I have always believed there was an order to the Christian life: God loves me, I love other people. There was no such thing as Biblical self-love, I assumed.
I understood that it was my role to care for others, and I would in turn be cared for. To truly be able to “forget yourself” or think nothing of yourself was the highest calling as a believer.
This proved to be a dangerous practice, enabling and even elevating the selfishness of others and showing poor stewardship to the life God gifted me with.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t care for others. We’re clearly called to do so.
But sometimes truly loving someone means stepping away, saying no and setting limits.
And loving others is not always meant to be at the expense of yourself.
It took a major wake up call for me to begin to ask God what He thought of my theology. It turns out, self-care is good stewardship – a Biblical principle. I am definitely not called to elevate myself, but nor am I ever asked to neglect myself long-term. It’s made me pay closer attention to what the Bible says in the bigger picture and question some of the teachings that have come from the culture of the church rather than the God of the church.
So what about Biblical self-love?
Recently, self-love has gone under the microscope.
If you begin talking about self-care, inevitablly self-love enters the conversation, sometimes used interchangeably with self-care but usually in conjunction with it.
The church has really taken a stand, in many cases, against self-love, calling us to instead be selfless, and going so far as to call self-love a “trojan horse” and a “tool of the devil.” YIKES!
So, how does a Christian handle self-love?
Sometimes, I think we’re not really talking about the same thing.
The Bible clearly takes a stand against pride, selfishness and self-exaltation. If we’re labelling any of these things as “self-love,” we’re just whitewashing sin. No, thanks.
But we sometimes fall into the trap of believing the “Christian” way is to think poorly of ourselves. We take verses like Philippians 2:3 and turn it into a theology of devaluing ourselves (more on that verse in next week’s post).
This seems like it’s in opposition to the gospel that teaches our value was so incredibly high to God, that he paid the highest price for our freedom: the life of his son!
So how do we navigate Biblical Christian self-love?
I think there’s 4 pillars that differentiate wordly self-love from the kind God gets excited about.
1. Start with truth
The world would have us believe if we just think highly enough of ourselves, all our self-esteem issues and insecurities will disappear.
God says – trust me.
When we accept ourselves, not based on our achievements or looks or acceptance or awards, but because God loved us first, we have a foundation worth standing on.
Biblical self-love has to be based on truth! When we tell ourselves “you are good, you are powerful,” with no basis behind it, we’re lying to ourselves and self-deception never lead anyone to good places. If we, instead, ground ourselves in TRUTH, we find solid footing.
What if we could actually believe what God says about us was true?
What if I could look in the mirror, flaws and all, and say to myself, “I am a masterpiece… because says so.”
What if I could believe it?
What if I could live like God has good things set aside for me to do – I have a calling and a purpose in His kingdom no one else can do?
This changes everything! I think too often we read the Bible as words on a page, or as truths meant for other people, and see ourselves as exceptions to the rule. Other people have callings, I have an ordinary life. Other people are beautiful, I’m just average. God delights in other people, he doesn’t notice me.
Biblical self-love is having the faith to believe what God says about you is true!
2) Full of grace
God gives us grace. We don’t have to work for our acceptance – there’s no hustle here – it’s a gift we can only recieve.
We can be very hard on ourselves at times, and extending forgiveness and grace can be easier to give to others than ourselves. Friends, we are not the exception. The Bible calls grace a gift of God. There’s nothing we can do to earn a gift, but we don’t have to take it. It can be – and is too often – left on the table as we consider ourselves undeserving, or not ready, or whatever our excuse may be.
When we can’t accept God’s grace in our own lives, it’s almost like saying, “I don’t need you God.” We’re telling Him (and ourselves) I can do what it takes to be deserving of this gift, or to earn it. Or worse, we might be telling God we’re NEVER going to deserve the gift so no, thank you.
As soon as we earn it, it’s not a gift.
You can’t deserve grace. There’s in nothing you can do to earn forgiveness or prove that you’re worth it.
The only thing you can do – what God’s desire is for you – is to say thank you and recieve it.
We choose not to live in shame or disgrace, not because of how wonderful we are, but because we have accepted God’s gift of grace and live like it’s true!
That’s Biblical self-love.
3. Accept the process
One of the more tragic aspects to wordly self-love is a need to make yourself feel good about things that aren’t good.
Biblical self-love doesn’t do that.
Christians know we’re not perfect. We recognize sin in our lives, and trust God to deal with it. We are aware that we’re in a process of sanctification, and God is working in us to make us whole and complete in Him. It’s a process of transformation that, rather than leading to shame and despair, brings us hope and joy as we KNOW God’s doing good things in our lives.
Instead of trying to cover up our failings, we bring them to the light of God’s word and get excited about what He is doing to transform us.
We’re not dwelling on our shortcomings, but we’re not whitewashing or ignoring them either. We’re looking to God to change us to become more like Him! This is GREAT news, and something to get excited about!
4. Bear good fruit.
Whenever there’s questions of whether something is of God or not, we are often called to look at the fruit.
When we practice self-love, is that what we’re seeing? More patience? More kindness? More grace?
Or are we seeing an increase in selfishness, more indifference towards others and more rebellion?
The goal of godly self-love is LOVE. Not just learning to trust God’s word and extend love to yourself, but growing in love of God and joyfully passing that love onto others. When we are seeing our love grow in every area, we know we’re living the kind of life God delights in.
When we use self-love as an excuse to pursue our own happiness, bask in our own specialness or justify selfish living, we’ve gone off track. But if self-love flows from trusting and understanding God’s truth about us, recieving his grace in our lives, embracing the transformation He’s doing in us and extending that same love and grace to others, that’s a beautiful thing.
And totally Biblical.