True or false: Before you can love others you have to love yourself.
Aaron and I have been talking about this idea for quite sometime. And it seems like Christians take a different opinion when you ask them. From what I can find in my research, Jesus simply said to love others “as yourself.” He didn’t say to love others “after you love yourself.” That’s just something people read into the passage.
Let me illustrate another way you could read something into this passage…and be just as wrong: Imagine that I hate myself. Since Jesus said to love my neighbor “as myself,” doesn’t this mean I should hate my neighbor? After all, I am supposed to love my neighbor the same way I love myself. (I’m sure you would agree it’s obvious this is not what Jesus was saying.)
So, I guess the question would be…what does loving your neighbor “as yourself” mean? It’s pretty straightforward. Throughout the Bible, it is assumed that we love ourselves. It is part of human nature, part of what it means to be a human being. Here’s how Paul put it: After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:29). When Jesus said to love your neighbor “as yourself,” he simply was emphasizing how important it is to love your neighbor, to be genuinely concerned for others’ welfare. He was not adding a third commandment or a precondition to loving others.
You might say, “But I hate myself,” or, “I hate my body.” I wouldn’t argue with you on one level. It’s true that many of us are disgusted with ourselves or our bodies. Some are even self-destructive. But Jesus wasn’t talking about feeling love for ourselves. He was talking about the reality that underneath everything else, at the core of our being…even under self-loathing or self-destructive behavior…we are self-centered and want the best for ourselves.
Loving your neighbor means being concerned about other people…seeking the best for them, and helping them in their time of need. Is it absolutely wrong to feel self-love (to love yourself)? Not necessarily. It is not a precondition to loving your neighbor, but on the other hand it may be possible to say something such as, “I love myself because God created me and he loves me.” However, this can be a dangerous road to travel since it’s easy to focus more and more on ourselves. That’s why the Bible actually warns against self-love. But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy … (2 Timothy 3:1-2).
If loving yourself is not the answer to a negative self-image, feelings of inferiority, or sense of failure, what is? Is self-hate the opposite of self-love? No. That clearly is not God’s desire. The answer is to understand the depth of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and grace. He demonstrated this love in the most powerful way possible when he sacrificed Jesus on the cross to die for our sins. When we comprehend God’s love, when we deeply know he loves us, we don’t need to focus on loving ourselves. The more we experience God’s forgiveness and love, the more we think of him and the less we think about ourselves. When we are excited and secure in his love for us, the less the idea of finding meaning through loving ourselves makes sense.
In the Bible, 1 John 4:7 says: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God”. So, before you can love others (including yourself) you have to know God.