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, ESV
Some people interpret this passage as saying we should love ourselves. I think the truth is that Jesus simply assumes here that we DO, in fact, love ourselves—that is, we already recognize our own value and take appropriate care of ourselves. We are to take that self-love and expand its borders to love others as we already love ourselves.
What I think about myself is important. We all have a self-image. But not all self-images are equally valid. Below are three “self-image messages” I can run through my mind. Each will dramatically affect the way I live, and the way I relate to God and others.
The conformed mind: PRIDE
I am more important than others. My ideas are always better, my insights more profound, and my work more skillful. I am God’s gift to the world. Without me, my family and team and business and church would crumble. I am indispensable. They’re incredibly fortunate to have me.
My needs must be met, my rights defended. Everyone owes me special respect, attention and cooperation, especially considering how much I do for them. I will do my best to see that I get all that’s coming to me. After all, I’m entitled to it. The world is a stage, I am the director and lead actor, and everyone else plays a supporting role.
The conformed mind: SELF-DEPRECIATION
I am a failure, a loser. I lack the personality, good looks, brains, talents, and/or wealth of successful people. I will never be as good as others. Nobody likes me. I am of little or no use to God. I am not a worthwhile person, and probably never will be. I will give up on myself, do nothing with my life, sit in a corner and sulk, or let others use me to their ends.
The transformed mind: REALISM
I am an unworthy sinner, yet I am precious to God. He created me in His image, and I am unique. Christ loved me enough to sacrifice His life not just for humanity in general, but for me in particular.
As a Christian, I am a child of God. I am clothed with Christ’s righteousness. God is for me, and God is there for me always. According to His promise, I will spend eternity with Him.
God has seen me at my worst, and still loves me. This means that regardless of how I feel about myself and how I think others feel about me, I am God’s beloved and he has a plan for my life. Difficulties are sure to come, but God has a sovereign and good purpose in them, and I am totally secure in Christ’s unconditional and unfailing love. (See Romans 5:8; Romans 8:35-39; John 10:28; Hebrews 13:5.)