Humble Confidence, Not Self-Love

Self-love over the love of God and neighbor is the problem both Moses and Jesus were correcting.

God’s love for us, and our reciprocal love for Him, should produce humble confidence in our lives. True humility produces security and courage, not insecurity and fearfulness. The preoccupation of self-love is a problem, not a solution. The solution is to humbly focus on loving God and neighbor, knowing you can do so because God loves you and has gifted you to serve Him. Focusing first on loving self leads to insecurity and discontentment.

 

Contemporary pop psychology’s mantra about well-being is that you must love yourself first in order to be a healthy person and to be able to love others. It is common for some form of this thinking to be advocated by Christian counselors and individual Christians. After all, the assertion sounds plausible. While there is possibly a way you could nuance and clarify the statement so that it contains a measure of truth, it is vital to note that the Bible never calls us to reason in this way.

As Yourself?

Sometimes you will hear that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” implies the primacy of self-love. Consider an Old Testament reference and Jesus’s admonition:

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:18

“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'” – Matthew 22:37-40

I cannot improve on Robert Mounce’s explanation of these verses:

Jesus has expanded the definition of neighbor from “fellow Israelite” (Lev. 19:18) to anyone in need (Luke 10:29–37) and even to one’s enemies (Matt. 5:44). To love one’s neighbor as oneself does not teach self-love, but requires that we extend to others the same kind of personal concern that we have for ourselves. On these two commandments, the law in its entirety and the teachings of the prophets depend (Gk. kremannymi, “To hang”; “as a door hangs on its hinges, so the whole ot hangs on these two commandments…”[1]

There are not three commands in Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 22:37-40; there are only two. According to Jesus, our priority is always to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In other words, we do not start by thinking of ourselves, we start by thinking of God. The second part of the great commandment is that we are to love our neighbor like we love ourselves. Jesus assumes we already love ourselves, at least to the degree that we seek to take care of our own needs and desires in pursuit of happiness. Paul argues the same way in Ephesians 5:33, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself.”

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