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There Is a Reason You Should Love Yourself and Others

There Is a Reason You Should Love Yourself and Others

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Love is a verb, an action word. It moves, always going in one direction or the other. Love will not work if it is not moving toward something. You will find it sandwiched between a subject and an object, always expecting the subject to move it toward the object. Love standing alone is a neutral concept; it cannot survive without the giver and receiver. We see this threefold cooperative requirement of love in the most famous verse in the Bible.

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Love’s Opportunity

For God (subject) so loved (verb) the world (object), that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

God—subject—is the lover, and we—objects—are the loved ones. This verse has brought endless joy to millions of souls as they reflect on the infinite depth and ever-broadening sweep of God’s love. One of the benefits of being on the transformative end of God’s love is that we can go and do likewise, looking for other potential candidates to be objects of God’s redemptive love. We know the power and value of love because when the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment, He said that out of the 600+ laws in the Old Testament, the top two had something to do with love—to love God and others most of all.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).”

Self-centered Love

In the two great commandments, you note the action of love; it is heading away from the givers and landing on the objects, whether God or our friends and enemies. God-centered love has a distinct directional force, and it comes from us and toward others, even if those recipients are our enemies. Self-centered love is not that; it inverts itself onto the giver. The giver and the receiver of the action are one and the same. The love goes from the giver and turns 180 to return to the one who sent it.

In addition to this circular self-love endless loop, the self-centered lover, like a crack addict, demands more attention, more acts of service, more words of affirmation, and more sacrifices from others. This person becomes the un-fillable love cup. The self-lover depletes and discourages their friends, eventually repelling everyone from them because nobody can carry that much water for the insatiable, selfish, thirsty soul. Eventually, these relationships die. “There is a way that seems right for the self-centered lover, but the end of that kind of narcissistic life is the death of their relationship” (Proverbs 14:12, paraphrased).

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Gospel-centered Love

Then, there is gospel-centered love with its counterintuitive message, cutting against the grain of our self-esteem practitioners. Loving someone more than me does not sound right. It appears foolish and impotent, never providing what I crave (1 Corinthians 1:25). Christ modeled this kind of love when He came to earth as a human by setting aside His greatness for others (Philippians 2:5-11). Though He sacrificed so much, He understood how following the counterintuitive force and direction of gospel love would end well with Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Natural humans do not do accounting like Jesus. We natively understand that if we give something away, as He did, we will have less of what we had before giving it to someone. The problem with this kind of reasoning is that God’s ways transcend ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). He challenges the natural thinker’s thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:14). Am I willing to set aside my way for a better way? Can I trust Christ in this matter of self-sacrificing love? Is it true that if I give more, I will be made whole, and those around me will not just benefit from my sacrifice, but they might find a compelling reason to do likewise?

The Fullness of Love

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).

Some of the fullest, happiest, whole, and non-needy people that you’ll ever meet are generous people who do not pine away in their victimness, always expecting others to feel sorry for them while drawing a few into their self-absorbed net of inverted love (2 Corinthians 4:16). These dried up sad sacks are some of the stingiest among us, always expecting and demanding while punishing anyone who refuses to meet their unmeet-able requests (Ecclesiastes 1:8, 12:1). Indeed, God-centered and self-centered love is the clashing of two mindsets.

  • How would you characterize your love? Is it primarily God-centered or self-centered?
  • What are a few things that hinder you from loving others like Christ, assuming there might be at least one thing?
  • Perhaps another question to ask: What hinders you from loving others the way Christ has loved you?
  • Will you share with a friend how God-centered love does not deplete but fills you with confidence and desire to love others more?

The Fear of Love

Typically, these questions poke at some of our hidden fears, especially those new to self-sacrifice or those habitualized in self-centered thinking. Most self-centered lovers fear the consequences of choosing a life of giving over receiving. Often, they are guarding against losing something because their naturally trained minds teach them that receiving is better than giving. It might sound like, “If I think less about myself and more about others, will I be happy? Will I get what I crave? Will God care for me while I spend my life loving others?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.” We see this at the end of Philippians’s great other-loving passage. Notice how the Father blessed Jesus for His sacrifice.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Philippians 2:8-10).

  • Do you believe God will take care of you if you pursue Him and others most of all?
  • Do you believe that trusting God in this matter of love’s direction is the best course for your life?
  • Is there another master tugging at your soul, enticing you to think more about yourself (Matthew 6:24)?
  • What would it take to become an other-centered lover, assuming you need to change the directional flow of your love habits?

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The Irony of Love

We understand the culture’s twisted version of self-love, which they call self-esteem. They are the “senders and receivers” of love, but did you know that you’re supposed to love yourself? Do you realize that this love is not self-centered? How sad would it be for image-bearers not to like themselves—what God created? (Genesis 1:27). Why would you not love yourself if God created you? To un-love something God made is ungodly. But you ask, “Are there dangers in loving yourself?” That’s obvious. Are there dangers with anything we do? Of course, but risks should not cause a person to overreact, jumping headlong into the ditch of self-hate or self-harm. Jesus did say that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The implication is clear: we are to love ourselves. James said a similar thing in his passage on the tongue.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so (James 3:9-10).

Let me push the envelope: the reason we love the gay person and the liberal-minded person is the same reason we love ourselves: because God created all of us in His image. What biblical reason would anyone have not to love an image-bearer? (I’m not speaking about loving what they do.) I act out my love for myself every day. When I have a headache, I take medication because I love myself. When I’m tired, I go to bed because I love myself. I do not deprive myself of food when I’m hungry because I love myself. The truth is that I do not hate myself, and God does not want me to go around poor-mouthing and hating myself.

Self-worth (made in God’s image) and self-love are different things. One of the worst manifestations of groveling, grumpy, navel-gazing self-haters among Christians is the woe is me, worm theology worldview that does not value the image-bearer. They have twisted the words of Christ to say, “Love God and others as you hate yourself,” which makes no sense at all. You should love yourself because of who created you. The painting finds value in itself because of the painter. If the painter had no value, the painting would be worthless. Our painter has inestimable worth; because of who He is, we are worth something too.

Call to Action

  1. Do you know how to love yourself biblically? Will you share with a friend why you love all image-bearers, including yourself?
  2. Talk about the dangers of loving yourself. When would self-love cross the line? Has your love become self-centered? If so, why or how did it become that way, and what do you need to do to change?
  3. Do you struggle with shame and guilt? Self-harm? How can someone help you overcome these problems to find satisfaction and rest as one created in God’s image?
  4. I have asked you several questions throughout this chapter. Will you review them for self-reflection and also make them part of how you help your friends, particularly those struggling with guilt, shame, and self-harm? Their wrong focus on themselves will keep them inverted, deepening self-centered thinking until they come to the crossroads of repentance or suicide.

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