We often hear the terms “self-love” and “self-care” in society today. According to merriam-webster.com, self-love is “an appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue and proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness or well-being.” Psychologists use these terms when offering help to people who struggle with depression and self-loathing. Self-love includes taking care of your body and other healthy habits of caring for your mind and soul.
There are, of course, unhealthy applications to these ideas of self-love and self-care. Narcissists will distort what psychologists teach to further focus on themselves at the expense of others. Advertisers use this language to get you to buy their products “because you deserve it.” Sometimes sound advice gets taken to the extreme: “If someone makes you upset, you need to cut them out of your life.” These examples are not self-love; rather, they cater to our selfishness.
Reactions to these selfish examples lead to another unhealthy understanding of self-love. By allowing narcissists to define what self-love is, many Christians then determine that self-love, self-esteem and self-care are not biblical concepts. In looking up information on what Jesus really meant when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” most of what I read in both English and Spanish echoed what I heard and understood growing up: Loving yourself is selfish and prideful. You should never think about yourself and your own needs. Your attention should always be given to loving God and others. Some of the articles suggested that while self-love isn’t evil per se, it’s an inherently understood concept so there is no need to teach it.
We should not allow narcissists to define what self-love is; for they are not loving themselves at all. They are self-seeking and will abuse others to get their way. When we allow their behavior to be the definition of self-love, our theology becomes distorted. We then teach that self-love is evil, and those who have suffered abuse, often at the expense of narcissists, will struggle even more with depression and self-hate, because they have been conditioned to never consider themselves. They have been fed lies that they are selfish and that everything is their fault; so they will continue to deny themselves further in order to try to please God and others. They essentially become non-existent.
This application of Jesus’ command does no one a favor. When sin came into the world, three relationships were broken: our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and our relationship with ourselves. Because of sin, we cannot intrinsically know how to restore any of these relationships; and we will live out distorted versions of them until we intentionally learn the truth of what God says.
Jesus says, “Love your neighbor AS yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). No more, no less. There needs to be balance. In fact, if we do not know how to properly love and care for ourselves, we will not know how to do the same for others.
Jesus’ summary of the law is quoted throughout Scriptures. James 2:8-9 says, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” We aren’t to show favoritism, not towards ourselves, nor towards others—there needs to be balance in all our relationships.
Romans 13:8-10 says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments…are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Love does no harm. This is a good calibrator: if we love ourselves and others correctly, we will not harm ourselves or others.
So what does God’s word say about self-love? How do we find balance in these relationships? Join me over the next several weeks as I post articles on this topic.