If you follow any of the current self-help influencers these days, you’ve likely come across the concept of self-love. And, if you’re anything like me, at least part of you has recoiled at the idea. It seems rather unChristian, for lack of a better term. After all, my godly parents and the many Sunday School lessons I had as a child taught me to love others and to be unselfish. Self-love sounds like just the opposite of either of those and not like something the Bible would teach. Its connotation smacks of narcissism, certainly not something I aspire to!
But when I stop to examine the term within the context that most are using it, I realize that self-love is neither selfish nor narcissistic. In its purest form, self-love means accepting and valuing myself as God created me. That sounds a little more Christian. But, what does the Bible say about loving yourself? That’s what really matters.
Scripture and Self-love
When it comes to exploring what the Bible says about self-love, many point to what Jesus said was the second greatest commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself.” This phrase is hard to ignore in Scripture because it occurs nine times (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).
The commandment in all of these Scriptures is to “love your neighbor.” But the clarification in every case is “as yourself.” Obviously, God sees this part as key to loving our neighbor in the way that He intends.
These Scriptures also indicate that this command (along with the command to “love the Lord your God”) sums up or fulfills all the other commands in the Old Testament Law. That’s pretty significant, to say the least. Not only that, but the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” carries over into the New Testament. It occurs eight times in both the Gospels and the epistles.
The Golden Rule, which Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12), is very similar to this command to love others as yourself. It instructs us to treat others as we would like to be treated. And it, too, “sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 7:12 NIV
The Golden Rule takes the “loving your neighbor as yourself” a step further: this love can’t be in name only, we are to also treat others with love.
So what is Biblical self-love?
Can we conclude that, if Scripture tells us that our love for others needs to match our love for ourselves, that our love for ourselves needs to match what Scripture says about loving others?
While there are many Scripture passages that talk about loving others, the key chapter on love in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CSB
We can easily see how some aspects of loving others in these verses can carry over into loving ourselves:
- being patient and kind with ourselves
- not being irritable about our shortcomings nor keeping a record of them (after all, God doesn’t!)
- rejoicing in and believing in the gifts, talents, purpose, and potential God has built into His unique design of each of us
- not giving up hope or faith as we fall and fail and try again
But what about the “not self-seeking” part? How does that translate into loving ourselves? I think we can assume that at least part of the purpose of loving ourselves is so we can love others well. Godly self-love and self-care prepare us to love others, while self-seeking keeps us focused only on ourselves and leads us to ignore and mistreat others.
The Source of Love
I remember my father preaching a sermon long ago on a single phrase from 1 John 4: “God is love.” He pointed out if God is love, then love is God. They are one and the same. Without God, there is no love. Without love, there is no God.
So when it comes to loving ourselves and loving others, we can do neither without God.
This passage from 1 John 4 says it so much better than I can:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
“Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent his Son as the world’s Savior. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”1 John 4:7-21 CSB
When we allow God to take up permanent residence within us, we experience the most amazing love possible. In fact, “love is made complete in us.” How amazing is that?
And, when God and His love live inside us, that perfect love overflows into loving (accepting and valuing) ourselves and loving (accepting and valuing) others, just as God loves (accepts and values) us.
Only good can come from God’s love. When our self-love is based on God’s love for us, we then love others as God loves us. It is that self-love that compels us to love others as we love ourselves as God loves us. See how it comes full circle and continues on and on without end? Love perpetuates itself, but let’s never forget that love begins with God, because God is love.