Self-love is a strange concept. My social media bombards me with how I should “treat myself” and that I should look out for “number one”. But it was more damaging than helpful for me to do these things.
The more I tried to love myself, the less it worked. I would feel empty, alone, and like I was wasting my time. I do believe you should look after yourself practically, however, the reason it didn’t fulfill me is because we’re supposed to love someone else first (guess who).
Some definitions of love
Here are some quotes and scripture that I think can help us figure out who to love first.
‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. ‘
1 John 4:7-8
‘Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ‘
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
“Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others”
John Piper, Desiring God
“ (3) The commitment one makes to the best interests of other persons as expressed in actions that benefit them…the controlling concept when scripture portrays divine or Christian love is that of commitment” Global Concise Bible Dictionary, Lawrence O. Richards
Given these definitions, I can’t love myself. I can’t commit to myself. I’m not always patient with myself. I can’t prioritise myself. It doesn’t make sense. But God does all these things for us, so it’s only natural to focus on loving him first.
The Greatest Commandment tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Deut 6:5). I like to parallel John 14:15 with this verse to make it practical, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It really does take your whole being to obey God, but we do it because we love him.
We obey out of faith, otherwise, like Paul says, we should be pitied most of all (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). To love God means to give up your life, which as far as I’m concerned doesn’t leave much time for practicing self love and care religiously.
The second Greatest Commandment, logically, is to love others, your neighbour (Mark 12:31). Again, to make this practical, I think the Golden Rule is perfectly clear. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).
It’s pretty straight forward, but so hard. To help, I like to think of people through God’s eyes. I think of how we’re all made in God’s image and so the way I want to be treated is the way they want to be treated. Even more of a challenge that Paul gives us is to think of others more highly than yourself (Philippians 2:3). This is exactly how Jesus acted on earth too, so we have a perfect example to follow when thinking of how to treat others.
A Love Order: JOY
A popular way to think of how to love is through the acronym JOY.
Jesus Others You
So keep this in mind when you’re thinking about love. Before loving yourself more, try looking to God and to those around you. The more you focus on loving God and others, the more you’ll experience the love of God.