Most of us are familiar with the idea that you have to love yourself before you can love others, but the question I posed to my Sunday school class this morning is “Is it Biblical?” I asserted that it isn’t, and that the verses which command us to love our neighbors as ourselves are not teaching that we have to love ourselves first. That proved to be a very unpopular opinion, even after I pointed out that the only place in the Bible where loving ourselves is mentioned is in 2 Timothy 3:2, as a warning of things to come. I also reminded them that we had just studied last week that we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3), which seemed to be an exercise in futility. Given more time, perhaps I could have explained my position more thoroughly, but as our class time is limited, we had to move on in order to finish the lesson.
So here’s where I plead my case.
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Love of self isn’t necessary here. Is it?
Then there are all these verses about humbling ourselves:
Psalm 18:27 You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
Psalm 25:9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
Psalm 147:6 The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.
Proverbs 3:34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.
Matthew 23:12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Here again, is it necessary to love ourselves in order to consider others better?
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
Then there are verses like these:
Luke 9:24 “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Ephesians 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; “Put off” wouldn’t be another way of saying “love”, would it?
Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Now why would Jesus tell us we should hate our own lives if we are commanded to love ourselves?
Ephesians 5:29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— Here’s the clincher. We already love ourselves! It is our default position, therefore the command is to love your neighbor as much as you already love yourself. Not “Love your neighbor and yourself.” Not “Love yourself so that you can love your neighbor.”
My point is this: The command to love others is like the other commandments, in that we are unable to keep them without depending on Christ. We are able to love because He first loved us.
1 John 4:7-8 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Better yet, go ahead and read the whole chapter.
My aim is to emphasize the need to measure every thought/idea/belief/teaching by the standard of God’s Word. Anything we hear/read/believe/imagine must pass this test before we accept it as truth.
It is with that aim in mind that I have decided to rename the blog yet again. If anyone is still reading after my prolonged absence, the URL hasn’t changed, but you may want to update your link to reflect the new name.