I've gathered together my posts on this short mini-series into a downloadable paper. You can find this resource under the resource tab on my blog. This paper discusses the popular teaching that we must first love ourselves if we are to love others. This teaching comes from Jesus' words that we should love others as ourselves. But what did Jesus really mean by this command? I would greatly enjoy hearing your comments on my thoughts.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Friday, June 30, 2017
This is the final part of a multi-part series. You can find the first part here, or the entire series here. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
But I hate myself
Some people suffer from a deliberating sense of low self-esteem. They lack self-worth, confidence, and a sense of being loved, lovable, and lovely. Some have sought to combat this problem with a renewed effort at self-love, but does such efforts hold any real hope as a remedy for our problem? Yes, we might find temporary relief, but can increased self-love really produce a lasting qualitative change in our lives? I believe the answer is “No!” So how do we overcome feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, and even self-loathing? The answer is three-fold.
The first step at becoming comfortable in our own skin is to die. Dead people never compare themselves with others. They never think about how others love them and whether or not they love themselves. They have no feelings associated with their own existential existence. Their death has freed them from all forms of self-incrimination, self-deprecation, and self-loathing. Paul understood that he had died to this life and his old way of living. He wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Having died in Christ, Paul was no longer bound by his former life or the troubles and constraints of his old self. He was now free to live life without worry and care for himself. In like manner, Paul counsels us, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3) Self-love keeps us bound to the things of this Earth and clouds our view of things that are heavenly and eternal. By embracing our death in Christ, we are freed from self-love and empowered to direct our mind, attention, and affections on things above.
The second step in overcoming self-hatred is learning to be loved. We all have a need to be loved by others. Self-love, no matter how great, can never fill this need. If we are to come to peace with who we are, then we will need to learn to experience love from others and, especially, from God. While the love of mankind is often fickle, the love of God is constant and eternal. Jesus declared his love for us when he said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9) Jesus came, not only to show us the way to the Father but to also reveal to us the love of the Father. Jesus replied to the Father, “I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26) If we are loved by God, then what need do we have for self-love? What more of love could be wanting when we have the eternal and infinite love of God?
For the love of God to be effective in our lives, it must be both experienced and believed. John says that “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.” (1 John 4:16) We need to experience the Love of God; to feel in a visceral way the reality of God’s love for us. However, as we grow in Christ, God often calls us to grow in our belief in his love. Times will come when we do not “feel” his love, but these are the times we need to learn to believe in his love. God’s love is real and powerful, even when we don’t feel it. We must come to a place where our enjoyment of God’s love is not dependent upon a feeling or an emotion but is grounded and sustained by our faith in God and his declaration of love over us.
Finally, to arrive at a sense where we can love ourselves, we must learn to love others. It is said of Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) The joy that was set before Jesus was the joy of seeing others come into the same relationship with the Father that he had. It was the joy of seeing many brethren reconciled to God and made sons and daughters of the Father. What enabled Jesus to endure difficult times was his focus on other people. His joy was not a joy that accrued to himself, but a joy in seeing others brought into peace and felicity with God. Self-love will always leave us lacking. However, if we learn to be other-focused, learn to love others rather than ourselves, then we will find the love we seek for ourselves and our desire for emotional fulfillment will become complete. Paul reminds us that, “He who loves his own wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28) We can spend our whole life trying to love ourselves only to end up empty and distant from our goal. However, if, instead, we choose to love others, then that which we sought through self-love will be ours through our love for others. We all have a need to be loved, but we also have a need to love. When we learn to love others, then we will find the love we desire for ourselves.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
This is the forth part of a multi-part series. You can find the first part here, or the entire series here. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
How then can I love others?
The difficulty in loving others often comes from the limitedness of our own love. No matter how much love we try to whip up within ourselves, our love will always be limited and often conditional. Worse than that, for many, much of the love they do have has grown cold. Jesus foretold of these days saying, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12) How can we ever expect to have enough love to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us? I have come to realize that I will never have enough love within myself to attain to such a lofty goal.
Fortunately, we are not left to rely on our own love with which to love others. The secret to loving others is found in having the love of God reside within us. John tells us that, “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) If God, who is love, lives in us, then an unlimited and endless supply of love is already inside us, we just need to let it out. Jesus, speaking of his love for us, said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9) Jesus could love us because the Father loved him. We can love others because Jesus loves us and dwells within us. When we abide in love and love abides in us, then we are free to love others, irrespective of how we love ourselves. In fact, often it is our love for ourselves that gets in the way of loving others.
Jesus reminded us of the greatness of his love, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13) Having the love of God within us give us the capacity to love others, but for this capacity to become active, we must die to ourselves. This includes dying to our own self-love. Loving ourselves limits our love for others. Sure, we don’t mind helping our friends move as long as it’s convenient for us, but what about laying down our lives and loving even when inconvenient or when such love requires a sacrifice of our own self-interests. To love others, we must be willing to die to ourselves. This is how our love turns from cold self-love to ardent God-like love.
More to come...
Sunday, June 25, 2017
This is the third part of a multi-part series. You can find the first part here, or the entire series here. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
What is wrong with self-love?Before we answer this question, we must clearly understand that nowhere in the scriptures are we commanded to love ourselves. Similarly, while we are told that “the Father loves the Son” (John 5:20) and that, as Jesus said of himself, “I love the Father,” (John 14:31) nowhere are we told that Jesus loved himself or that the Father loved himself. Furthermore, none of the apostles or any of the anti-Nicene writers ever spoke of our need to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor. The idea of the need to love ourselves before we can love others is completely foreign to the scriptures and the writings of the early church. In contrast to this idea, Paul describes the wickedness of the end of the age as a time when people will be lovers of self. “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4) The end times will be characterized by self-love that robs love from God and others. Even today we see myriads of people who love themselves to the exclusion of others and the pain and sin that proceeds from such self-love.
The problems with self-love are twofold. First, it focusses our intention inward rather than outward as Jesus commands us. Paul, speaking of many of the so-called “ministers” of his day, says, “they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:21) Self-love can cause us to become so self-absorbed in our own interests that we lose sight of the interests of Christ and others. Paul speaks of our need to break away from our own self-absorption and self-love to care about the needs and interests of others. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Our love is to be directed outwardly not inwardly. When love becomes self-focused, we not only lose sight of other people but we fail at the very command of God, the command to love others.
Secondly, when we believe that we can only love others to the same degree that we love ourselves, then we will never prefer others before ourselves or treat them above ourselves. As best we will treat them as we treat ourselves, but no greater. Paul writes to us saying, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” (Romans 12:10) To prefer one another over ourselves, we must first love them more than ourselves. This is the great call of God; to leave behind self-love and to embrace love for God and love for others.
More to come...
Saturday, June 24, 2017
This is the second part of a multi-part article. You can read the first post here or all posts here. Hope you enjoy this series.
What then did Jesus mean by, “as yourself”?This doctrine, that we must first love ourselves before we can love others, hinges on how we interpret the phrase, “as yourself.” Some interpret this to mean, “in the same way” or “to the same degree,” but is this the only plausible interpretation of this scripture? Is there another interpretation that is more plausible and in better keeping with the scriptures as a whole?
One other possible interpretation of this command by Jesus is that we should love others as if they were ourselves. In other words, we are not to love others in the same way, or to the same degree, as we love ourselves, but we are to love others as if they were ourselves. Loving others as ourselves would then mean to love them the way we would want to be loved or to love them as we would love ourselves.
This interpretation is more in line with the rest of Jesus’ teaching on how we ought to relate to other people. Consider Jesus’ words when he says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Here, the command is not to treat people to the same degree we treat ourselves, but rather to treat them the way we would want to be treated. If we interpret the command to love others in the same light by which we interpret this verse, then we see that Jesus is not saying that we should love others as we love ourselves, but that we should love them the way we would want to be loved. Note that here too, as well as in the scripture commanding us to love our neighbor, Jesus refers to treating others as we would have them treat us as being the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. Treating these two scriptures as being essentially the same command, we realize that Jesus is in no way intimating that we must first love ourselves before we can love others, simply that we should love and treat them in the same way we would want to be loved and treated. This seems to be the more plausible and natural interpretation of what Jesus meant by “as yourself.”
More to come...
Friday, June 23, 2017
This is the start of a new multi-post article. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on this popular topic. I hope this series is a blessing to you.
But did not Jesus tell me to love myself?There is a popular theology today that states that we can only love others to the degree to which we love ourselves. This theology is based upon the words of Jesus when, in quoting the Old Testament scripture (Leviticus 19:18), he says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) Some contend that, in saying we should love our neighbor as ourselves, Jesus was saying that we can only love others if we first love ourselves. They interpret the words of Jesus to mean that we ought to love others with the same degree and in the same way that we love ourselves. Therefore, if that is a true interpretation of Jesus’s words, then we must first love ourselves if we are ever going to love our neighbor according to the command of Christ.
While this message strikes a chord of comfort and hope for those who find within them self-loathing and self-hatred, we must ask ourselves if this is what Jesus really meant when he uttered these words? The answer to this question has great import to our lives and our relationships with those around us.
While, according to this particular scripture, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor “as ourselves,” (Leviticus 19:18) there are other places where Jesus simply commands us to love others without any reference to ourselves. In speaking of our enemies, Jesus commands us, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35) Here, Jesus commands us to love our enemies with no reference to how we love ourselves. Similarly, when it comes to loving others, John records Jesus’ command is simply, “This I command you, that you love one another,” (John 15:17) again with no reference to ourselves. Finally, when leaving us a new commandment to love one another, Jesus raises the bar from the command laid down by the Law, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) While the Old Testament tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, here we are told to love each other as Christ has loved us. Truly this is a much greater requirement that was previously stated by the Law.
Given the progression of the scriptures from loving our neighbor as ourselves, to loving our enemies with no qualifications, and to loving each other as Christ has loved us, we must ask ourselves if we have properly understood the scriptures when we interpret them to mean that we must first love ourselves before we can love our neighbor.
More to come...
Saturday, June 17, 2017
"Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4:1-3)Paul loved people. His love was not just for the church, but for the people of the church. Paul took no pride in structure, programs, or church size. His pride was in the people who were being transformed by the message of the Gospel. Paul' reward was not in his notoriety, but in seeing Christ formed in the lives he touched, Paul rejoiced not only in their changed life but also in the love they had one for another and for him. Far too often we appraise our spiritual lives by our accomplishments and our works instead of our relationships with others. It is of little account to have preached to thousands if we fail at forming Christian relationships one with another.
Paul, as he begins to close his letter, exhorts the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord. This Greek word means to remain stationary. The idea is that we might remain stationary in Christ, not moved by our circumstances, our fears, and our concerns. Not only can external concerns disturb us, but we can also be troubled by a need to prove ourselves or to justify ourselves by works and religion. God has called us to a place of peace; peace where we are confident in the love of God for us and our position in His kingdom. We are to stand in peace knowing that God loves us, that we are secure in His kingdom, and that no matter what comes our way, God is watching over us. It is only from this place of rest that we can find our purpose in God and move forward in those good works for which "God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)
Finally, Paul addresses and issue that arose between two godly saints; believers who had both labored and struggled for the Gospel. These two women had given much and yet, for some reason, they ended up sideways in their relationship with one another. We don't know why but it had come to the point where Paul felt that he needed to address the issue. While death and taxes are inevitable, so are offenses and, sometimes, we need the help of others to walk through a healing process with those by whom we have been offended. What is interesting here is that we begin to see the church at Philippi, not as simple a collection of individuals, but as a community of believers that were bound together by relationships, so much so, that the difficulty that existed between these two women was felt by the entire community. It is as Paul said, "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." (1 Corinthians 12:26) This is not to say that the church ought to be a group of meddling individuals but that as the Body of Christ we are called to do life together and, sometimes, that means helping one another through the difficulties of life. None of us are an island unto ourselves. We have been called into community; into the family of Christ.
Tuesday, May 09, 2017
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)The scriptures use many metaphors to describe our corporate relationship with each other and with the Lord. For example, to the Ephesians, Paul describes us as the "the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12) and Peter, in his letter, describes us as "a chosen race" (1 Peter 2:9) and "a royal priesthood." (1 Peter 2:9) Here, Paul refers to us as citizens of a heavenly kingdom. What is important to understand from these metaphors is that our life in Christ is not singular but corporate. We cannot separate our individual relationship with Christ from our corporate relationship with one another.
We presently live in a culture that views government as the supply of all we need. Many people look to government to provide cradle-to-grave care and protection for their lives. They have become dependents of the government rather than citizens of the commonwealth. Their participation in the union is only for what it can provide for them, not what they can provide back to the union. As citizens of God's kingdom, we must realize that it has become incumbent upon us to see, not only the rights and privileges of our citizenship, but also the duty that citizenship lays upon us. Our citizenship defines our duty towards God and each other. This is the same sense of duty which Paul refers to when he references the body of Christ, "the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:16) In our citizenship, we have a part to play in building up and strengthing the greater whole that is the holy nation of God.
Paul says that we are awaiting a savior from heaven. However, this ought to cause us to ask, "has he not already come? Was not Jesus our savior from heaven?" To understand this we must realize that salvation is a process that has a past, a present, and a future. Our initial salvation comes when we repent, believe the Gospel, and receive Jesus as our savior. At that moment, we are born from above and our spirit is made alive unto God. We are brought into relationship with God through the forgiveness and reconciliation of Christ. Next, God works in our lives to bring transformation in our souls. This saving work transforms our minds and teaches us new patterns of thinking and behaving, We learn to leave behind the past and to grow into the people we were created to be, Finally, one day, Jesus will return and save our physical bodies. Paul refers to this as our adoption. "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23) One day, we will be done with these weak and temptable bodies and will receive a glorified and heavenly body just as Jesus did in his death and resurrection. Our glorified bodies will bo longer be subject to death, disease, want, and physical limitation. In that day, our salvation will be complete and we will have come to realize the hope that, "we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
It is through God's power that this transformation of our bodies will take place. In other places, Paul describes this power as that which raised Jesus from the dead. However, here he describes it as that power that is able to bring all things into submission unto himself. This should cause us to consider, "what are those things that are holding us back? What are those things that are hindering and oppressing us? What are those things that are keeping us from fulfilling our new life in Christ?" Whatever they may be, they must all come into submission before the ultimate power of God. In that day, when our salvation is brought to completion, there will be nothing to stand in our way or to hinder us from our final adoption as sons and daughter of Christ. All our enemies will be subdued, all our demons vanquished, and all that oppose us will be silenced. In the end, there will only be victory and the victory will be God's.
Sunday, May 07, 2017
"Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things." (Philippians 3:17-19)There is a difference between imitation and emulation. Imitation attempts to arrive at an exact copy of someone else while emulation seeks to achieve what someone else has achieved and to surpass it. We are not called to imitate other people. We frustrate the destiny of our lives when we try to live other peoples' destinies. As long as we are trying to be a copy of someone else, we will never become the person we are called to be. How often do we say to ourselves, "I wish I was like that person? I wish I had their gifts and talents? I wish I could minister like them?" However, when we think this way, we end up striving to be who we are not and loose the joy of finding out who God created us to be. We not only rob ourselves of the joy of being ourselves, but the world loses the benefit that comes from the uniqueness with which God has created us. We cannot be someone else, we must be ourselves.
Having said this, there can be value in emulating other people. The difference is that we are not trying to be them but rather trying to learn what they have learned, trying to understand what they have understood, and trying to decern the patterns that they have employed to make them successful in their endeavors. For example, if you are looking to strengthen your marriage, then it is prudent to look to emulate the patterns and wisdom employed by those whose marriage you would like to emulate. You're not trying to be them, but you recognize that they have found things that work and which may also work for you in growing your marriage. In the context of Paul's letter, he is saying, take note of those who have the faith and character which you desire for yourselves and follow their pattern of life. If we pattern our life after the world, then we will be like the world, but if we pattern our lives after those whose faith is exemplary, then we too will come to have exemplary faith and will become patterns for others to follow.
To this end, Paul describes those who are the antithesis of who we are to become. Here Paul speaks of those who are enemies of the cross. Perhaps a better translation of this Greek word would be haters of the cross. The intent of the Greek word is not so much that they are antagonistic against the cross as it is that they the hate it. They are not out to destroy the cross, but they reject its influence in their lives. Paul describes four characteristics of such people, of which, we will look at each in reverse order.
First, they set their minds on early things. Their lives are spent on the here and now, They have no interest or concern about anything transcendent, anything eternal, and anything relating to God or his Kingdom. Their lives are lived for themselves and their present wants and desires. They take no thought of God or of anyone else's need. Their needs reign supreme and it is after those needs that they earnestly seek.
Secondly, they glory in their shame. It seems tragic to me that we live in a time that glorifies, rewards, and congratulates those who sin has become public; whose sin we used to consider sinful and shameful. When people come forward with their open shame, we laud them as courageous and examples for others to follow. Is there any sin left for which our culture has not set about to exalt and to erase the shame of its stain? We live in a world that wants to throw off all vestiges of guilt, not realizing that the reason we often fell guilty is because we truly are guilty.
Thirdly, their god is their belly. Their only thought is for themselves. They are driven by their needs and desires. They lack the kind of self-control that would allow them to see others and the appetites that are higher than our flesh, such as an appetite for righteousness, goodness, and love. They know nothing of serving others. They serve only those things that serve themselves. They are truly lovers of self and lovers of nothing and no one else. Theirs is a lonely existence of self-indulgence.
Finally, their end is destruction. This destruction is not only and end in their life, but a daily process of corruption and decay brought about by their self-absorption in themselves. Not only will they one day find themselves in eternal destruction, but they live that destruction every day. Just as our resurrection is both future and an everyday reality, so is their destruction. Herein, is the key to discerning those lives we wish to pattern our own after, are they living a life of daily resurrection or are they living in daily corruption? Those whose life reflects the present and future reality of resurrection ought to be those lives we seek to emulate and the life we chose to live each and every day for ourselves. In the end, our emulation ought to produce in us a life that may also be emulated by others.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
"Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained." (Philippians 3:15-16)One of the occupational hazards of being a teacher is the feeling that you have to always correct people when they are wrong, or at least wrong in your estimation of what is right. The same can be said for anyone who is an expert in their field; the sense that it is your responsibility to make sure everyone sees truth and the world as you see it. Paul faced this same temptation. He had received the Gospel directly from Jesus and he was called to preach the Gospel with authority, an authority that was his as an apostle. However, not everyone received his authority or accepted his teaching as truth and as a certainty. There were some that believed differently and were not wholeheartedly convinced of what Paul was saying. How was Paul, and us, to respond to such people?
While I would have pressed harder to make them understand my position and to convince them of their error, Paul was content to leave them in God's hands; to let Him teach them what they needed to know. One time, while in worship, I heard the Lord say to me, "Let me pastor my people first." What I understood God to say was that we should not be quick to interject ourselves into other people's life with Christ. If we are a pastor, we should remember that God is their pastor first. If we are a teacher, we should remember that God is their teacher first. It is hard to see people "missing the mark" and not want to immediately jump in and try to "help" them or to correct them in whatever way we can. Sometimes it is better to back off and let God work in their lives rather than always seeing it as our responsibility to fix things in other people. Paul was content to trust God and he trusted God more than he trusted himself. He knew that God was far better able to even correct people's misunderstandings and errors than he was and that it was better to leave them in God's hands rather than his hands. There is a time to step in, but there is also a time to live and let live.
Sometimes, the one we are always trying to correct is ourselves. We become so absorbed in what we don't know or on what we might be missing that we forget to live by what we do know and understand. This does not mean that we should look down on study, searching out truth, or striving to grow and attain to the more that is in Christ, but we must not do these things in a way as to miss living in the here and now. Paul reminds us to live and continue in the revelation and understanding we have now; to continue in what we have already attained while trusting God to lead us into new revelation and new attainments in His own timing. Life is meant to be lived, not fretted over by what we might not know or what we have not attained. Live where you are now, and trust God for your future,