If you love your soul, there is danger of its being destroyed. Therefore you may not love it, since you do not want it to be destroyed. But in not wanting it to be destroyed you love it.
God, harden me against myself!
I suspect that the one reason why the Bible does not foster self-love and self-esteem in the fashion of several strands of popular psychology is because God, unlike popular psychologists, is infinitely aware of the danger of fueling idolatry. The first temptation was the temptation to de-god God and turn self into god. Appeals to self-love and self-esteem, even at their best and even when well-intentioned, can never be far from that danger. Far better to seek the powerful remedies of the gospel.
Love and the Intoxication of the Diligent Routine by D.A. Carson taken from Love in the Hard Places by D.A. Carson, 2002, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org. Page 189.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves – and that standard of comparison, as ourselves, is often taken as an implicit command to love ourselves. On this view, the wording not only permits self-love but commands it; it not only sanctions self-esteem but reinforces its importance. On the face of it, however, self-love in Mark 12 is merely presupposed, not advocated. To read much of the contemporary literature, evangelical and otherwise, on self-esteem is to inhabit a domain a long way removed from the second great commandment.
Love and the Intoxication of the Diligent Routine by D.A. Carson taken from Love in the Hard Places by D.A. Carson, 2002, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org. Page 188.
The sinful emotions are stirred most deeply by self-love.
The Shadow of the Cross – Studies in Self-Denial, 1981, p. 11-12, by permission Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA.
As Christ struggled up Calvary’s hill and bled upon it, His aim was to eradicate self-love and implant the love of God in the hearts of men. One can only increase as the other decreases.
The Shadow of the Cross – Studies in Self-Denial, 1981, p. 14, by permission Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA.
When we believe that we ought to be satisfied, rather than God glorified, we set God below ourselves, imagine that He should submit His own honor to our advantage; we make ourselves more glorious than God, as though we were not made for Him, but He made for us; this is to have a very low esteem of the majesty of God.
To pretend a homage to God, and intend only the advantage of self, is rather to mock Him than worship Him. When we believe that we ought to be satisfied [in selfish pursuits], rather than God glorified, we set God below ourselves. [When we] imagine that He should submit His own honor to our advantage we make ourselves more glorious than God.
Spiritual emotions result in Christian practice because their object is the loveliness of spiritual things, not our self-interest. People have a defective Christianity because they are seeking their own interests in it, not God’s. So they accept Christianity only to the extent that they think it serves their interests. By contrast, a person who accepts it for its own excellent and lovely nature, accepts everything which has that nature.
What is the surest character of true, divine, supernatural love that distinguishes it from counterfeits that arise from a natural self-love? It is the Christian virtue of humility that shines in it. Divine love above all others renounces and abases what we term “self.” Christian love or true love is a humble love… In that person we see a sense of his own smallness, vileness, weakness, and utter insufficiency. We see a lack of self-confidence. We see self-emptiness, self-denial, and poverty of spirit. These are the manifest tokens of the Spirit of God.
Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, 1741. Modern language courtesy of Archie Parrish, The Spirit of Revival, Crossway Books, 2000, p. 99.
It is not by telling people about ourselves that we demonstrate our Christianity. Words are cheap. It is by costly, self-denying Christian practice that we show the reality of our faith.
Real Christians do not first see that God loves them, and later on find out that He is lovely. They first see that God is lovely, that Christ is excellent and glorious. Their hearts are captivated by this view of God, and their love for God arises chiefly from this view. True love begins with God and loves Him for His own sake. Self-love begins with self, and loves God in the interests of self.
Again, self-love can produce a love for God through a lack of conviction of sin. Some people have no sense of the vileness of sin, and no sense of God’s infinite and holy opposition to it. They think God has no higher standards than they have! So they get on well with him and feel a sort of love for him, but they are loving an imaginary God, not the real God. Then there are others whose self-love produces a sort of love for God simply because of the material blessings they have received from His providence. There is nothing spiritual in this either!
Self-love can produce a merely natural gratitude to God. This can happen through wrong ideas about God, as if He were all love and mercy, and no avenging justice, or as if God were bound to love a person because of the person’s worthiness. On these grounds men may love a God of their own imaginations, when they have no love at all for the true God.
The spiritual beauty of the Father and the Savior seemed to engross my whole mind; and it was the instinctive feeling of my heart, “Thou art; and there is none beside Thee.” I never felt such an entire emptiness of self-love or any regard to any private, selfish interest of my own. It seemed to me that I had entirely done with myself. I felt that the opinions of the world concerning me were nothing, and that I had no more to do with any outward interest of my own than with that of a person whom I never saw. The glory of God seemed to be all, and in all, and to swallow up every wish and desire of my heart.
Quoted in: Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Knowing God by Sam Storms, © 2000, p. 114. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved.
A Christian man who loves himself is a victim of the “I,” “me” and “mine” syndrome. He is self-involved and self-orientated. His needs are central in all that he does. He is driven by self-interest. In short, he is selfish.
The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz, Copyright 1995, p. 226, Gospel Light/Regal Books, Ventura, CA 93003. Used by Permission. Get this book!
The Bible presupposes a love of self, a desire to experience pleasure and avoid pain, as inherent in the human makeup and as the ground of ethical imperatives. For example, loving ourselves is often used as a criterion in Scripture for the love of others (Mt. 19:19; Eph. 5:28). It is an assumed fact that we do love ourselves, and it is not evil to do so if it is done rightly… Thus Christianity, far from denigrating human worth, actually presupposes it in some of its fundamental teachings. Yet something has tragically blighted and twisted love of self into a gross perversion of God’s intent for His creatures. The fall of the human race into sin caused love of self to become mere selfishness. What was lost was a focus outside the self – that is, a love of God that gave it control and benevolence.
Never before, not even in the medieval church, have Christians been so obsessed with themselves. Never before have people entertained such grandiose notions about humans and such puny views of God.
The essence of man’s sin, the sum of his moral depravity, is to love himself supremely; to seek himself finally and exclusively; to make self, in one shape or another, the center to which all his busy thoughts, anxious cares and diligent pursuits, constantly tend. Self-love is the most active and reigning principle in fallen nature! SELF is the great idol which mankind is naturally disposed to worship… "Love is not self-seeking" (1 Cor. 13:5).
The cross ultimately points not to the greatness of our worth but to the greatness of our sin… The cross sets us free from the misguided self-love to passionately love the One who redeemed us.
Worship Matters, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, 2008, p. 78. Get this book!
Jesus consistently tied together self-denial and the cross. The call of God into the Christian life is a call to self-denial. The cross – self-denial – is the path of every Christian. The antithesis of the cross is self-love. Therefore, self-love is classified as a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6), opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (David Tyler).
The Gospel of Self-Esteem – Are We Really Better than We Think? The Quarterly Journal, v. 24, n. 1.
Seeking mortification of sin just to quiet the soul and find relief from the torment of the conscience, all the while neglecting to deal with the root cause of sin, is a result of self-love. Men are diverted from coming to God this way. This is of the most common deception in which men ruin their souls. They seek to apply themselves to victory over the troubling sin but do not allow their conviction to lead them to the gospel. They perish in their “reformation”.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” does not command, but rather presupposes, self-love. All human beings love themselves. Furthermore, the self-love Jesus speaks of has nothing to do with the common notion of self-esteem. It does not mean having a good self-image or feeling especially happy with oneself. It means simply desiring and seeking one’s own good.
There is a lot of confusion today about the self-love referred to in this verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). The most common error is to assume that this is a command to loveyourself and that self-love means self-esteem. Both of these assumptions are wrong. Paul and Moses (Lev. 19:18) and Jesus (Lk. 10:27) assume that all people love themselves; they don’t command it: “You shall love your neighbor as you (already) love yourself.” And the self-love they assume is not self-esteem but self-interest: all people want to be happy, even if they often don’t know what will really make them happy.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to take your natural, already existing love of self and make it the measuring rod of your love for others. There is not a harder command in the Bible than this one. It means: Want to feed the hungry as much as you want to feed yourself when you get hungry. It means: Want to find your neighbor a job as much as you are glad you have a job. Want to help your fellow student get A’s as much as you want to get A’s. Want to help the person stalled on the freeway as much as you are glad you are not stalled on the freeway. Want to give the poor softball player a chance to play as much as you want to play the whole game. Want to share Christ with your neighbor as much as you are glad you know Christ yourself.
The twentieth century was the century of the self. Almost all virtues, especially love, were reinterpreted to put the self at the center. This means that almost all people are saturated and shaped with the conviction that the essence of being loved as a human is being treasured or esteemed. That is, you love me to the degree that your act of treasuring terminates on me… If they ask, “Do you treasure me or do you treasure Christ?” I answer, “I treasure Christ, and, desiring to treasure Him more, I treasure your treasuring Christ.” Without the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit removing human self from the center, this will not satisfy American people. They are so saturated with self-oriented love that they can scarcely conceive what true Christian love is. True Christian love is not my making much of them, but my helping them to enjoy making much of God. This is love. If my treasuring terminates on them I play right into the hands of the devil and their own self-centered destruction. But if my treasuring terminates on God and their treasuring God, then I direct them to the one source of all joy. And that act of directing them to God, their hope and life and joy, is what love is.
But Pastor, doesn’t the verse teach that I am to love myself? Doesn’t it say to love your neighbor “as yourself?” Yes it does. So shouldn’t we then teach, as many secularists do that we cannot love others until we learn to first love ourselves? Answer: no. Because everything about the Christian faith is a death to self. 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love “does not seek its own.” There is nothing supernatural about loving yourself. Jesus Christ did not deny Himself and give up Himself to make us learn to love ourselves more. He died because we already love ourselves too much! We are experts at putting ourselves first. Ephesians 5:29, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” So this is not a command for self-love. This is an assumption that we already love ourselves (not of which all is evil) and the way we love ourselves already is to be the example of how we are to love others.
Do you know why the promotion of self-love is not stated in the Bible? Because it’s not wholesome and because we already do it! Look at verse 29 of Ephesians 5. “For no one ever hated his own flesh.” There you go, right from the Bible. “No one ever hated his own flesh.” We all already love ourselves. We, verse 29, “nourish and cherish” our bodies. We all think of ourselves more that we think of others. We all pursue what’s in our best interest, even if it means, the crazy belief that we’ll be happier if we take our own lives to the pain of all those who love us.
There is nothing supernatural about loving yourself. Jesus Christ did not deny Himself and give up Himself to make us learn to love ourselves more. He needed to die because we already love ourselves too much! We are experts at putting ourselves first. And those who do it the best are usually the unhappiest. Jesus died that we might be forgiven from our idolatrous self-love find our identity in Him, an identity of true joy, purpose and satisfaction.
If you truly love your “self” (and all of us do), take your eyes off “self” and do your “self” as favor: “Look at Me, says the Lord. The state and condition and circumstances of your soul will change for the good only to the degree that you make My glory the object of your obsession.”
One Thing, Christian Focus, © Enjoying God Ministries, 2004, p. 86, www.enjoyinggodministries.com. Used by Permission.
Self-love vitiates all relationships. Diotrephes (3 John 9-10) slandered (the Apostle) John, cold-shouldered the missionaries and excommunicated loyal believers – all because he loved himself and wanted to have pre-eminence. Personal vanity still lies at the root of most dissensions in every local church today.
In the Bible, self-love as such is seen to be a sinful thing. After all, what is the essence of sin but that we are curved in on ourselves, placing self, rather than God, at the center of the universe. And so Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, tells us that one of the hallmarks of the last days is that people will be “lovers of themselves” instead of “lovers of God,” and that is precisely where we are in our society today.
The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal, how can you hope to find inward peace.
Pastors of many growing churches preach almost weekly about healthy self-esteem, as if it were taught on every page of Scripture. Too many Christians never see that self-love comes out of a culture that prizes the individual over the community and then reads that basic principle into the pages of Scripture. The Bible, however, rightly understood, asks the question, “Why are you so concerned about yourself?” Furthermore, it indicates that our culture’s proposed cure – increased self-love – is actually the disease. If we fail to recognize the reality and depth of our sin problem, God will become less important, and people will become more important.
When People are Big and God is Small, P&R Publishing, 1997, p. 81. Used by Permission. Get this book!
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 19:19) is considered the biblical proof text (for those who need one). When interpreted through cultural spectacles, this verse means that we must love ourselves in order to love other people. But in reality the passage doesn’t even suggest such an interpretation. Jesus spoke of these words to rich young man who clearly loved himself and his possessions too much. There is only one command in the passage, and it is “love your neighbor.” Nobody, including the writers of Scripture, could have dreamed that this passage taught self-love. It took some cultural changes to reinterpret it and turn our eyes inward.
When People are Big and God is Small, P&R Publishing, 1997, p. 80. Get this book!