One of my favorite Bible verses is the greatest commandment -- Matthew 22:37-39 which states, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” We talk a lot about loving God and loving others, which is a wonderful way to interpret this verse, but we don’t talk much about loving ourselves. In most Christian churches, their vision is based on loving God and loving their neighbor. We tend to overlook that we also need to love ourselves in order to have the capacity to do the other parts of the greatest commandment. This is a more complete rendering of this scripture and it’s easy to miss.
How do you love yourself in a healthy and balanced way? Loving yourself involves a deeper understanding of how valuable you are to people and ultimately to God.
The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God loves you so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be born on earth and die on a cross. We are all sinners and the Bible says the consequence of sin is death and eternal separation from God. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves “good enough” for heaven. But God made a way. Christ lived a perfect, blameless life and provided the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He died in our place.
Put another way, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
God took punishment for you, which is an act that he would do again and again if there was need. Fortunate for us, Christ’s death on the cross satisfied the penalty for our sins once for all.
In matters of marriage this commandment also applies. You are to love your spouse as Christ loved the church, but how can you have a healthy love for your spouse if you don’t love yourself? It’s a challenge for sure. I have talked with many people that don’t know how to love themselves. They show love and respect for others many times, but deep inside they have trouble believing that they should be loved themselves. We talk a lot about love and relationships, but let’s look a little deeper into the word “love” and the way that the Bible uses it.
The word love has several meanings in a Biblical context. The Greek language, which is the language of the New Testament, has at least six words focused on love. They are: Eros, or sexual passion; Philia, or deep friendship; Ludus, playful love; Agape, or love for everyone; Pragma, longstanding love; and Philautia, or love of the self. Unfortunately, the English language lumps all of these into a generic word “love.” This conveys the idea of a limited quantity of love that we draw from, but God’s interest and commitment to us is like a river that never runs dry. It keeps flowing like a rushing river.
The Apostle Paul used the Greek word Agape to describe God’s selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional love for us. Agape perfectly describes the kind of love Jesus Christ has for his Father and for His followers. We must understand and accept this love in order to become Christians. Accepting God’s love also enables us to love others as well as love ourselves.
Eros or sensual love is also worth mentioning. This love is between a husband and wife. The place to find this kind of love is your spouse. Pragma, or longstanding love is a Greek love term known as mature love. This love involves a deep understanding developed between long-married couples. But the type of love centered on you as a person is Philautia, or love of the self.
The Bible says that we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” This love is not the type where you became self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune. Some people in relationships believe that everything should be about them, their accomplishments, their desires and wants. On the contrary, “loving your neighbor as yourself” is about enhancing your wider capacity to love. The idea is not complicated. You can’t give what you’ve not experienced or had for yourself. If you learn to love yourself, you can more easily give love to others. This type of love comes from knowing that you are adored, accepted, and well liked by God.
Have you ever heard of a person like this that continues to love others and put the interest of others before their own? People like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. or the Apostle John. These people demonstrated love without embarrassment or inhibition because they understood how much God cared about them.
Let’s go even further with this idea. The Bible says, “...that we love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19. It would be hard to love someone that you don’t know anything about. Many people think of God as a busy, far away and angry person that is ready to judge at any time when mistakes are made. The truth, God is a loving and patient person that adores us and wants to be a part of our lives. Really, the only way to truly love yourself is to allow God’s spirit to inhabit your spirit and thus receive an infusion of God’s Agape, unconditional love.
God loves us so infinitely that he sacrificed his only son, Jesus. He wants us to develop the kind of compassion that leads us to love others the way he loves us. So we must start with ourselves. At times, this may mean that we’re going to be hurt, disappointed, and rejected by those that we show love towards. That is when we must remember that love is patient.
Loving ourselves means:
- Accepting with a humble and thankful heart that you were beautifully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139. You are God’s child and were made in his own image and likeness. Genesis 1:26
- Becoming healthier by renewing your mind with God’s word. Thessalonians 5:23
- Accepting that obedience will bring blessing. That’s what I call loving God back not because you are afraid of him, but because you truly love him. John 15:14
- Walking in freedom. It’s for freedom that Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1 Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you so that when you make mistakes, you will be open to receive God’s help. John 16:13
- Becoming whole with God as he is the only one that can totally complete you. Which also means becoming more like Jesus. Ephesians 2:21