You might be forgiven for believing that I believe that, when Jesus says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is not talking about self-love (Matthew 22:39), that I believe God does not love us.
This is distinctly not so!
While Jesus’ statement on the greatest commandment does not teach self-love, you should know that the Lord values you profoundly, far more deeply than any sappy pop-psychologists might indicate. Allow me to reassure you of the deep biblical teaching of God’s love.
The Bible speaks frequently of the high value God places on us. God created us “in his image” (Genesis 1:16,27). We are a reflection of the very God of heaven! I have always been impressed with the personal pronouns in Paul’s proclamation that he has been “crucified with Christ.” The life he now lived, he explained so beautifully, he lived “by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). David did something similar in the shepherd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restored my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1,2). The Lord was not “Israel’s” shepherd or “our” shepherd. The Lord was, David emphasized, “my” shepherd.
Be certain of this: When you compare the love of God towards us with our love toward each other, there is no comparison! “God so loved the world “that he gave his only son” (John 3:16). That little word “so” is as meaningful as the ocean is deep. It is the little word that drove the great God of heaven to act on our behalf. While we were still sinners, Christ still died for us (Romans 5:8). God loved us when we were anything but loveable. This is because he is a God who is “rich in mercy, ” so it is “by grace [we] have been saved (Ephesians 2:4). The problem with self-love is that it is at times unwarranted. The great thing about God’s love is that it was unmerited, yet given all the same. John was so overwhelmed by this truth that he cried out: “See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be called children of God,” then he adds in astonishment, “and so we are …” (1 John 3:1).
We should never cease to be stunned by the thought that God loved us. And if we ever feel the need for self-affirmation, perhaps we should consider that the Lord of heaven and earth went to extraordinary lengths to love you and save you!
So we return to the actual point Jesus was making when he declared that we were to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” It means – wait for this – that we are supposed to love our neighbor. It’s easy to love ourselves; it’s hard to love others. To love one’s neighbor as oneself does not teach self-love, it teaches us to extend to others the same kind of personal consideration that we already and naturally give to ourselves. Jesus assumes, rather than commands self-love.