“We must learn to love ourselves before we can love others”

Matthew 22:39

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In the common discourse of everyday life, I often run into people who misunderstand, misinterpret and/or mispronounce common English words. Usually, it is the conveyed meaning that is important in conversation, not the presentation. And so, knowing my own shortcomings, I tend to simply let the mispronunciation pass. There are a few that still grind in my ears, admittedly. Like for instance when one says ‘expecially” instead of especially. Or, when someone insists on placing the word ‘had’ before every past tense verb they use in every sentence.

          But, as benignly annoying as this is, I think the thing that grinds my pencil down to the erasure base even quicker is the misunderstanding and misuse of scripture. And it does even more so when it is packaged in a brilliant sounding quip that is passed along as if the person saying it has said something profound.

          Recently, I was participating in an online Zoom spiritual enrichment event. The facilitator invited participants to opine on what the second great commandment, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, requires of us in response. After several comments, one of the participants replied that we must learn how to love ourselves before we can love others. Such a comment was well received by the other participants as if Lady Wisdom herself had just entered the Zoom chat.

          Now, it’s not my intent to make light of the person’s response. I can somewhat understand a need to have some sense of self value, an innate understanding of being created in the Imago Dei, and thus, treating oneself accordingly with that revelation.

But, for the vast majority of people in the world, do we really………really think there is a critical shortage of knowledge or ability to love oneself? Frankly, in this world, we’ve almost unanimously become professionals at it. In fact, most of us have perfected the fine art of flawlessly loving ourselves. And, actually, that is one of the many things that is wrong in the world. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3 that ‘in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self’. It’s the very first vice mentioned by Paul among over a dozen more in describing a godless and evil people in the last days. How misplaced such advice to better love ourselves is.

          So what is Jesus talking about then, when He says that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Well, the best way to look at that is to take stock of just how we DO love ourselves. Every day, SELF, in one way or another, is prioritized. We eat, not simply to sustain life, but we eat what we like, in the amount we like, and prepared how we like. It’s the very finest that our life situation can provide. We clothe ourselves, not just to keep warm and hide our nakedness, but we clothe ourselves with what we prefer, either in functionality or aesthetically or both. It is also the very finest that our life situation can provide. The same goes for where we live, what we do, even where we work. Our entire lives, in one degree or another, are devoted to caring, and nurturing and loving ourselves.

          And so, when Christ asks of us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, He’s not pointing to some deficiency in your ability to love yourself. He’s actually pointing to the mastery with which you’ve flawlessly accomplished that task over the balance of your life. And now, He calls you to love your neighbor with that same flawless mastery with which you once loved yourself. It’s very simple. The love that you’ve lavished on yourself, He now calls you to deny yourself and lavish that love on your neighbor instead. In fact, He calls you to now treat your neighbor as if he’s far more important than you.

Paul tells us in Philippians 2:3 that we are to ‘do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.’ And isn’t that exactly what Christ did for us when, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross? That is exactly the mindset that is to be in each one of us.

          No my friends, there really is no pandemic self-love deficit out there that precludes us from loving others. For, when it comes to self-love, we are experts, yea, even perfectionists at it. What we simply need to do now is to love in that same way, only no longer SELF, but our neighbors instead.

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