Friday, November 25, 2011

Did Jesus Command to Love Oneself?


If you ask the personality developers, motivational speakers and many counselors of our time, "What is the important commandment of life?" many would perhaps say, "Love yourself".

The Most Important Commandment
When Jesus was asked, "What is the most important commandment?", He didn’t say, "Love yourself." Instead, He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31).

It is worth noting the ending words of verse 31: "There is no commandment greater than these." The most important and joyful thing on the face of the earth is to love God with our whole being, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. And in loving Him, love our neighbour as ourself.

'Love Yourself' or 'As Yourself'
Now many suppose that Jesus gave a command here to 'love oneself.' It is surprising to see how 'self-love' has become a matter of paramount importance in our day. Even many Christian writers and teachers advocate this, erecting it as a third commandment. However, the grammar doesn’t suggest such a notion. To do so is to impose one’s thought upon the text than allowing the text to speak for itself.

The words 'love yourself' can be a command, but 'as yourself' is simply an acknowledged fact. Jesus didn't say, "Love yourself", but "Love your neighbour as yourself." In others word, "You love yourself, right? Okay. Then love your neighbour as well. Just as you love yourself, so also love your neighbour. Add to the love of self, which you already have, your love of neighbour."1 John Piper suitably articulates what Jesus is saying in effect:
I start with your inborn, deep, defining human trait—your love for yourself. This is a given. I don't command it; I assume it. All of you have a powerful instinct of self-preservation and self-fulfillment. You all want to be happy. You all want to live and to live with satisfaction. You want food for yourself. You want clothes for yourself. You want a place to live for yourself. You want protection from violence against yourself. You want meaningful or pleasant activity to fill your days. You want some friends to like you and spend some time with you. You want your life to count in some way. All this is self-love. Self-love is the deep longing to diminish pain and to increase happiness. That's what Jesus starts with when he says, "as yourself."2
God's Order of Love
Of course, there is an implication of loving oneself but that’s not the focus of Jesus’ commandment. It is not good to stretch too much that which was not a predominant thought.

I comply with John Stott (1921-2011), "God’s order is that we put Him first, others next, self last. Sin is the reversal of the order. It is to put ourselves first, our neighbour next, and God somewhere in the background."3 Don’t we see this is what many are propagating—to love oneself as a prerequisite to loving God and loving neighbour?

Unlike many psychologists today, Jesus believed that man generally loves himself. Man's problem is not that he doesn’t love himself but that he loves himself too much. Honestly, when I look into my heart in the light of Holy Spirit, my greatest problem is that I overly love myself; and my greatest struggle is to love God and others. Günther Bornkamm is right when he says, "We are most skilled in the love of ourselves; whether in selfish passion or in cool reflection, whether prompted by blind instinct or by some ideal, we desire our own self."4

From Self to Unself
The fact that man struggles for attention, acceptance and appreciation shows how much he loves himself and got obsessed with a focus on his self. Even those who hate themselves may do so out of love for themselves, for they cannot see themselves let down. The reason why man is miserable today is simply because of his engrossment in self. So remedy is not self-love, but to love God with his whole heart and then his neighbour. Martin Luther actually viewed loving God and loving others as a cure for self-love.5

One major problem with the self-esteem movement—because of too much focus on self-esteem, it has produced a bunch of narcissists, although this may not be its intended fruit. It has pathetically reaped 'Me-Generation' and 'Self-obsessed Society'. What man needs is a radical change of nature, what Professor H.M. Gwatkin called "a change from self to unself."6 In saying this, I am neither endorsing self-hatred nor condemning healthy love of oneself. My point is not to become self-absorbed but to stay focussed on what Jesus said—love God and love others.

Self-Denial is Not the Goal
Besides, let none suppose self-denial is the goal of life. Not at all! Whether delight or denial, self is not the central issue. C.S. Lewis captured it right: "The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ."7 Therefore, the purpose of self-denial is to release ourself to God so that He would continuously reveal Himself to us, sanctify us and use us to be a blessing to others for His glory. And in living this way, we would find pure joy in Christ Jesus.

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Notes:

[1] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), pg. 209
[2] John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), pg. 257
[3] John Stott, Basic Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), pg. 95
[4] Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), pg. 113
[5] Henning Graf Reventlow, History of Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 3 (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010), pg. 85
[6] Cited by John Stott, Basic Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), pg. 97
[7] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans), pg. 2

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