If we are not careful in our preaching and teaching, we can lead those we teach to think more highly of themselves than they ought by pursuing a narrow self-interest in the name of hoping to know more of Jesus’ love. We can so urge them to feel good about themselves “in the Lord” that they carefully guard their delicate egos against anything that might disrupt their comfort or convenience.
Advice to Preachers and Teachers
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).
“Thus man should be instructed concerning the way of loving, that is, concerning the way of loving himself properly. To doubt that he loves himself and desires to improve himself is madness. But he must be instructed in how he should love his body so that he may care for it in an ordinate and prudent way…‘Thou shalt love,’ He said, ‘the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.,’ and ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.’ ‘Now the end of the commandment is charity,’ and this is twofold: a love of God and a love of your neighbor.”—Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
At first glance, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22.34-40 may appear to entail three commandments: Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself. We are sometimes encouraged with the idea that loving ourselves is important, and we need to spend as much time doing that as the others. Secular psychology in particular believes loving oneself to be a fundamental human duty.
Do we really need help learning to love ourselves? The rampant narcissism of our day suggests that loving ourselves comes as easily to us as getting out of bed in the morning. Maybe even a little easier than that. We are naturally inclined to think of ourselves first, care for our own needs before those of others, and ponder what’s in our best interests rather than seek out the needs and concerns of others. Naturally, this makes us feel good about ourselves, and, in many churches, feeling good about yourself is a primary motivation for preaching and teaching.
The problem is not that we don’t love ourselves. The problem is that we love ourselves wrong. Paul said that, if we had the mind of Christ working in us, we would deny ourselves, submit to God’s eternal Word and will, look for ways to serve others, and fix our hope on the eternal glory of living always in the Presence of the Lord with gladness (Phil. 2.1-11).
If we are not careful in our preaching and teaching, we can lead those we teach to think more highly of themselves than they ought by pursuing a narrow self-interest in the name of hoping to know more of Jesus’ love. We can so urge them to feel good about themselves “in the Lord” that they carefully guard their delicate egos against anything that might disrupt their comfort or convenience. Such as obeying the Lord’s command to take up our cross and follow Him.
This is not the way to instruct God’s people in the kind of self-love Jesus had in mind.
Dr. Stan Gale reminds us, “Caution is called for in promoting love among the flock. Our Lord summarizes the Law in terms of two commandments: love God; love neighbor. Humanistic psychology, however, sees three commandments: love God; love neighbor; love self. The reasoning goes that, if we are to love God and love neighbor properly, we must first love self. The upshot is that two commandments become three, and the third is elevated as primary.”