We’ve all heard someone say, “If I had a dollar for every time someone said ____________, I’d be rich!” Maybe we’ve said it ourselves. Honestly, this is how I feel whenever I hear a Christian give advice that sounds biblical but is rooted in psychology. The advice has a “form of godliness, but denies its power.” In other words, it sounds good, spiritual, and wise, but in the end, it is empty. People mean well when they help others. We want to help people experience happiness and peace, yet our counsel may fall short because we’ve been duped into believing the counsel is true and accurate. There are three common pieces of bad advice Christians give one another, all of which fall short of the Gospel. Let’s take a look at the first most common piece of advice well-meaning Christians give, but it is not Biblical. The other two will be mentioned in future blogs.
“You need to love yourself more” or
“You need to love yourself before you can love others.”
If you’ve been on an airplane and paid attention to the flight attendants, you heard them instruct parents to place the oxygen mask on before a child in an emergency. This increases your chances that both of you will survive and have enough oxygen. In other words, if you take care of yourself first, you can then take care of others.
The above illustration is often used with the slogan, “you need to love yourself before you can love others.” The idea is that we need to learn to love ourselves first before we can love others. In fact, we can’t really love others unless we first love ourselves. There was even a song written about “The Greatest Love of All” is the love of yourself. This would make sense using the oxygen mask illustration, and in some cases, would seem to make sense for us. But is it true?
As a child of the ’70s and ’80s, the self-esteem movement was in full swing. Yet I wonder how much of this has really helped people. I like one aspect of this movement: accepting ourselves, even amidst our daily screw-ups. But loving yourself falls short of the Truths in the Word of God. Now some people say “Loving Yourself” is actually in the Bible. After all, the Bible says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” therefore, we should love ourselves. However, this verse is not a command or instruction to love ourselves, it is an assumption made that we already do love ourselves. In other words, we take care of our wants and our needs. We feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, shelter ourselves, do what we must to live and enjoy life. The verse is stating, “since we already take care of ourselves (love ourselves), we ought to love others as well,” thus “Love your neighbor as (you already) love yourself.” Yet nowhere in this verse does it say that loving one’s neighbor depends on loving oneself first.
“OK,” you say. “So Scripture does not say we need to love ourselves first, but isn’t it saying we need to love ourselves more?” And that would be a “No.” As we read the Scriptures, they actually point out that we love ourselves too much, which is why Jesus states that we must “deny ourselves” and follow him (Lk 9:23). Additionally, Paul states that in the end times, people will become lovers of selves (2 Tim 3:1-2). These statements of Jesus and Paul insist that we actually love ourselves too much. In fact, we need to love ourselves less! This is like fingernails on a chalkboard for some in the self-esteem movement who argue that low self-esteem results from low levels of self-love. This conclusion is common because people berate themselves, hate the things they’ve done, what they look like, how they speak, and as a result, have low self-worth. So, they argue that if you love yourself more, you won’t criticize yourself and will accept your failings and give yourself a break.
So how do we respond to others when they don’t appear to “love themselves” or have positive self-esteem? I’m glad you ask! First, define the problem! Is the issue truly that they don’t love themselves, or do they love themselves too much? When people have low self-esteem, they value their own opinion (or other’s opinions of them) over God’s. One may call themselves unworthy, a failure, or whatever negative name comes to mind. These conclusions are reached when people compare themselves with others, fail at various activities or relationships, or are treated poorly by others (rejected, bullied, etc.).
Low self-esteem, therefore, is not a result of low self-love, but it is valuing our own personal feelings and thoughts more than God’s determined truth.
Yet God’s Word states that since they are created in God’s Image, wholly loved by Him who sent His Son to die for them, their worth is immense. God’s Word points us to a worth greater than our failures, more significant than others’ opinions, and greater than our own opinions or feelings. His grace (unmerited favor) triumphs over our failures. His grace offers acceptance of us as we are and empowers us to be free from negativity. Low self-esteem, therefore, is not a result of low self-love, but it is valuing our own personal feelings and thoughts more than God’s determined truth. Believing our own thoughts and opinions over God’s opinions and actions for them through Christ is the process of self-denial the Scriptures call us towards.
What is the truth? Not “you need to love yourself more,” but to accept and believe God’s grace and love for you, which is not determined by your feelings or thoughts (or other’s opinions of you), but is determined by the never-changing character, love, and grace of God. Since Jesus is TRUTH, his death for us on the cross is the WAY for one to have a renewed and esteemed LIFE.
- Fred Jacoby, MA