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...