Here is, as they say on Facebook, an unpopular view.
I have noticed a fascinating trend with regard to Jesus’ second greatest command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). What this statement says, many insist, is that we should love ourselves, because Jesus says we should.
This is an excellent example of concluding the exact opposite of what the Lord is trying to teach.
I get that it is popular to teach self-love. How compelling it would be to find a Bible passage that actually teaches it! It’s popular these days to speak of one’s self-worth, and since time immemorial loving self has been popular. I am sorry to break it to you, however; that’s not what Jesus was saying in this passage.
To begin with, the emphasis needs to be placed on the first part of the statement, not the second. We ought to emphasize the “love your neighbor” part, not the “love yourself” part. Second, I suspect when Jesus said this, he was depending on the fact that we already love ourselves; he’s saying, OK, now love your neighbor like that! This statement is more like the Golden Rule, where Jesus declared that we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves (Matthew 7:12). We need to see beyond our needs to the needs of others. The challenge is more than that, however; it expresses the ability to put ourselves in their position and treat them accordingly!
The Bible is far more concerned with our pride and selfishness than in our self-image. Ask yourself: what kind of people have caused the most problems in our world, those with poor self-images, or those with giant egos?
The Bible says a great deal about pride. Far from learning self-love, we are warned continually against it. Paul warns that a time would come when people are “lovers of self, lovers of money, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy …” (2 Timothy 3:2). When we exhibit an oversized ego, we are shining the light and the attention on ourselves. Instead, we learn that “God opposes the proud,” and “gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). A prideful person is a selfish person; he thinks only he and his interests are important.
We are further warned, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exists, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16). Paul warns us to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interest of others” (Philippians 2:3,4).
To suggest that Jesus is teaching self-love is not only to miss the point of Jesus’ teaching on the second greatest commandment but to miss the teaching of Scripture as a whole. In a word, love God, love your neighbor. Don’t be too impressed with yourself. It’s easy, and all too common, to love self; it is uncommon and commanded to love others as we already love ourselves.