Pastor Craig Carter
Have you ever heard of the Jefferson Bible?
One of our nation’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, took a New Testament and with a razor, cut out portions of the text that he disagreed with or considered inauthentic. He then pasted the remaining parts together and constructed his own version of the Bible (which now can be viewed in the Smithsonian Institute).
Most of us would never go to such extreme measures but we often construct a Bible of our own making by omitting or overlooking portions that we find difficult. One such place is in the primary Scripture passage we have used for our sermon series called Relationships 101:
When asked which of the commandments is the most important, Jesus replied, “‘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 NIV)
In what has become known as the Great Commandment, Jesus claimed that life is ultimately all about relationships that are characterized by love. We all understand the importance of loving God wholeheartedly. And most of us also attempt to do our best to love our neighbors, including but not limited to our friends and family members.
But we often overlook or neglect the final part of the commandment: to love ourselves.
Love ourselves? Many of us do not even like ourselves. One survey found that the majority of Americans suffer from low self-esteem, causing George Gallup to call it the “chief psychological problem of our day.” Studies find that 70-80% of all teenagers say they do not like the way they are and, sadly, low self esteem among adolescents has been linked to higher dropout rates, lower academic performance, violent behavior, and teen pregnancy.
Even worse, low self worth is not something we necessarily grow out of as we get older. A recent worldwide study found that four out of five women have such low body confidence that it affects where they go and what they wear.
Most of us would not come out and say, “I don’t love myself,” but that sentiment manifests itself in a variety of more subtle ways through which we try to hide our lack of self-love.
Some people mask their true feelings about themselves with PRIDE. They downplay their feelings of inadequacy by being cocky, arrogant, or sarcastic. They act like they’re something they’re not or they cut others down in attempts to feel better about themselves (e.g. “class clown” or “bully”). Their outward confidence is really just a mask worn to cover up inner insecurities.
Other folks who don’t like themselves react with PITY. This is the opposite of the first approach, as these people put themselves down at every opportunity. They say things like, “I’ll never be as pretty as her” and “I’m sorry, I always do the dumbest things.” They even turn compliments into insults by reading something into every comment. If someone says, “You look nice today,” this person will say or think, “You said today, I guess I usually don’t look nice.”
Because of their low self-worth, others seek approval through PEOPLE-PLEASING. They are “slaves” to other people’s opinions and will do anything to fit in. As teenagers, they give in to peer pressure to be accepted. Drug use and sexual promiscuity are two examples. But when they engage in those behaviors, they feel even worse about themselves and the cycle continues on a downward spiral. As adults, they tend to destroy relationships because feelings of inadequacy put pressure on others to make them feel adequate (an unrealistic demand).
Some people who don’t love themselves tend toward PERFECTIONISM. They gain a feeling of self-worth through their achievements. They commonly become workaholics who are demanding of themselves and others. When they fail at anything (work, marriage, sports) they are devastated because they only love themselves when they are successful.
Someone once said, “Confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation.” At the risk of damaging my already fragile reputation, let me make a confession: I would never consciously disobey the commands to love God and love others, but on a regular basis I fail to love myself as evidenced by my “self-talk.” I often say things to myself and call myself names that I would never say to anyone else (nor would I allow others to say them to me). I am intensely critical of myself and incredibly hard on myself. When I verbalize those thoughts out loud and my wife Lee overhears them, she will often say, “Don’t talk about my husband like that!” I wouldn’t talk like that to my neighbor and so, if I’m going to love my neighbor as myself, I guess I shouldn’t say those kinds of things to myself either.
Finally, some people respond to the absence of self-love with PUNISHMENT. These people don’t feel good about themselves and think they don’t measure up to others. And since they’re the only ones to blame, who do they punish? Themselves. The punishment occurs both verbally (by beating themselves up as just described) and behaviorally, and it is administered both subconsciously and consciously. Subconsciously: abuse of drugs and alcohol, under- or over-eating, lack of care. Consciously: self-harm and self-injury such as bulimia, anorexia, or cutting. This self-destructive behavior reaches its climax in suicide, which affects 5,000 American teenagers and 45,000 total Americans total per year. That’s 1 every 11 minutes and for every person who takes their own life, 25 attempt it and 250 seriously consider it.
Do you see any of these characteristics present in your life and conduct? They are evidence that we may have constructed our own version of the Bible since we aren’t taking God’s command seriously to love ourselves.
So, what are we to do about it?
Since self-love is closely connected to self-image, we need to find a new perspective. And where can we find it? There are three primary sources…
Since this is where most of us got our poor self-concept to begin with, it’s not a very good place to start.
We can’t trust this source either because it is distorted (by Satan and by sin) and is quite subjective considering we all have a history of measuring ourselves against unreasonable standards and being conditioned by experiences. When you and I look in the mirror, do we really even see who is there?
A more objective and authoritative source is…
3) God and His Word
As we’ve seen in the Great Commandment, the Lord shows us it is okay to love ourselves. The Great Commandment is really three commandments in one.
“There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31 NIV)
Therefore, they are not a hierarchy (1-2-3) as they are mutually supportive. Love of God helps us love others and love ourselves. But unless we love ourselves, can we really love God and others?
The only condemnation I can find in Scripture for loving self is found in 2 Timothy 3:2 and it is directed toward “people who love only themselves.”
So what does the Bible tell us about loving ourselves?
First of all, there is a proper amount.
Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. Be reasonable when you think about yourself. Keep in mind what God has given to each of you. (Romans 12:3 NIRV)
And what has God given us and told us about ourselves?
We have been created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26a NLT) and “wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14a NIV).
We are so loved and valued that God gave His Son Jesus to save us. The proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us…We may hold our heads high in the light of God’s love… (Romans 5:8,11a JBP)
We are honored to be called God’s children. Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called “children of God”…Oh, dear children of mine, have you realized it? Here and now we are God’s children. (1 John 3:1a, 2a JBP)
If God loves and you and me that much, surely we ought to love ourselves
So, how do we live in the truth and love ourselves?
Here are some suggestions for how you can love yourself:
- Ask God to check you every time you belittle yourself or talk about yourself in a derogatory fashion. Say, “Don’t speak to me that way!” (silently or else folks will think you’re crazy). Then, start talking to and about yourself in positive ways (be an encourager).
- Receive compliments by simply saying, “Thank you” vs. “I could have done better” or “It wasn’t as good as so-and-so could’ve done.”
- Become a part of a Body of Christ who cares for you and treats you lovingly.
- Take time for yourself (How do you spell love? ? T-I-M-E).
- Allow the Holy Spirit to transform your thinking. See Romans 12:2 NLT. Meditate on some of the Scriptures referenced here and allow God to renew your mind.
You probably won’t fall in love with yourself overnight as change takes time. New ways of thinking and acting generally take an average of 21 days to become habits.
Some questions to consider:
- What factors contributed to you not loving yourself?
- How did your lack of self-love manifest itself?
- How did it affect you and your relationships with God and others?
- Where and how have you found hope and healing so you can love yourself?
Loving God with all that we are and all that we have and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is the most important thing in all the world. I believe God’s heart is broken when we refuse to love Him or don’t love our neighbors, but I think He is just as heartbroken when He sees us refusing to love ourselves – people He created in His own image and redeemed through the death of His Son. And yet that’s the course of action many of us choose to follow.
If we’re going to obey the Great Commandment, we have to start by looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves as we really are, not as we’ve been told or as how we may feel.
As you finish reading, I encourage you to spend a few minutes and ask God what He has to say about you. I can tell you that He would say that you are His precious child, who He created in His image and that you are “wonderfully made.” Pray that He will help you see yourself as He does and think about yourself with the mind of Christ.
Use these three steps as your guide to pray for a new attitude of love for yourself:
1- CONFESS: Have you ever belittled yourself and maybe even abused yourself (verbally or physically) rather than loving yourself? If so, acknowledge it, confess it, repent of it, and ask God to forgive you. Listen to what God, your Heavenly Father has to say to you: “You are my beloved son or daughter, with you I am well-pleased. You were created in my image. You’re a chip off the old block. You have been fearfully and wonderfully made.”
2- PROCLAIM: Declare a new day in your relationship with yourself and proclaim with Paul, “The proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us…We may hold our heads high in the light of God’s love…” (Romans 5:8,11a JBP)
3- DECLARE: Stand and hold your head high, not in arrogance, but in confidence, and declare, “I’m no longer a slave [to anything or anyone], I am a child of God!”