As You Love Yourself

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, He responded with The Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5: "The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’" (Mark 12:29 NIV) Love God with your whole life!

Bottom line: The One True God is worthy of my everything!

But Jesus went a step further. He continued, quoting Leviticus 19:18: "The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30 NIV) Love God and love your neighbor!

Bottom line: If we do not love other people, we do not really love God!

But did you catch the second part of what Jesus said about loving our neighbor? He said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." The same way you love yourself is the way to love your neighbor!

Here is the instinctive thing about loving my neighbor like I love myself: I love myself with a broken, fallen heart. I love myself either too much or too little, and I often don't even think about it.

My fallen sin nature is oriented to see the world through the lens of it's all about me. I love myself too much. Sometimes (often?) when I do something nice for someone else, it's with the inner motive of making them like me or feeling good about myself or trying to score brownie points with God. I serve them, but it's really about me. Sin has that effect on all of us. We love ourselves too much.

The experiences of my life have sometimes left deep wounds and self-condemnation. I love myself too little. Those inner messages about never being good enough from harsh words spoken by a parent or a teacher or a spouse can leave me thinking I'm dirt and don't deserve to be loved. Or the tape runs inside my head, telling me I'll only be loved if I please you or live perfectly for God. Life can have that effect on all of us. We love ourselves too little.

The truth is not somewhere in the middle. The truth is in the Word of God. We are the crown of God's creation, made in His own image. We are image-bearers of the One True God. We are not junk. We are not throw-aways. We are not only capable of love, we are created in the very image of the One who is love, and who desires that we love Him back. And yet we are broken and fallen. We are not perfect and we are not God. We are His beloved creatures, and by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, we become His very own children!

John 1:11-13 says this of Jesus, the Word of God that became flesh and blood: "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." (NIV)

Healthy, holy self-love takes all this into account. Healthy, holy self-love claims these audacious truths with the humility of knowing as image-bearers and children of God, we have nothing to boast about because we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Healthy, holy self-love cares enough to seek God's power and transformation to restore the tarnished image of God in ourselves to its true luster.

Healthy, holy self-love means self-care and soul-care!

Self-care means getting rest and exercise and eating healthy foods. It means refusing to make life only about work and achievement, grinding ourselves into the ground in a frenzy of never-ending busyness. It means finding balance between work and family and rest and a hobby that is life-giving.

Soul-care means feeding the soul with spiritual food. It means worship and prayer and Sabbath rest. It means finding meaning and purpose in self-giving love for others. It means reading and meditating on God's Word, the Bible.

These things, done with a spirit of being true to our highest selves as image-bearers and children of God, are not selfish. They grow healthy, holy self-love in us so we are free to love our neighbor as ourselves. Then we can clothe ourselves with Christ, crucify our fallen sin nature and fulfill the greatest commandment identified by Jesus. We can love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

And that's a life worth living!

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