February 24, 2020
Can I truly love others if I love myself?
Yes. And also, no.
First, let’s talk about the second half of that question.
Loving myself. Self-love.
You’ve probably heard of this phrase or some version of it through the following channels:
A current, catchy song
A post you saw online
Your friend who tried to comfort you by offering well-meaning advice
But what does self-love mean?
Here are some definitions:
Other terms related to this are “self-compassion” and “self-kindness.”
At first glance, you would think that self-love isn’t bad at all, since it promotes the idea of, among others, being kind, forgiving, and caring to yourself.
In this light, self-love doesn’t sound wrong. Does that mean that it’s right though?
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
One of the most common responses I get from Christian circles when they talk about “self-love” is that they think it’s something very “New Age” or unbiblical.
Is it a New Age idea? No, because the concept of self-love actually dates back to 1539.
Is it unbiblical? In some ways, yes, because the Bible doesn’t actually contain this term.
Does that mean that the Bible is outdated? Not necessarily. It may not be stated in black and white, but we can still look into what the Bible has to say about self-love.
As we read and understand more about the Bible, we see that God’s Word is meant to help us become more and more like Christ.
So it would benefit us to add qualifiers to the term.
Self-love, if tempered and balanced with the right Source, is not bad at all.
Self-love isn’t evil in itself. But when it’s not balanced, it could push us further away from God and from others.
It looks selfish. It looks like everybody else’s thoughts, feelings, and needs are secondary to my own. It looks conditional—depending on my terms, moods, and circumstances.
In short, it’s up to me, me, and me.
The starting point, then, is the true source of and motivation for self-love.
Do I practice self-love as a vindictive response to past pains and brokenness, or as a response to knowing how God sees me?
Do I engage in self-love because it empowers me to choose what’s best for me, or do I engage in it because it prepares me for the outward work that God has called me to do?
If self-love becomes more about me than God, then that becomes a form of idolatry.
This would mean that the start and end of my self-love is me—and that kind of love will never produce real change in me.
On the contrary, if self-love were about being filled up by God to overflow into love for others, then it would be a different story altogether.
If you look at the Bible, there’s actually a verse that talks about loving yourself AND others:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
Next to loving God above everything, this is dubbed the second greatest commandment! How interesting!
Let me ask you a set of questions:
Who is the first person you think of in the midst of challenges?
Who is the person you pray for the most?
Who is the person you think of most of the time?
Who is the person you pay the most attention to?
Isn’t the answer you?
This verse doesn’t justify self-love. Instead, it makes you and I realize how much we think of ourselves, prioritize ourselves, and look after ourselves, above anyone else.
But the word “as” changes the entire meaning of the verse. What does it imply?
Implication: The standard of love we show to others is based on how we would love ourselves if we were in their position.
Even if I love myself, because of certain limitations in my own love, I cannot truly love others.
Limitation 1: There are some things I still don’t truly love about myself.
I think back to a time in my life when it was so hard to find anything I really liked about myself—from shallow reasons to deeper wounds. That still applies to me today. There are areas of weakness that I still don’t like about myself, and that’s okay. I don’t think that list will ever be completely empty.
Limitation 2: Shouldn’t I save some love for myself? Do I really have to love others as much?
At one point in the relationship, we will all feel like we have nothing left to give to others. And that’s a reality when we look to our own standard of love.
With our own standard, there is no way we can truly love others.
Which brings us to the main question:
Fortunately, there is one.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
This was one of Jesus’ last messages to His disciples before He sacrificed Himself in order to save us from a life and eternity apart from God.
Jesus loved even when He had to die for His enemies; even when He had to forgive those who betrayed Him.
He loved the unlovable—you and I.
This is the standard of love. This is the kind of love we can draw from.
If self-love were created to address one’s own acceptance, worth, and approval, God tells you that you are loved beyond your own standard—so much that He freely gave His most precious Son to die on the cross, so you could experience what true acceptance, worth, and approval mean.
God’s answer to a world that’s looking for love is displayed on the cross.
If we are to draw from His standard of love, not only will we see how we are loved beyond what we deserve––we will see just how much love we can give others as well.