The Lowdown On Love
by Stephanie Olson, Set Me Free Ministries Co-founder
I have something on my heart that may rock a few worlds. Okay, that sounds a bit dramatic, but when I first began to study the subject, it certainly rocked mine a bit. What could possibly have that kind of effect you ask? It is the topic of love, or loving ourselves, to be more specific.
A couple of days ago I came across a Christian ministry leader on Facebook who quoted a big name in the New Age Movement. The quote was on love and quite contrary to biblical truth. I was disappointed with the quote, because our job as followers of Christ is to point people to Jesus. When we quote spiritual leaders who point people away from the Jesus of the Bible, we are essentially pointing people away from Him ourselves.
But, what struck me further was something she said after the quote. She stated that the greatest commandment next to loving God is loving ourselves. Not loving others, but loving ourselves. The Scripture in Mark she was referring to reads: “'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12:30-31)
Now, I don’t share this to disparage another ministry leader, but I share this to bring up a topic that I believe we in America have gotten very confused on–the topic of loving ourselves. What does that mean, and what does the Bible say about that?
Let’s start with the above Scripture. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” First of all, Jesus isn’t telling us that loving ourselves is the greatest commandment next to loving God but that loving others is the greatest commandment next to loving God. We are called to love others. But, then He goes on to say that we are to love them as we love ourselves. What does that mean? Well, in this context God is commanding us to have an “agape” (or, in the Greek,agapaō) love for our neighbors. That is a love that is less about feelings and more about dedicating ourselves to looking out and caring for our neighbors as we would (and do) look out for ourselves.
Second, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is where we have some difficulty. The word implies we already love ourselves. And that’s where we have been deceived for so long. Let’s take a closer look at this; don’t we really “agape” ourselves? We look out for ourselves. We make sure we are taken care of. Even those of us who have “low self-esteem” are a bit consumed with ourselves, aren’t we? What does the Bible say about loving ourselves? What does the Bible say about who we are in the natural?
“There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” (Romans 7:18)
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Did you notice that last Scripture? “For men will be lovers of themselves … and from such people turn away!” And here’s where we have been misled. We have been told that we need to have self-esteem, self-confidence, self-love, and a positive self-image, and yet, in front of all of those words is the word self. The only time the Bible talks about self is when it’s talking about self-sacrifice and self-control. Our focus isn’t to be on self. Our focus is to be on Jesus.
It’s important to recognize who we are. We are unworthy, lowly sinners who will experience the wrath of God without a Savior. But, Praise God! We have a Savior! And when we see ourselves through His eyes, everything changes! Let’s look at Ephesians 1:3-6. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
Do you grasp what that Scripture is saying? If you are in relationship with Jesus Christ, if you have accepted Christ as the Lord of your life, when God the Father looks at you, He sees Christ! He blesses you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, and when He sees you, He sees you with no fault! He sees you without blame! He sees you as holy! And then, because He loves you, He adopted you into His own family! And it gave Him great pleasure because He loves you! He loves us!
And when we are loved with that kind of love, His love flows through us. When we keep our focus on Christ, we can’t help but see ourselves the way Jesus Christ sees us. It’s not how we see ourselves, but it’s how He sees us!
We can’t allow the lies of society to skew our focus. We can’t get caught up in the lie that we have to love ourselves, or we can’t love others. It’s not about loving ourselves; it’s all about loving Jesus and Him loving you! What’s love got to do with it? Well, when it’s His love, everything! Praise God! We are loved!