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Foundations of the Thrive Philosophy Part 2: Christians and Self-Love

Continuing the conversation from Part 1, we expand the idea of self-concept to self-love. In our culture today, there seem to be a lot of different ways to categorize self-love and it can be hard to determine if it is Biblically sound to say that we should (or shouldn't) "love ourselves." There are conflicting ideas, particularly in the "Mommy Wars" about self-love. It is self-centered. It is about "reclaiming" something that was lost. It is self-indulgent. It is necessary for sanity. It is tied up in coffee and wine and pedicures. It is about resources and what we can purchase for ourselves or where we can travel or how willing we are to leave our children alone. How can we make sense of the noise and see the truth? First, I think we need a quick recap of the understanding of self that I talked about in Part 1. Ultimately, we each have dignity, worth, and value because God Himself gives it to us. We are His creations, we reflect Him in this world, and we have a sound view of ourselves when we keep our relationship to God in proper perspective. (Again, see Part 1 if you'd like to check out any of the references I used to arrive at this position.)

Self-love is a compound word and once we've got the idea of "self" down, then we need to talk about love. The Ancient Greeks identified many different kinds of love. The first is agape love, which is unconditional sacrificial love. This is the love of God (all persons of the Trinity) for His people. The willingness of the Father to send us His Son, the willingness of the Son to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and the willingness of the Holy Spirit to dwell within and among us all show us this kind of love. It is not love we deserve or have earned, it is given simply because God chooses to give it and to continue giving it, as He has promised He will.

Another kind of love the Ancient Greeks identified is eros love, which is the romantic love that husbands and wives have for each other. This sort of love includes the idea of physical attraction. The third is philia or affectionate love. This is the kind of love that friends or siblings have for each other. There is no physical attraction in this kind of love, and there is an implied idea of equality between the two people. Storge love is familiar love, similar to philia, but has the element of nurture and care, as in the parent-child relationship. The Greeks also identified philautia, or self-love. This kind of love describes self-respect or self-compassion. When I talk about self-love, this is the kind of love that I'm talking about. We have established that we have dignity and worth because God has given it to us. So when we treat ourselves and make decisions with this dignity and worth in mind, we have an appropriate level of self-love. Let me give a few applications to help make it more clear.

Problematic definitions/applications of self-love:

-Seeing myself as better or more worthy than others. This could be within your own home, seeing yourself as more worthy than your spouse or your children, or it could be outside your home when you look at someone who is from another race, culture, nationality, religion, denomination, socioeconomic status, differing political views....the list goes on.

-Consistently or willfully mislabeling my desires as needs.

- Consistently or willfully putting my desires or preferences over others' needs.

-Being self-centered, self-indulgent, self-reliant, or self-worshiping. Appropriate definitions/applications of self-love:

- Accepting the dignity and worth I have has an image bearer of God. Self-respect.

- Seeing to my needs before I see to others' desires.

- Being able to acknowledge confidently the talents, skills, and strengths God has gifted me with.

God has gifted each of us uniquely and we honor Him when we can identify those things and how they can be used for the growth of His Kingdom (1 Corinthians 12).

Now, I would be leaving the conversation too soon if I didn't talk about loving others. Certainly, if we have any brief introduction to the Christian faith, we have heard Bible verses on loving others. Many people will emphasize how the Bible focuses on our need to love others and that the Bible talks about how we cannot trust our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). Countless sermons have been preached on the sins of pride, arrogance, unkindness, and mercilessness. Let me be abundantly clear: I am NOT saying that we are not to love others. Loving others is part of the easiest way, to sum up what Jesus said we are called to do as His followers. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). (This is that agape word again, in case you were wondering.)

What does this verse tell us? It says I must be respectful of my neighbor's dignity and worth (neighbors both on our streets and across the world) as I am respectful of my own dignity and worth. I must look out for the interests of my neighbor, as I naturally look out for my own interests. We are naturally concerned with our own self-preservation (barring mental illness). This is appropriate. As followers of Christ, we must take that concern and extend it to others. When our self-preservation and self-concern extend beyond what we are willing or able to extend to others, that's when we have crossed the line into excessive self-love.

There are extremes here and I believe they are both harmful. To deny or reject our own dignity and worth that has been given to us by God is wrong. To deny the dignity and worth that others have been given by God is also wrong. Having a proper view of ourselves in relationship with God and relationship with others means that we will have a proper view of self-love. We will see that God has done amazing things in creating us uniquely and wonderfully, and we will see that God has done amazing things in creating those around us just as uniquely and wonderfully. Self-love, then, is appropriate in the context of seeing, accepting, and valuing who God has created you to be.

One final nuance to this idea is that we see ourselves as God sees us. We are God's creations. We inherited sinful nature from Adam. We, when we accept Christ, are able to stand redeemed, reconciled, and blameless before God as His adopted children. (Again, all the references are available in Part 1.) When we, however, choose to hold on to shame or guilt that Christ has already released us from, we have given ourselves authority that we don't hold. One of the most famous Bible passages on love is 1 Corinthians 13. In it, we read that love is patient, kind, not demanding, and not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged (and more). This is the love that God loves us with. This is the love that we are to love others with. But I believe that it would follow that if we are showing love to everyone, we ourselves are included in that list. We can be patient with ourselves. We can be kind to ourselves. We can release ourselves from keeping that internal record of our failures. Again, this is not intended to move into self-indulgence or self-reliance in the least, but if we can extend these pictures of God's love for his Creation to others, I believe we can extend them to ourselves, as well.

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