Is it Selfish for Us to Love Ourselves?

Throughout my blog I make the point that believers should love themselves in response to the Father’s love, because if we don’t love ourselves we are in no position to ‘love’ others as ourselves.

Sometimes, the statement ‘we should love ourselves’ can seem misguided. In a comment to my recent post 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm, Happy posed this question very thoughtfully; and the ensuing discussion with Marc, one of JesusWOB’s regular readers, resulted in excellent insights and extended across three posts. So I want to share the discussion with you and get your insights as well.

Love Yourself

Happy’s Question

Happy: I cannot help feeling that if we love ourselves, it is selfish. Even though I think not loving yourself and taking care of yourself can lead to serious self-esteem issues and depression. I think the church’s emphasis on how bad we are in our flesh is just wrong. Very wrong.

Tim: Happy, I think I know what you mean: a self-CENTERED love is a selfish love. If that is what you mean, then I agree that loving ourselves in this way is selfish. What I mean by loving ourselves properly is that when we begin to grasp how the Father loves us and values us we begin to see ourselves differently–as someone valuable and worthy of love. This leads to self-esteem and should result in less self-destructive behavior; we care more about ourselves.

This is the opposite result of what some of us learn from those who tell us how terrible and worthless we are–like worms or filthy rags. Truly loving ourselves in light of the Father’s love should not lead to self-centeredness but to wishing the best for ourselves and others–including those who hurt us.

Chas’ Comment

Chas: Tim, Happy’s question shows a need for balance. We should love ourselves, but not more than we love other people; i.e. we should not put ourselves first (which, as you say is self-centered love). This shows that the ‘as’ in the phrase ‘love others as we love ourselves’ is important: it shows the need for this balance. As you have pointed out, self-esteem is very important, because low self-esteem can lead to self-destructive behavior, but also to self-aggrandizement, which is destructive towards other people.

Tim: Wow Chas! You get a gold medal! You expressed this so well and so succinctly. I want to mention my favorite phrases from your comment but I love every single phrase. Thanks for sharing!

Chas Comments on a Second Post

Chas: Tim, of course, for those who have difficulty in knowing what they should do to love others as they love themselves, there is the more straightforward: do to others as you would wish them to do to you.

Tim: Chas, you are absolutely right! This is the key–unless what one thinks one wants is to be hurt in some way, which raises a separate issue.

The Discussion Continues on a Third Post

Chas: Tim, the thing that was occupying my mind as I read through the post and these responses to it was: how are we going to enable people to love in a Godly way? The only answer that I can provide is to tell them the Good News, so that they can be brought into the Presence of God and learn from Him. The Good News, as I understand it, is that we were all always separated from God and can only come into His Presence by believing that Jesus was His Son – nothing more, nothing less, but who can accept it?

Tim: I think you are right Chas. I would summarize the good news this way:

1. When we feel alienated from God, it is good news to learn that he is not alienated from us. He is not angry or vindictive; in fact he loves us individually very much. This leads to reconciliation.

2. When we are twisted with selfishness, hate, low self-esteem, and self-destructiveness, it is good news to learn that we can love ourselves properly and love others as well. These are both acts of reconciliation.

3. When we are burdened by legalistic rules and the constant failure to measure up, it is good news to learn that the Father is not interested in religious rules but in our loving one another with good will for everyone.

4. When we are fearful of death and the end of our existence, it is good news to learn that there is provision for an afterlife of peace, joy, and happiness.

I believe when we begin to grasp these elements of good news, we will naturally wish to do our best in treating other people well.

My Question to You

So what do you think about believers loving themselves?

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19 Responses to Is it Selfish for Us to Love Ourselves?

  1. Chas says:

    Tim, this reply was meant for the earlier stream, but, as it happens, now fits better here. What came to me, earlier this morning, was that we need to have a right relationship with God before we will be able to have a right relationship with others, but now I can see that we need to have our relationship with God right before we can have a right relationship with ourselves. We can see the need to have our relationship right with God first in the phrase ‘love God with all our hearts, and all our mind, and all our strength’ which is shown to us in the Gospels as the first ‘commandment’ of two that we ought to put first. It is also shown in ‘seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these other things will be given to you.’

    Whether we are able to love ourselves depends on any emotional damage that we suffered during our childhood and our parents were the most likely to have been the cause of that. If either parent did not show love to us, whether by being over-domineering, over-demanding, too cold or perhaps violent (there must be numerous other ways) then it will be difficult to have a right relationship with ourselves, and, as a consequence, also with God. What are we to do about this? ASK God to give us a right relationship with Him. Everything else will come out of this.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, I think you are absolutely right! Again, I love how well you express your thoughts here; you have a talent for thinking and for writing. I am glad to have you among my regular commenters.

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  2. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, Your final four points of the good news are very helpful.
    I don’t necessarily subscribe to the “believe Jesus is God’s son” formula.
    But the way that you summarize it is excellent.
    It is all about Love.

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  3. cafedavid says:

    I share my thoughts in a sermon entitled The Missing Pillar of Christianity which you can download here: https://gumroad.com/l/missingpillar

    Not trying to promote my sermon but it’s a bit too long to post the text here. Easier to just listen to it. I share this concept I call Selfless Selfishness. Let me know what you think.

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  4. nobody says:

    I take issue with the basic premise that we can’t love others unless/until we first love ourselves.

    There are a LOT of people, myself included, who don’t love themselves. I grew up in an environment of severe abuse, and I was taught, explicitly and implicitly, that I didn’t deserve to be loved. Obviously, that left me with a lot of baggage, and it has been hard to allow anyone to love me (including God) because it’s very hard to believe that I’m lovable as I already am, that I don’t have to be perfect or allow myself to be abused to earn love.

    (I also had to learn to redefine “love,” since my family combined what they called love with abuse, but that’s probably a separate issue.)

    I’ve come a long way. I can allow some people to love me, and I feel more secure with the idea that God loves me. But I still don’t love myself, and realistically, I may never be able to. Some wounds go too deep.

    But to suggest that means I can’t love anyone else–well, it makes me into something less than a person. It says that the love I feel for others–and for God–is not real or valid. It spreads the message that my love will never matter because I don’t love myself. That, in turn, makes it even harder to be able to love myself.

    Statements like that aren’t going to help people experience Jesus without baggage. My reading of the New Testament suggests Jesus spent time with a lot of people who didn’t love themselves. Lepers, prostitutes, people rejected by mainstream society. Take Zacchaeus, for instance. Pretty much everyone hated that guy, so I imagine he probably didn’t feel too great about himself. One dinner with Jesus can’t unto deep=seated self-hatred, but when he gave away half of his wealth to the poor, Jesus didn’t tell him, “Sorry, Zach, showing your love to other people doesn’t count because you don’t love yourself yet.” As far as I know, there is no scriptural support for the idea that you can’t love others until you love yourself.

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    • Chas says:

      Sorry that I cannot use your tag, but I refuse to call you ‘nobody.’ My heart goes out to you. You are absolutely right that it is possible to love, even if you find it difficult to love yourself because of the abuse that you have suffered. Love is an emotion that is centered in giving, and you can be certain that God loves you. Several years ago, He gave me an experience of unconditional love for the two year old daughter of a friend at church. She didn’t have to do anything, but I longed to serve her in some way. After a few weeks, my friend asked me to put her shoes on her while she attended to her other child and the simple service of just putting on her shoes gave me the fulfillment of that longing. Yesterday, God told me that is how He feels love for us: we do not have to do anything, yet He longs to serve us. He does serve us too, although it is easier if we are willing to come closer to Him. How? Ask Him to bring us closer to Him.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hello and welcome, No.

      I understand your point that one CAN love others while not loving themselves very much in the way you describe. On the other hand, I do think that when we understand the Father’s love for us, we can see ourselves through his eyes and reverse much of the negative feelings we have of our self. If we really don’t love ourselves, it is not a good idea to love others AS WE LOVE OURSELVES. It doesn’t mean we can’t love others more than we love ourselves.

      But I think the more important thing here is that you don’t feel you can love yourself due to destructive behavior from other people. It is apparent that you have been deeply hurt, and that is not right! I really respect you for loving others when you have such feelings of not being lovable yourself.

      I think part of the good news of Jesus is that, no matter what other people have taught you otherwise, you ARE lovable. The Father loves you, and he is the in the best position to know that you are lovable; those who have told you your are not lovable are grossly mistaken–they are absolutely wrong!

      I sincerely hope you are able to overcome the wounds others have given you and come to love yourself as the Father loves you. As you continue to love others, I wish for your healing so that you can love yourself more properly as well.

      Please keep in touch if you are willing. ~Tim

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  5. Marc says:

    We are all made in the image and likeness of God, and so our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate not just to give us a fuller revelation about who God is, but to give us a fuller revelation of what it means to be a human being. We should learn from this revelation that by loving that image and likeness of God in ourselves and others, we return God’s love for us. Jesus set the criteria for developing God’s likeness in our lives, so let us strive to overcome the thoughts, words, and actions (sins) that impede this development so that we can love and be loved more effectively.

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  6. Michael Snow says:

    There is no command to love yourself. God’s word assumes that we do love ourselves and tells us to love others equally. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/love-basics-heresies-divorce-homosexuality-church/

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    • Chas says:

      The command for those who want to love God is to consider other people more important than themselves, because we are required to serve other people according to our abilities. This can be seen in Matthew 20:25-28 ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.’

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  7. Zach Van Houten says:

    Very cool. I agree completely that the “love others as you love yourself” statement by Jesus would be a terrible one if He was advocating self-hatred or self-loathing. Then we would be commanded to loathe and hate others. Think of a good father. He would want his children to feel valued, albeit not conceited. And I agree that we should treat others as better than ourselves. But this does not equal a self-destructive mentality. What we should aim for is to uplift others high, but we should also be in the mix as well. I’m all for selflessness, and Jesus was the ultimate example of that. However, He loved us and that should give us enough reason to not hate ourselves.

    Reformed theology is the biggest purveyor of this self-loathing today. Many are taught that they deserve hell even to the point that they had no part in their decision to trust Christ. And this seems very strange to me; not to mention unbiblical.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Very well stated, Zach. As for reformed theology, I have never understood its appeal except that it is very systematic and consistent. I think it is a very systematic and consistent mistake–and a harmful one at that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zach Van Houten says:

        Reformed theology is the hub of pseudo-intellectualism in Christianity. Yet they have many holes in their arguments and blatantly ignore/twist many verses (1 Tim. 4:10; Luke 11:13 anyone?). It seems to me to be attempt to systematically explain God, and within such a framework, even inaccuracies make sense. What I mean is that since God supposedly chooses arbitrarily who will be saved, the Bible doesn’t even have to make perfect sense anyway, sinse no one is saved through studying it. And if some people don’t hear the gospel, “oh well, God didn’t choose them”. Also, whether God is just or loving becomes a non-issue. Rather they assert that God is who He is, and we can’t possibly understand Him. So it reduces God down to a technical being. This eliminates any philosophical arguments against the faith, since it really does not matter what humans think. And if things don’t line up historically or scientifically, it doesn’t matter since God is choosing people anyway, so it won’t make a difference. It is a technical belief system for those who can’t handle inconsistencies, yet aren’t willing to surrender their faith.

        This reminds me of some of the difficulties Judaism probably had at one time before Zoroastrian and Greek ideas blended into it. Zoroastrianism allowed for a separate principle of evil, so that God would not be the source of evil. I believe the Christian Satan spawned out of this.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Part of the problem with Calvinism is that it is a comprehensive and systematic system of understanding EVERYTHING, and the foundational premises lead to some unacceptable conclusions. The result is that if one aspect is found faulty it affects other points until the entire construct begins to fall apart. For some, it is more difficult to acknowledge a flaw than to adjust their thinking, so adherents defend even outrageous points of doctrine.

          I suspect you are correct about the influence of Zoroastrianism on the belief of Satan as God’s personal adversary.

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  8. jvollman104 says:

    Here’s what Im having a hard time understanding. I’ve never really understood the concept of selflessness(altruism). Because most of the time when people are being accused of being selfish its by people who would prefer that the accused would focus on their needs and such which then becomes selfishness. I don’t understand why I have to completely give up all interest of my own to further someone else’s. it just doesn’t seem healthy. One of my hang-ups with christianity is that I don’t want to live my life FOR someone else whether it be God or man. Why can’t we all just find a way to both get what we want instead of sacrificing one person’s interest for another’s? I’m very influenced by Ayn Randian idealogy. And when I say selfishness I don’t mean stepping over everyone else to get what you want. I mean selfishness in that you try to get what you want while not harming others. It seems like Christianity follows this unhealthy mentality of Don’t think about YOU, think about ME, which seems just as selfish.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jvoll,

      I think I understand your point, but I suspect we are defining selflessness in different ways. The message and practice of Jesus was to seek the good of people; it is often said that he had compassion on them. He also promoted inclusion and reconciliation.

      A follower of Jesus should always consider Jesus’ emphasis as they interact with others. We should be motivated by our empathy and compassion of others, but certainly not by accusations of selfishness by those seeking to gain from such shaming and condemnation.

      I have read some of Rand’s works, including Atlas Shrugged, and I do not see empathy and compassion in her philosophy. It does not work for me at all as a follower of Jesus, even though I do like the concepts of cooperating together for each others’ benefit that are prevalent in Libertarianism.

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