Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39
These verses are some of the most discussed, quoted, and preached on verses in the Church. I’ve heard very few I actually liked.
We often hear of people and churches who live by the simplified motto: “Love God, Love People.” It’s nice that Jesus condensed all the “rules” for us into these brief verses. It truly does make living the Christian life at least a bit easier to understand in many situations.
Many of the teachings about the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourself, really fail to fully explain true obedience to this charge. Jesus repeatedly tells us to love others, enemies, etc., and He never leaves us hanging on how. Yet somehow, when it comes to this summed up version of living for God and loving like God, we leave a part out:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Do you love yourself?
A positive answer to this is usually frowned upon in Christian culture – even in many avenues of “secular” culture. The love of self is thought to mean selfishness, pride, arrogance.
Yet here it is – Jesus Himself telling us that we have to love others as ourselves.
Now that phrase, paired with our current perspective on loving ourselves, would mean we don’t need to put much priority on others. After all, isn’t selflessness and a servant’s heart all about downplaying ourselves – our abilities, wants, needs – all for the sake of others?
But if we look at the whole of the Bible and how it explains what loving others should look like, selflessness and a servant’s heart mean placing value on ourselves, taking care of ourselves… loving ourselves.
According to the way Jesus sums up the second greatest commandment, loving others well is intricately tied to how well we love ourselves.
We need to break the perception that the love of self only stems from selfishness and pride. We need to realize that loving ourselves righteously is God-honoring. It’s a healthy balance of taking care of ourselves and caring for those around us.
Selfish, internalized people are who we normally think of when we think of self love. But selfish, internalized people are also some of the most depressed people.
The happiest, most fulfilled among us are those who have found the balance of taking healthy time for self, and prioritizing the care and needs of others.
The second commandment makes it clear that setting yourself completely aside is not a good foundation for loving others. We must know how to love ourselves in a healthy and righteous way to truly honor this God-given, Jesus-simplified command.
So what about the verses about considering others better than yourself, dying to self, and laying down your life for a friend? Each passage of Scripture should be looked at against the whole of the Bible, not as isolated instances – otherwise everything contradicts.
Loving yourself honors God by stewarding your life well and prioritizes others by making sure you’re healthy and a joy to be around instead of a depressed, kill-joy, or someone suffering from an illness that resulted from self-neglect.
Example. Show of hands for those who watch the Biggest Loser? I do. I bawl. How many of the people on that show finally find the motivation to get healthy because they find the want to do it for themselves? And how many of those same people are there because they want to live longer instead of die young so they can be there for their family?
That is a healthy picture of loving yourself well so you can love others well.
In essence, we must learn to love ourselves well to love others well, honoring the second greatest commandment that is just as important as the first.
What are your thoughts loving yourself?