Scripture is very clear regarding our obligation to love and serve others. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Again, in 1 Corinthians 13:5—the well-known “love chapter”—he wrote, “[Love] is not self-seeking.”
Our ultimate model of selfless love is Christ as he laid down his life for us so that we might have life (Ephesians 5:2). Jesus also spoke clearly on what is required in order for a person to be one of his disciples: “He [or she] must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23–24).
So doesn’t it seem backwards or selfish to focus on loving ourselves instead of loving and serving others So, then what is the answer? Do I simply decide to love and serve more? We emphatically say, NO.
We in no way want to minimize the importance of translating our faith into action (James 2:17). We do believe, however, that our ability to love ourselves has a great impact on how well we love others. If learning to love myself better ultimately enables me to love you better, then the result is definitely not selfish.
Even though we are often harder on ourselves then we are on others, a lack of love for ourselves will eventually manifest in how we relate to others.
In the words of Jesus, “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me” (Matthew 10: 39 MSG). Perhaps you, like many Christians, understand that verse as saying that you should ignore your struggles and needs and do whatever it takes to “get past self and press in to God.” To us, though, this scriptural paradox has a different meaning which makes all the sense in the world.
If you try through your own efforts to get yourself right enough, clean enough, spiritual enough, pleasing enough to go to God, you’ll never get there. But if you come in the simplicity, vulnerability, and honesty of a child (your true self), you will find him. And when you find him, you will also find yourself—because you are already in him, hidden in Christ and in the Father’s heart. In Luke 14:11 MSG, Jesus promises that “if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
I don’t know exactly when, but sometime during my childhood, I (Denise) began taking on the problems and burdens of others. I always befriended the underdog and the outcast. I read every book on the lives of the saints in our Catholic school library, and I was ready to lay down my life in order to “deny myself and prefer others.” There was just one huge missing piece: I didn’t have a self to lay down.
Let me say that in another way: a child who gets lost in order to please others does not have anything to truly give away. I needed to find my true self—the identity God knit within me—before I could love others in fullness. Jesus never wavered in who he was, and thus he had a self he could deny and sacrifice for others. I, on the other hand, had made a martyr of myself before I had a self to be martyred. And I did it in my own strength of being “good” (the enemy of being God’s best).
Love myself? YES. Deny myself? YES. There is no contradiction.. It’s a both–and.
NOTE: If you or someone you know is in need of finding a safe place for emotional and/or spiritual healing and restoration, please contact us at The Father’s Heart Intensive Christian Counseling Ministry through our web site at www.fathersheart.com or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
We are located in the North Georgia Mountains in a retreat-oriented environment and have established opportunities for ministry to individuals or couples for time periods as little as a few hours to as long as five days.