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

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