What ‘love of self’ really means
When most of us hear Jesus’ command “to love your neighbor as yourself,” we place emphasis on the first part of the command—the “loving our neighbors” part. But what is this love of self? Is Jesus talking about the pop psychology we hear from Hollywood where egocentric practices, self-importance, and self-indulgence is the New Wave norm and practice?
I don’t think so. The love of self I talked about this past Sunday in a four-part sermon series is the love Jesus wants you to speak into yourself so that you can speak of His love into others.
Consider the following two questions. How can you share love when you don’t experience it yourself? How do you speak of God’s love to others when you do not actualize it yourself?
Here are two more questions. What do you say about yourself when you stand before a mirror? How much inner dialogue is negative, and how often do you look yourself in the eye and say with quiet affirmation that you, dear one, are a child of God, a precious one in His sight?
King David is one who appreciated not himself, per se, but the fact that he is a creation of God’s own handiwork. Praising God for the marvelous work God made, David says, “Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out…I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!” [Psalm 139:14, The Message]
David is not boasting in who he is; rather, he is appreciative of the beautiful creation God made in him.
The Christian should use caution here, however. The focus on self-love is not for the ultimate gain (or glory) of the self. Theologian, pastor and author John Piper speaks to this. Piper says Jesus does not command self-love; he assumes it and makes it the measure of neighbor love. In other words, Jesus is saying far more than, “Start liking yourself so you can like others.” Rather, Jesus means, “Be as concerned about the happiness of others as you are about your own happiness.”
Piper argues we should be so aware of our own needs, like hunger, for example, that we want to see our neighbor have a meal. Taken further in another example, we should be so concerned for our own health that we want to provide the same level of care to others.
Consider Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Only the Samaritan showed himself to be a true neighbor (Luke 10:30–37). The priest and the Levite refused to help the man in need. Their failure to show love to the injured man was the result of their not loving themselves too much; they loved themselves too little.
To continue, I need to take a sidestep for a moment.
If you love yourself, you’ll take care of yourself. You’ll watch your diet, wear your seatbelt, and get enough rest. Now enter God. If you love yourself, or, specifically, if you love yourself enough, you’ll reach for and understand that God loves you. When you know God loves you, you know God’s love is limitless. When you know God’s love is limitless, you become like the Samaritan.
If the priest and Levite loved themselves enough to know how God infinitely loved them, then they, like the Samaritan, would have been endlessly giving. Here is my point. When we love ourselves enough to let God love through us, then pain is shared, care is lifted, and love as God intended is known.
Paul speaks of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love of self never asks, “What’s in it for me?” Instead (and I appropriate this loosely from Paul), love of self makes love of others known. I believe this is what Jesus has in mind, and this is what we, like the Samaritan, should do each day.
This blog first appeared in The Susquehanna Independent on February 6, 2019.