Is it selfish to love one’s self?

29 The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

We see in Mark 12 rising tensions between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. After Jesus told a parable of the wicked vinedressers to show how evil Israel’s current leaders were (12:1-12), the religious leaders attacked His teaching three times in an attempt to destroy His credibility and popularity (12:13-34). They first questioned Him about the poll tax (12:13-17), the resurrection (12:18-27), and then the greatest commandment (12:28-34).  

When a scribe asked Jesus “which is the first (foremost) commandment?” of the 613 commands in the Mosaic Law (12:28), I was deeply touched by Jesus’ response. Christ focused on cultivating a love relationship with God, ourselves, and others. He said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (12:29). The word “hear” means to listen or pay attention. God is saying to us, “Stop what you are doing and hear what I have  to say to you!” This love relationship begins with listening to what God has to say.

Some of us are so busy with life we do not know what it means to be still and hear what God has to say to us in His Word. We cannot cultivate a love relationship with anyone if we do not take time to listen to them. This is true in our marriages, families, friendships, and especially in our relationship with the Lord. When was the last time you asked the Lord what He wanted to say to you? God will not force His way in to our lives. He waits for an invitation to come to us and speak to us (cf. James 4:8). We cannot love God if we do not receive His love for us first. “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). We cannot give what we do not possess.

In verse 29, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4 when Moses was preparing the next generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land. The Triune God of Israel (“Us” – Gen. 1:26: Father, Deut. 32:6; Son, Psalm 2:6-7; Spirit, Gen. 1:2) is “one” in essence unlike the polytheistic pagan gods of Canaan. Or another translation of verse 29 reads, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone is the only one.”  The Lord God of Israel was to be the sole object of Israel’s worship and love.

When we have received (“hear”) God’s love for us, we can then love Him with all our “heart” (emotions), all our “soul” (self-conscious thought life), all our “mind” (thoughts), and with all our “strength” (energy). The Lord is worthy of receiving the very best that we have to give to Him. If someone or something other than God is receiving our very best, then we have set up an idol in place of God.   

Jesus does not stop here. The scribe had asked for the greatest “commandment,” but Jesus gives him a “second” commandment which flows from the first. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (12:31; Leviticus 19:18). The word “neighbor” (plesion) refers to “one nearby.” Our neighbor could be our spouse, children, someone living next door or across the street, a coworker sitting across the aisle, a friend, a church member, etc. What is the standard by which we are to love our “neighbor”? We are to love him or her as we love ourselves.

I have heard sermons on this verse which say it is selfish or sinful to love yourself. But is it sinful to obey Christ’s command here which assumes that you love yourself? Why would Jesus say to love your neighbor as yourself if it is wrong to love yourself? Why would the New Testament quote this verse (cf. Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8) originally found in Leviticus 19:18 more than any other Old Testament verse if it is wrong to love yourself! This makes no sense!

I would propose that many Christians love their neighbor more than they love themselves. For example, do you talk to your neighbor the way you to talk to yourself when you make a mistake? You might say to yourself, “you can’t do anything right” or “you are such an idiot” when you spill the milk at the table or lock your keys in the car. But would you say that to your neighbor? Not likely. Why do we treat ourselves which such contempt? Whose voice is this that berates us? You might say it is the voice of a perfectionistic parent or preacher. But I think Jesus would say it is the voice of the evil one (cf. Ephes. 6:12; Rev. 12:9-10) who inserts these shame-based lies into our brains when we are wounded by a parent or preacher or some other authority figure.

Some Christian leaders refer to Jesus’ discipleship teachings to promote self-hatred or abuse. When Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), I have heard some believers teach that self denial means to deny yourself the kindness and love Christ wants you to show to others. But “what” is it Jesus wants us to deny ourselves that keeps us from following Him? I believe one thing that keeps us from following Jesus are shame-based lies that say, “Jesus could never love you for who you are” or “you are not worthy to follow Jesus.” Like Jesus, we are to “despise the shame” (Heb. 12:2) that keeps us from enduring the cross we are to bear in our own lives for the Lord.   

The command “love your neighbor as yourself” assumes that we love ourselves. Isn’t this what the apostle Paul taught when he wrote, “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For one one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephes. 5:28-29)!?! Look at what God is saying to us. No human being in his right mind “hated his own flesh.” Instead he “nourishes and cherishes it.” According to what standard? “As the Lord does the church.” We are to “nourish” (ektrephō = bring up to maturity) and “cherish” (thalpō = warm someone up by nurturing or tenderly caring for them) ourselves just as Christ nourishes and tenderly cares for His church.

When we neglect and/or condemn ourselves, we are failing to reflect Christ’s love for us as members of His church. The purpose of Christ’s love is to purify us and make us more like Him (Ephes. 5:25-27). So if I am loving myself as Christ loves the church, I am becoming more like Jesus Christ. If I am loving my neighbor as myself, I am helping them also to become more like the Savior.

In the diagram above, we see then that cultivating a love relationship with God begins with receiving (“hear”) His love for us so that it will flow over to others. As we receive His love, we learn to nourish and cherish ourselves as He does so we can become more like Him (I John 4:19). So living under God’s love and grace promotes growth (Rom. 6 & 8). Living under the Law or self-hatred, promotes defeat and death (Rom. 7). When we love ourselves Christ’s way, we can then love others with the love He has freely and unconditionally given to us to help them become more like Him (I John 4:20-21).

Conclusion: Is it selfish or sinful to love ourselves? Absolutely not because God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This involves receiving God’s love for us so we can nourish and cherish ourselves in a way that helps us to become more like Jesus. As we become more Christlike, we can then help others to do the same.  

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for being too busy to stop and listen to what You have to say to me. Sometimes I think I stay busy because I am so afraid to slow down and feel. Thank You for loving me even though I have turned to other things and/or people in my search for Your love. Right now I invite You to speak to me with Your voice of love and truth. Please replace the lies that keep me closed off from You with the truth that opens my whole being to You and Your love for me. I am totally loved by You, Lord Jesus. This warms and nurtures my soul. Forgive me for failing to love myself with Your love. So often I feel like a baby Christian because I have neglected to nourish and cherish myself as You have nourished and cherished me. Please show me how to love myself with Your love so I may love You above all else and my neighbor more fully so they along with me, may become more like You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Growing toward Christlikeness in God’s family

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.” I Peter 3:8

I read a story recently about an older lady who was impressed with the nice young man next door. He was extremely helpful to her raking her leaves, mowing her lawn, etc. One day she asked him, “Son, how did you become such a fine young man?” He replied, “It is all due to the fact that I had a drug problem when I was younger.” “Really!?!” the woman exclaimed. “Yeah,” the young man replied, “My parents drug me to church on Sunday morning, they drug me to church on Sunday nights, and they drug me to youth group on Wednesday nights.”

God wants the church to be a place where Christians become more Christlike in our dealings with one another. The apostle Peter speaks of this in I Peter 3:8. He begins by saying, “Finally, all of you…” This is something God wants for “all” believers in Jesus, not just some.

It is important to acknowledge that the church is not a building or a place. The church is a family of people who believe in Jesus Christ. However, being a part of a family can have many benefits and many challenges. Before we look at the benefits of being a member of God’s family, let me address some of the challenges.

The church is comprised of imperfect sinners who are saved by God’s grace. Just as earthly families can struggle to get along with one another, so can church families. There can be misunderstandings and conflict in a church. Personalities can clash with each other. People get their feelings hurt and hold grudges. Selfishness and stubbornness can keep people from growing spiritually.

There is a saying that summarizes these challenges well:

What a joy to love the saints above

When I get home to glory.

To love below, the saints I know,

Well, that’s another story!

The apostle Peter understood these challenges all too well. So he encourages his Christian readers who have been scattered across the Roman Empire (I Pet. 1:1) to obey Christ’s command to love one another as He had loved them (cf. John 13:34). He begins by saying, “Finally, all of you be of one mind.” The word “one mind” (homóphrōnes) means to be like-minded or have the same eternal perspective. Since all Christians are bound for heaven due to their faith in Christ, they are to have this same eternal perspective. This is not our final home. Heaven is our final destination and we are to live like citizens of heaven (cf. Philippians 3:20).

Secondly, we are to have “compassion for one another.” The word “compassion” (sympatheis) is where our English word “sympathy” comes from. This sympathy for one another stems from understanding one another. I cannot sympathize with you if I do not take time to listen to you and understand your needs.

As we listen to one another and understand one another, we will learn to “love as brothers.” The word translated “love as brothers” (philadelphoi) is where we get the word “Philadelphia.” The love God wants us to have toward other Christians is the affectionate love we find between members of a healthy family.

This kind of love is “tenderhearted” (eusplanchnoi) or merciful. Literally this word means to show “gut-level” empathy for others. We care for one another from the depth of our being. We put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and are able to be sensitive to their needs. Rather than make quick judgments about others, we take time to see life through their eyes. We are merciful to them, not merciless.

Lastly, Peter says to “be courteous.” This word (tapeinophrones) means to have a humble opinion of ourselves that is produced by comparing ourselves to the Lord rather than to the shortcomings of others. The more we experience the compassion and grace of Jesus Christ, the more we will be able to offer it to others. We cannot give what we do not possess.

The world is filled with broken and lonely people. God intends for the church to be a safe place where sinners can gather to receive the healing and hope that only Jesus Christ can give. Will you choose to be part of this wonderful process whereby the Lord Jesus heals you from the inside out to display His compassion, comfort, and courtesy to other broken sinners?

Prayer: Father God, please produce in me the same eternal perspective You want all Your children to have, showing sympathy to one another that stems from understanding we are all broken sinners in need of Your grace. Help me to see other Christians as You do so I will love them affectionately and tenderly, withholding any judgment they may deserve just as You have done with me. Grant me to be courteous toward others, having a humble opinion of myself that is produced by comparing myself to Your perfections rather than to the shortcomings of others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We are loved beyond imagination!

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Many Christians struggle with shame. At the core of their being, they believe they are unacceptable or worthless before God. They may know the doctrine of God’s unconditional love, but they do not believe it or experience it in the deepest part of their being. Deep down they think they have to earn His love or that God would never love them as they are. Shame-based lies keep them from opening up to God and others. Lies that say, “Nobody would love me as I am.” “I am basically a bad and worthless person.” “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another. 

Our verse in Zephaniah (3:17) reminds us that God wants us to sit in His presence so He can delight in us. After revealing God’s coming judgment upon the world (Zeph. 1:2-3:8), the prophet, Zephaniah, discloses God’s blessings to come upon His people (Zeph. 3:9-20) to motivate them to live for the Lord during a time of spiritual decline in their nation.

After defeating all His enemies (3:15), King Jesus will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

God wants to celebrate who we are! “He will rejoice over you with singing,” not condemn us or shame us. He wants to quiet us with His love. 

The night before His death, Jesus shared a meal with His disciples (John 13:1-8). After the meal, Christ stood up from the table and displayed His incredible love. Like a common house slave, He wrapped a towel around His waste, poured water in a basin, and began to wash His disciples dirty and road-worn feet. Among those feet were Judas’s and Peter’s. One man would betray Him and the other would deny Him before the night was over. Still, Jesus knelt down before them.

Today, God’s love kneels down before us, wherever we are. And as He does, He urges us to bare ourselves before Him. Why? Because in seeing our naked selves – wicked, wounded, and weak – in the light of His love, we begin to understand Who He truly is. He is a good and merciful God. Only in our nakedness and vulnerability can we experience Jesus’ mercy, tenderness, and healing. In our nakedness Jesus does not shame us nor look down on us. He delights in us. 

As we realize that we are loved beyond imagination by Jesus, we discover that this alone is what defines us. We are His beloved. And because of this, we are free from the compulsion to be someone we are not. We are free from having to impress, manipulate, or attempt in our own unique way to earn love. We are free to be who we are in Christ:

– We are the salt and light of the earth (Matt. 5:13-14)

– We are the branches of the True Vine, channels of His life (John 15:1, 5)

– We are chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16)

– We are witnesses of Christ endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)

– We are justified or declared totally righteous before God (Rom. 4:5; 5:1)

– We are free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1a, 34)

– We are assured all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28)

– We are free from accusation (Rom. 8:33)

– We cannot be separated from God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39)

– We are bought with the price of Christ’s blood; We belong to Him (I Cor. 6:19-20)

– We are members of Christ’s body (I Cor. 12:27) 

– We are ministers of reconciliation for Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19)

– We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)

– We are God’s co-worker (2 Cor. 6:1)

– We are His holy temple (2 Cor. 6:16)

– We are saints (Ephes. 1:1)

– We are chosen by God (Ephes. 1:4)

– We are accepted in the Beloved (Ephes. 1:6)

– We are redeemed and forgiven (Ephes. 1:7)

– We are seated next to Christ in the heavenlies far above all powers (Ephes. 1:20-21; 2:5-6)

– We are God’s workmanship or Masterpiece (Ephes. 2:10)

– We may approach God directly with confidence and freedom (Ephes. 3:12)

– We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20)

– We can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13)

– We are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10)

– We are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3)

– We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (I Tim. 1:7)

– We can find grace and mercy in time of need (Heb. 4:16)

– We are dearly loved children of God (I John 3:1-2)

– We are born of God; the evil one cannot touch us (I John 5:18)

How can we treat believers better who differ with us about Christian liberty?

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 5Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus.” Romans 15:4-5

In Romans 14, the apostle Paul admonished the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome to accept and love one another despite their differences concerning their Christian liberty. Beginning in chapter 15, he tells the stronger Christian whose faith permits him to eat all foods and observe every day the same, to “bear with the scruples” or weaknesses of believers whose faith did not permit him to exercise his Christian liberty to the same extent (15:1). Instead of pleasing himself, he was to put the welfare of others before himself like Jesus did (15:2-3a). Paul then quotes King David whose commitment to building up the physical house of God is to be displayed by Christians in their commitment to building up God’s spiritual house (15:3b; cf. Psalm 69:9). 

Notice that when Paul seeks to motivate his readers to treat one another better, he does not refer to some seminar or some promo on Facebook. He refers to the Bible in verse 3 when he quotes King David (cf. Psalm 69:9). By referring to the Old Testament, Paul was showing that Christians can receive from the Bible the instruction (“learning”), perseverance (“patience”),“comfort,” and “hope” they need to bear with one another despite their differences regarding their Christian liberty (15:4). But he does not stop there. 

The reason the Bible can give us everything we need to bear with one another in the family of God is because of the Person behind the Bible: Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus” (15:5). Knowing the Bible is not enough to treat one another better. We must know the Author of the Bible if we are going to treat one another better (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The more we know God who is love, the more loving we will become toward one another (cf. I John 4:7-8). 

Do you have teenage girls? They must be very careful with internet chat rooms. Teenage girls can fall in love with evil men on the internet because the words they read have a person behind them. As she hangs out with this man on the internet for days and weeks, he eventually says,“Can we meet at the park this Saturday at five o’clock?” She has been trained all these years not to hang out with strangers, yet now she goes to meet this stranger. Why? Because she has fallen in love with someone she has never seen. The reason she has fallen in love with someone she has never seen is because of the power of the written word. Why? Because behind that written word is a real person. If an evil man can take the words of a computer and transform a teenage girl so that she will go meet him in private at a park somewhere and risk her life because she has been overwhelmed with the word, then how much more can the God of the Bible overwhelm us with His written Word so that we change from what we might normally do because we have been overwhelmed with a love relationship with Someone we have never seen.

Do not underestimate what the God of the Bible can do in our lives when we sit down to hear His voice as we read and apply the Bible to our lives. Spending time with Him in His Word can transform us so that we treat other believers better who may differ with us concerning Christian liberty.