We all understand that self-love—where everything and everyone must orbit around one’s narcissistic milieu—is a bad character trait. But in knowing this we also risk confusing this self-centered love with the self-love that’s critically important to following Christ. This form of self-love is actually God-centered and self-giving.
How does God’s kind of self-love work? Well, first, we must understand something about loving God and how He loves.
The crazy truth about loving God is that only God can love God. We cannot even initiate the exchange. The only thing we can do is receive His love and give it back to Him.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God….10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins….19 We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:7,10, 19 NIV*)
Since the essence of God’s being is love (1 John 4:8), we can agree that He has perfect other-centered, self-giving love within Himself (otherwise there can be no such thing since He is the source of all love). He continually expresses this other-centered love between the Father and Son within the Trinitarian life of God, apart from His creation (John 17:24).
But what does Jesus say about His love for us?
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9 NIV*)
So, if God loves God perfectly—infinitely, if you will—what is Jesus telling us about how He loves us? Is it not that God loves us exactly the same as He loves Himself?
This mind-blowing prospect brings us to the second thing we need to know. We should never love ourselves any more, or any less, than God loves us (which is perfectly). This is why religious self-loathing is total nonsense. You have infinite worth because God paid Jesus for you (John 3:16).
The only truly humble thing we can do is love ourselves the same way God loves us which, again, is exactly how God loves God.
So, I hope this all goes to your head…because your heart already knows it. 🙂
While we’re here, do you understand that you and I are the “pearl of great price” in Jesus’ parable? If you don’t believe me, just read it for yourself. He says the “merchant” seeking out the precious peals is the Kingdom of Heaven. And when He finds them, He sells everything for them:
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matt.13:44-45 NIV*)
Metaphorically speaking, the Merchant—God—bankrupted heaven so that you and I could learn how to be loved by Him and, in this relationship, understand our infinite value and walk in our true identity. (Also see my post, “About this Pearl of Great Price” for further explanation.)
But just like most things, religion gets this parable backwards.
This is also quite the opposite of vanity or pompous vainglory because we’re not assessing our own worth. We’re simply accepting God’s assessment of us. So when He says He loves us the same as He loves Himself, we agree with Him and begin to learn how to love ourselves with His love. We do so by remaining in His love (John 15:9).
The third outcome that should come from participating in God’s love is that we will begin to love others exactly the same way we love ourselves (which, again, is exactly the same way God loves us):
37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”Matt. 22:37-40 MSG*)
We already found out that we can only love God with His love. Now, we’re told to love other with this same love. This is what other-centered self-love looks like.
And I would contend that we cannot truly love others until we learn to love ourselves this way. In fact, we’ll probably hate others to the degree we hate ourselves. We will inevitably project our issues onto all of our relationships…including our relationship to God.
I hope you realize by now the futility of trying to do any of this apart from abiding in God’s love. Your self-effort to love yourself and others will fail under the right circumstances, but His love never fails.
Thus, when we do remain in His love, we not only learn how to love, we automatically fulfill the only Law that matters.
9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom.13:9-10 NIV*)