self-love. To my thinking laying down one’s life (denying self), is true love, whether it is as we love God with all our being, or love our neighbor.

What does it look like to lay down one’s own life? It doesn’t mean we are supposed to get on a cross and die; Jesus did that. Jesus doesn’t call us to die physically, he calls us to live by laying down our lives. It means lifting up the person we love, even if, or perhaps, especially if, it is at our expense. It is laying down our preeminence in our lives, and lifting up another’s.

Laying down our lives is not living in self-deprecation, or self-humiliation, or self-hurt. It is not putting our selves down to lift up another; it is taking care of our selves (physically, spiritually, and emotionally) so that we can take care of others, but not at the expense of another’s well-being.

I think the truth is, that though we are born loving ourselves, we have to learn to love other people and that’s what the Bible teaches us how to do. In a quick search I found eight instances where the Bible tells us to love others the way we love ourselves. It seems to be a given that we know how to love ourselves.

This is not a new movement, or a forgotten way, but perhaps it is a new time; a time when we are more open to indulge our selves. If so, what fruit can we expect from self-love? If we reap what we sow, we can expect self-focus, self-centeredness, self-indulgence – perhaps we might even say hedonism: devotion to, or pursing pleasure in all areas of our lives. Isn’t that the primary goal of self-love: pleasure instead of any potential pain generated from our circumstances, situations, or relationships?

If pleasure is our goal, we risk forfeiting spiritual maturity, because maturity is the fruit of suffering (James 1:2-4). Self-love is about removing suffering, so that we feel good. Self love encourages us to remove everything, and everyone, that causes us to feel less than good about ourselves or our lives. If we only feel good all the time, is there room for growth? Is there room for humility? How do we identify with Christ in his suffering? Self-love negates suffering.

We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, so what does biblical self love look like? I think it is love that is swallowed up, or hidden, or perfected in Christ’s love for us. I think it is an understanding of our worth in Christ, which enhances our love for him. We value ourselves only as we understand our value in Christ.

We don’t have to practice self-love, or develop self-love, in order to love others. Our love for our neighbor grows as we understand the depth of love Christ has for us. The natural outflow of Christ’s love for us is that we will love others as we love ourselves, because we will see them as Christ sees them, enabling us to love them as Christ loves them.

Quoting John MacArthur, “The love in which we live and witness is ours only because God has given it to us (1 John 4:19). Paul loved because Christ’s love controlled him (2 Corinthians 5:14). Evangelizing love, or any other manifestation of Christian love, cannot be generated by the flesh, by our humanness. It is the work of the Spirit to produce and direct our love, and, through it, to bear fruit for God.”

The greatest commandment is to love God with our entire being  – heart, mind, and soul — when we do that we will naturally love ourselves as part of his creation. However, when we love ourselves apart from God’s love for us, or in place of our love for God, we commit idolatry and we sin against God.

Who do you love most? Whose love do you seek most? Whose love is most important to you?

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