Did Jesus Teach Us to Love Ourselves?

We live in an age when self-love is encouraged. “Love yourself”,
for “if you do not know how to love yourself, how would you know how
to love others?” Such a worldly logic has been internalised by many, even
Christians. This self-love mantra has been deeply engrained in young
minds, producing a generation of selfish youths, who seek to add to their
own happiness, instead of helping others and contributing to their
happiness. Many prize their welfare above others and prioritise their
self-comfort such that they are unwilling to suffer, to sacrifice, to stoop
low to serve another – because they love themselves more than others.
Having internalised a self-love psyche, youths practise it with an
inordinate pampering of self and indulgence of earthly joys, which grant
them temporal joys. They strive to get more affirmation and applause
from the world. When they pamper themselves, they address the need
which self-love seeks to solve – to be happy. Biblically speaking, self-
love is not a strive for happiness, but a strive for haughtiness. The
fundamental issue with self-love philosophy, from a biblical perspective,
is that it is a prideful, self-extolling philosophy. “I, me, myself” is the
unspoken but understood beneficiary of the self-love pursuit.

In promoting self-love, some reason that the Bible teaches self-
love in Matthew 22. Quoting verse 39, they ask, “how can one love his
neighbour if one does not love himself?” They insist that since Jesus
compares loving neighbours to loving self, self-love is the standard for
loving others. As convincing and “biblical” as it might seem, this
interpretation is a distortion of Jesus’ words. Here are four ways to refute
the notion that Jesus advocated for self-love. Biblical Christians must
observe the …

Order of the Commandments: Love God, then Man

The first great commandment is to love God (v. 37-38) and the second
great commandment is to love man (v 39). Chronological order in
Scripture is instructional: for example, Paul used the creative order to
explain the functional order in the church, “For Adam was first formed,
then Eve” (1 Tim 2:13). Likewise, the chronological order of the
commandments in Matthew 22:37-39 teaches us that our love for God
must be our foremost concern. If loving man is at the expense of, or
compromises the truth of God, then the first commandment is broken!
Restated, we must love in truth (c.f. 1 Jn 3:18, 2 Jn 1:1-3, 3 Jn 1:1). To
illustrate, friends may invite a Christian to have a meal at a bar, where
alcohol is served, and illicit activities allowed. The Christian declines,
because he knows that he must not associate with the ungodly, but to
abstain from all appearance of evil (Ps 1:1, 1 Thess 5:22). However, his
friends taunt him, “Join us – we have been good friends to you! Did not
Jesus say that you must love your neighbour as yourself? Come and dine
with us!” The Christian must not be swayed by their challenge, for he
knows that his love for friends cannot supersede his love for God and His
Word. Christians who justify their ungodly friendships soon find
themselves in compromising situations, and they ultimately contravene
God’s commandments. Instead, our love for friends must begin with the
knowledge that they are sinners, and that they are potential recipients of
the gospel of Jesus. Christians must aim to love them by bringing the
gospel to them. Loving unbelievers in truth means that we should never
condone their sinful, ungodly lifestyle, but with our life and godly
example, testify and win them for Christ!

Object of the Command to Love – “Self” is Omitted

Furthermore, Jesus did not command to love yourself, but to “love thy
neighbour”. Jesus’ emphasis is not to love ourselves, but to love others!
Proponents of self-love have re-arranged Jesus’s words, and have made
“thyself” the object of love. Why then did Jesus compare loving others to
loving oneself (“as thyself”)? Jesus was appealing to Man’s natural
concern to care for himself, and to keep himself comfortable. No one
needs to be taught to love himself – it happens naturally. However, Man
needs to be taught to love others – it does not happen naturally. In fact,
Man fails to love others and is always concerned about himself more than
others. Jesus is saying that just as we all know how to love ourselves, we
must love others as ourselves. Thus, Jesus commands, “Thou shalt love
thy neighbour as thyself”. By insisting that Jesus supported self-love,
proponents twist His words.

Orders in Scripture to Deny Self

By comparing scripture with scripture, we find the coherent teaching of
self-denial, not self-love. The classic teaching by Jesus on discipleship
quashes any idea of extolling self: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If
any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross,
and follow me.” (Mt 16:24). Herein, Jesus insists that true disciples must sacrifice
their ambitions and pleasures, and suffer for Jesus’s sake. As our supreme
example, Jesus showed that he suffered by denying himself with his sacrificial
death, “… Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but
if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (Jn 12:24). Paul uses the example of Christ to
exhort Christians, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness
of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Phil 2:3). The problem with
self-love mentality is that it over-esteems oneself, instead of esteeming others better
than ourselves. Paul restates the second great commandment in the next verse:
“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of
others.” (Phil 2:4). In Galatians 6, Paul calls this spirit of meekness the “law of
Christ” and challenges an over-estimation of oneself, “ For if a man think himself to
be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” (Gal 6:3). Pride and self-
love prevents the Christian from ministering and helping a weaker brother or sister.
Scripture’s consistent message is not a mentality of self-love, but of loving others
above self (Rom 15:1, Gal 5:16, Col 3:3, Jam 4:7).

May the servitude of John the Baptist be ours, “He must increase, but I must
decrease.” (John 3:30). Likewise, may the selflessness of Apostle Paul be ours, “I
am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and
the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who
loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20).

An article written based on the message, “Am I a Self-lover?”,
preached to the youths of Tabernacle BP Church on 16 June 2022.
Written by Preacher Cornelius Koshy
Soli Deo Gloria