Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?
Mark 12:31 “And the second [commandment], like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Oh, what the devil has done with this beloved commandment! The heart of God is that we treat our neighbors with the same actions we show ourselves in everyday life. We feed ourselves, protect ourselves, build ourselves up, and in general, make sure that we are taken care of. Jesus was speaking with the understanding that He knew all his listeners possessed: that we innately love ourselves and show it in normal actions every day.
What modern psychology has done to twist this scripture is to try and remove that built-in awareness. It works to pretend that real, healthy self-love isn’t a part of every human being and must be created over a period of years before some anemic semblance of self-acceptance is arrived at.
This is a tragic perspective, as it radiates an entire spectrum of lies. It first tells people that what is there isn’t there after all, and that they need to work to create something that God has given them already. So what they construct is something that can only approximate the healthy self-regard we were blessed with at conception, and the victim of this kind of thinking spends the rest of his or her life working to keep it together. This ends up putting the focus on them, which is unhealthy and the exact opposite of what the Lord is saying to us.
“But how can we love if we don’t love ourselves?” This is the question so often asked, and it’s based on a false presumption that we don’t love ourselves. We do love ourselves, and that is part of our inheritance as people created in the image of God. Sin has distorted and added to that healthy self-love, but certainly hasn’t destroyed it. Don’t we feed ourselves, take care of ourselves, and defend ourselves when attacked? No matter how we think we feel about ourselves, most of us do these loving actions without a second thought.
“But I hate myself!” Or…”Don’t I have to love myself first before I can love someone else?” Regarding the first expression, hatred of self is in addition to self-love, and/or is a distortion of God’s gift of healthy self-perception. In fact, it could be argued that hating oneself is self-love taken to a sinful extreme, as we are not called to hate anyone at all and we have no right before God to hate ourselves. Hatred of self doesn’t need to be worked on; it needs to be repented of.
And no, we don’t have to come to a new place of loving ourselves before we are to love someone else. Jesus is making the assumption that we already love ourselves, and is using that love as a reference point for loving others. Our current culture is so feeling-oriented that we often mistake how we might feel about ourselves any given day as our reference point for loving others. It is a triumph of the enemy that we have re-contextualized this commandment to love by drawing it into the realm of ever-changing emotions, when it is based on an inborn, unchanging reality. The issue is not whether we can connect to this love of self emotionally or not. The issue is whether we are in Christ or not. If we are not in Christ, we cannot love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But rest assured that in Christ, with His grace and power, we can.
Prayer: Lord, thank You that I can love others freely, and that it’s based on Your love for me, not on how I feel about myself. Help me to see that You have given me an inborn, healthy love for myself. Help me to repent of any self-hatred I begin to walk in, and teach me to love with Your unending supply.