When talking about proper love of self and how God loves all of us, many Christians strongly hold the view that you cannot love others until you love yourself. This view is not biblical and is therefore a heresy. If you do not agree with me, then I challenge you to find one verse or passage anywhere in the Bible that says that you cannot love others until you love yourself. To respond to this, most Christians who hold to this popular view quote Jesus’ saying in Mark 12:28-31 that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself. So, clearly we have to love ourselves so that we can love others. After all, you cannot give something that you haven’t got.
The problem with this view is that Jesus still says that we are to love God and love our neighbour. Sure, He says that we are to do it ‘as you love yourself’ but the emphasis is on loving God and neighbour. It is about giving. This also follows in what is classically called the golden rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. In a particular situation, think about what you would most want that person to do for you if you were in their position, and do it for them. Jesus’ point was that we are to think of others before ourselves. People would argue that if you don’t love yourself, then you would not want people to love you. If you hate yourself, then you have such a low view of yourself that you want people to harm you. While this is tragically true for many people, all of us still ultimately want the best for ourselves. Randy Alcorn, an American evangelical who, while being a bit too conservative for my liking, has made the excellent point that even a suicidal person has their best interests at heart – “I’d be better off dead”. Randy has written a great piece on how Christians are preaching this self-esteem heresy. Click here to access it.
The fact is that, as I mentioned above, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbour. The emphasis is on others. He did not tell us to go and do a self-help course or take up some hobby or do something else to improve our self-image, and then once we feel good enough about ourselves, then and only then will we be able to love others. Not that I’m against having a hobby – having a hobby is very healthy, but if it or anything else that is designed purely to improve your self-image detracts from your following Jesus, then it is detrimental, both to yourself and to others. How often have we neglected other people’s needs in the process of trying to improve our self-image?
It is only when we ask the Holy Spirit to help us be more Christlike and that we ask Him to help us to be Jesus in our daily lives, as we live this out, that we become closer to God. And it is through this that we slowly find ourselves developing a healthy sense of self-worth. Jesus said, in Mark 8: 34-35, “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. It is then that we develop a healthy self-love, a healthy self esteem, a healthy sense of self-worth. It is in doing what is right that we come to love ourselves in the way that Jesus properly wants us to because it is then, as we seek to follow Him, that we become truly close to God.