Have you heard someone quote verse 39 of this passage and then say something like, “How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t love yourself?”
35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40 NASB)
It’s hard for me to imagine a more effective way to strip this passage of its truth and replace it with a lie. It takes the focus off of God or even our neighbor and puts it right back on us. Do we really thing that Jesus is advocating self-love here, or is He acknowledging a reality. We don’t need any help to love ourselves.
I believe that the Bible is completely and absolutely true, but there are some passages I stumble over. This one from Ephesians 5:29 has been one of them.
“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,”
I suppose a little word investigation is called for to understand more completely what is being said here, and I should point out that the context is the love a husband is to have for his wife. I stumble over the passage because of its usage of “ever” a word that is rarely appropriate in such a context. Yet it must be appropriate here. I find no alternate translation. So, knowing of people who seem to hate themselves and experiencing a bit of that in my own life, what can I make of this? Putting aside questions of mental illness or even demonic influence, what does it mean?
A couple of years ago I read something that helped me to gain a new perspective. To put it succinctly, self-hatred is really an expression of self-absorption. We do love ourselves. What we really hate are those things that detract from the way we want ourselves to be. There may be room for that much, provided that what we hate is also what God hates, but that’s different. It is motivated by our love for Him instead of love for ourselves.
If there is a place for self-love, it is in the context of God’s love for us. It is in recognizing that we are each unique and beloved creations. How dare we despise that which He has called good! It is acknowledgement of who we are based on who He is. See how the focus shifts? It is about him and not about us.
Now consider again what Jesus said. How is it that we usually love ourselves? We are the center of our universe. Even if we realize the error of this view, we still fight it. We must constantly make decisions to be unselfish. Selfishness comes without effort. Jesus says that we are to put that same kind of attention on our neighbor. I think that what Paul says in Ephesians takes it to an even deeper level with regard to marriage.
If I dare to paraphrase Jesus, He said, “Love God with everything you have and everything you are. Give the same attention to loving your neighbor as you do to loving yourself.” He says these two are alike. God loves them, and so we love God by loving them.
I don’t think I know anyone who is completely happy with who he or she is. Even the most arrogant among us know the truth in their hearts. Often they are the ones who know it best. We’re flawed because of sin. We should always be working to conform our character to God’s. There are things about ourselves we ought to hate, but the key to making them right is not to focus on ourselves. If we are focused on loving God and loving others, we’ll come to see two things. First, those characteristics within ourselves that are truly flaws will be corrected as we walk more closely with the Holy Spirit. Then, we’ll begin to see that those other flaws really don’t matter or are not flaws at all. Never be ashamed of the way God made you. Thank Him instead for loving you that much. Ask Him how you can share what He has given you.