Friday, June 30, 2017

Love yourself? But I hate myself

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.

David Robison

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Love yourself? How can I love others?

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...
David Robison

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Love yourself? What's wrong with that?

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...
David Robison

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Love yourself? What did Jesus mean?

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...
David Robison

Friday, June 23, 2017

Love yourself? An introduction

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...
David Robison

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Live in harmony - Philippians 4:1-3

"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.

David Robison