I was asked a question about this at our Men’s Bible group that I think makes for a good discussion here.
We were talking about the idea that God was really only getting at one thing throughout all of Scripture. And if we knew and followed this one thing, we would not only know the essence of all theology but would also be obeying Jesus completely. (I covered this more thoroughly in my post, “The Law of Christ: Other-centered love.“) Jesus states this core theme of all Scripture here (emphasis added):
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt.22:37-40 NIV)
So, this was the question that was brought up in our men’s group.
“How do I show other-centered love by loving others like I love myself? Isn’t that a contradiction?”
This, of course, was based on this part of Jesus’ statement:
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
It was a valid question. After all, isn’t self-love the opposite of other-centered love? Well…it certainly can be…but this isn’t what Jesus is getting at.
Think of this self-love as a reflection of God’s love.
Conversely, if we’ve been taught to hate ourselves, either through negative life experiences or bad theology, we’ll probably hate others the same way, too.
Now consider how God expresses His love for you and me in the following passages (emphasis added):
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. (John 15:9 NKJV)
How much does the Father love Jesus? A lot? (Can we say, tilt!) That’s exactly how much Jesus loves you. Or, how about this one…
23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:23 NKJV)
Jesus is saying here that the Father loves us as much as He loves Jesus. Again, how much does the Father love Jesus?
Receiving God’s other-centered love also speaks of value. We value ourselves exactly the same way God values us….
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV)
The “world” here is you and me. This means that we have the SAME value as Jesus to the Father. After all, He paid Jesus for us! The question is, how much does the Father value Jesus?
Do you see it yet?
This self-love we’re to abide in is based in God’s assessment of us, not in our assessment of ourselves. This love begins and ends with God.
10 This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. 11 Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. (1 John 4:10-11 GNT)
19 We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19 GNT)
All of theology and obedience to Christ is centered in love because God is love. But it’s also the promise and fruit of participating in this Divine Dance with Love. To know God is to know love; to know love is be loved completely, unconditionally, which leads to loving others with the same love.
Conclusion: Other-centered, self-giving love comes from a healthy self-love that sees ourselves exactly the same way God sees us.
We love so because we are so loved!