Home Pastors Should We Pursue Self-Love?

Should We Pursue Self-Love?

Often a long list begins with an overriding or summary attribute. For instance, Galatians 5 says “the fruit of the spirit is love,” which is followed by those familiar attributes that flow out of love. The 2 Timothy 3 passage suggests that when people are lovers of themselves the results are predictable. (Read back through the list and ask yourself if these things have decreased or increased in society as a result of the modern concept that “putting myself first is a virtue.”)

Our True Self-Interest

I have heard people say that to grow closer to God (God-love) and get involved in ministry (neighbor-love) they first have to learn to love themselves (self-love). Not only is this making a non-commandment into the first commandment, it is also neglecting the fact that the proper sense of “feeling good about ourselves” develops precisely as we obey God and do what He has made us to do—love Him and love others. To wait until we stop feeling bad about ourselves before we go on to love God and others is like waiting until we stop being hungry before we go get something to eat.

We would do better to teach that to live for God’s glory will bring about our own ultimate good. We will experience eternal reward for loving God and loving our neighbor. To obey God is always in our ultimate self-interest. In a universe where God sets up the rules, what is right is also smart.

Happiness is found in discovering what’s truly in our self-interest: loving God and our neighbor. This profound, paradigm-shifting concept, understood correctly, makes the false dichotomy obvious in the question, “Should I serve others, or should I act in my own best interests?” The answer is that loving others is God’s design for me and command to me, and all that He wants me to do, including personal sacrifices, is ultimately in my best interests. That’s true often in the present (what’s more personally satisfying than loving people?). But it is always true in eternity, since it pleases a God who says He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Too often “loving yourself” means putting ourselves first here and now for what we perceive to be our own good, neglecting the pursuit of God, and neglecting to sacrifice for the good of our neighbor because in the words of the pastor who endorsed a “Christian” self-love book, “we are the most important person in our lives.”

Don’t get me wrong. I want to emphasize that rejecting the obsessive focus on ourselves and loving ourselves does not mean at all that we shouldn’t take good care of ourselves. On the contrary, we are to steward carefully the bodies, minds, and souls that God has entrusted to us. With a proper Christ-centered focus, self-care can be a Christ-honoring, others-benefiting, and wise part of the Christian life. So there are some forms of what could be called “self-love” that are necessary and helpful, but other forms that are sinful and harmful.

Thinking of Ourselves Rightly

Romans 12:3 warns us, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” For the Christian, “sober judgment” includes seeing ourselves as dead to sin and alive to Christ, loved and transformed by God, members of a new kingdom, with a future of reigning with Christ in Heaven. But notice the major warning is not “Don’t think less of yourself than you should,” but exactly the opposite—“Don’t think more of yourself than you should.” The psychological model says we don’t love ourselves enough. The biblical model suggests we love ourselves too much, which manifests itself in selfishness.

We do no good for ourselves or anyone else by spending our lives in self-loathing, imagining we are not only sinners—which indeed we are—but irredeemable sinners, which we are not. Paul says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV). Jesus came to redeem us and desires to do a beautiful work of grace in our lives, one in which the fruit of the Spirit is increasingly evident.