Question: The Dilemma of Loving Yourself

 glib-ly asked:

What advice can you give in terms of loving yourself the way God loves you?

Hey my dear friend, this is honestly an elusive statement in the Bible that I’m still really trying to learn.

I’ve heard many different interpretations of “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and I’m straddling the fence on both sides.  I’ll at least point you in a direction so you can form your own foundation for this one.

The two main thoughts on this are:

1) Love others as you’re already loving yourself, because we’re selfishly in love with ourselves and we need to extend that selfish love in a higher priority to others.

2) Love other people AND yourself, because you’re a person too, and God doesn’t want you to hate yourself.

So here goes arguments for both sides.

The first interpretation is a very unnatural reading.  The most natural way to read the words of Jesus are: “Love yourself too, because you need to be encouraged and taken care of just like everyone else.”  And I agree that just as we don’t want to shame or hurt or humiliate others, we would want the same dignity for ourselves.

But theologically, the Bible is constantly driving us outward towards other people.  The very idea of love is putting others first.  Since we’re naturally inclined to be self-centered and self-preserving, it would make more sense if Jesus were saying, “Love other people just like you’ve been loving yourself.”

Also, the Scripture tends to say that we’re naturally self-deceptive and prideful and greedy, and most of all, we generally tend to tolerate our own bad behavior with an alarming blindness (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 14:12, Romans 1:32).  When someone says “Love yourself,” it seems to go against Scripture because it almost means “Accept everything about you,” and people are so self-deceptive that they can use that as ammo to just tolerate their worst grievances.

Still, there’s evidence that God wants us to have joy and peace and a confidence of ourselves too.  Apostle Paul has such an assurance of himself in Christ that he says “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself” (1 Corinthians 4:3). He even calls himself the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), but all the surrounding verses talk about how he was shown mercy and grace and immense patience.

So here’s how I conclude this for now.  I think the love of God can so completely fill us up that

1) we can love others without expecting a single thing back and not be controlled by their response or approval, and

2) we can feel completely confident within ourselves because God’s love secures us.

That means we’re humble enough to be confident, and that means yes, when our hearts are fully prioritized by God and for others, we can love ourselves the right way, without pride or ego-trips, because it has originated from God Himself first.  It means we see ourselves with a balanced estimation, neither prideful nor pitiful, because we are both saved and sinners.

It’s a lot more nuanced and multi-dimensional than to simply say, “I love myself!”  I highly doubt Jesus meant his statement as a simple formula for life. I don’t think it’s as easy as “Treat yourself sometimes” or “Encourage your heart.”  I think Jesus had to use our simple human language to define the hugely overwhelming infinite reality of God’s love.  And maybe, when we know how much God loves us, we find ourselves filled with a self-loving confidence and a self-giving humility, all at the same time.

— J.S.

3 thoughts on “Question: The Dilemma of Loving Yourself

  1. I think realizing the fullness and depth of God’s love is where I get hung up. I remember sort of the bumper sticker Christianity version of “Jesus loves you”, but it isn’t until I’ve been knee-deep in Scriptures, confronted with an encounter with God, that I can even get a glimpse of how wide and long and high and deep God’s love really is.


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