Recently, I got into an online forum discussion (a dangerous place to be sometimes) about the question of if it is necessary to love ourselves to be able to love others? Related to that was a discussion of self-esteem.
One position, and one that I once believed strongly, is that, yes, it is. We must love ourselves and take care of ourselves to be able to love others. Here is my problem with that. When Jesus said, “love others as you love yourself,” I believe that he was assuming self-love, not commanding it. Most of us have some sense of self-preservation and take care of our own needs. What Jesus was saying was to put the needs of others on that same level. As Paul, would later say, we are to love others by considering their needs above our own.
Regarding self-esteem, most Scripture is interested that we do not esteem ourselves too highly. We shouldn’t be bugs pretending to be gods. I could be wrong, but I do not see much in Scripture that warns us against low self-esteem. If anything, scripture teaches us to lose ourselves and to sacrifice ourselves. In a rare moment of online lucidity, here is what I wrote:
Only a person struggling with suicidal thoughts would probably see themselves as completely worthless. Most people have a good sense of self-preservation that flows from some sense of self-worth. Taking care of ourselves physically and mentally is one thing. I have no problem with this or else I wouldn’t be watching my weight and jogging three times a week.
My problem is the order that things are put. “I love myself, then I can love others” does not ring true when put beside Scripture. It is a cultural understanding of where love comes from, not a Biblical one. The type of love that Scripture teaches in not the natural love that our culture describes. It is supernatural. It is unconditional. It begins with the self-sacrificing love of God that fills me and loves through me. Jesus did not say, “Love yourselves and then you can love others.” When He talked about self, He said ‘crucify yourself’, ‘take up your cross’ and ‘deny yourself’. All those things imply that to truly follow Christ and to love as He loved, I have to get self out of the way, and as Paul said, ‘put on the new self, created to be like God’.
My worth comes not from me, but from Christ in me. My ability to love does not come from loving me but from loving God supremely. It comes from an absolute surrender of self to God and walking in His spirit. God calls on us to love others with His love, not our self-love. Jesus said, “No man has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” In other words, even self-preservation is laid aside for the sake of loving others. That is how Jesus loved, and that is how we are recognized as His disciples. I don’t give love because I have worth. I give love because He is supremely worthy and made me His own. Love does not spring from within us. If it did, it would be tainted by sin and selfishness. It begins with God and as we grown in likeness to Christ, it flows out from us to others.