How much should we love ourselves? 2 Timothy 3 gives "lover of self" in a list of qualities with which God is displeased. So are we to love ourselves?
As a fan of Aristotle's ethics, I recall his theory of the Golden Mean, "The best things are placed between extremes." Every vice is an extreme and in the middle ground between every extreme is a virtue. The two extremes here are 2 Timothy 3's "lover of self" and hating oneself to such a degree that the only self-care you can muster is eating, per Ephesians 5:28-30. What lies between these two extremes will be the virtuous balance of loving self, not too little and not too much: loving yourself but not only yourself. It is our challenge to nurture this self-love into a healthy self-respect but pruned down and bridled from being a self-worship.
The perfect summation of this middle ground is found in Jesus' second greatest command, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mat 22:39 ESV) and also stated this way, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Mat 7:12 ESV).
The ideal, perfect treatment of others is based on your desires and your self-love: you love others in the capacity of how much you love yourself and you treat others in the way that you want them to treat yourself. Within this standard is the expectation by Jesus that you will, on some level, love yourself and will desire a minimal requirement of treatment from others. Like Paul implied in Ephesians 5:28-30, no one hates themselves so much that they don't even feed themselves. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that this self-love inherent in all creatures is your standard for treating others. In this standard, it requires a person to reflect on their self-love, quantify it, and in so doing, affirm it.
Jesus says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," but someone may ask, "what if I don't love myself?" Jesus expects you too. When it comes to actions, like Paul explains with feeding ourselves, you do love yourself. If you didn't love yourself you wouldn't mind when people mistreated you. If someone slapped you upside the head, would you be upset? Why? Because you expect to be treated better. Where does that expectation come from? If you truly believed you were no more valuable than the dirt on the ground, you wouldn't mind being stepped on, but you would get upset if a person stepped on you because you don't truly believe that. Despite the melodramatics (I mean no disrespect; I get dramatic too), you do believe you are valuable. All people have some bare minimum desire for how they are treated. No person is void of all self-love, but many people have convinced themselves that they do not deserve a good life. Jesus enforces and revitalizes our self-love by making it the standard of our treatment for others.
All humans are valuable so that they should love themselves.
There is concrete, knowable evidence for your value. Though many philosophers and scholars argue how the dignity of humanity is established, God is why. Many of these humanitarians gathered together to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international work adopted by the United Nations for a foundational document of international human rights law. The collection of professionals was impressive, especially the variety of backgrounds and ideologies represented. How could such a variety produce anything witu unanimous agreement? On the creation of this important document Jacques Maritain said,
"It is related that at one of the meetings of a Unesco National Commission
where Human Rights were being discussed, someone expressed astonishment that
certain champions of violently opposed ideologies had agreed on a list of those
rights. 'Yes', they said, 'we agree about the rights but on condition that no one
asks us why.' That 'why' is where the argument begins." (Human Rights:
Comments and Interpretations, italics added)
The value of human beings is inherent in the mind of said human beings, be it the mind of a Catholic philosopher, a French jurist, or a Chinese diplomat. But that ailment we call depression would have us ignore this fact. The educated people who contributed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights all recognized this universal fact which is truly established by God himself: we are valuable, deserve a good life, and are born to love life. Looking to God's inspired word we find the true foundation of this fact.
On the first pages of the Bible, God is not satisfied with just creating this universe and the animals therein. He creates a creature unlike the rest, one like himself. The size of the stars cannot compare to us human beings. Humans are no match for the strength of a lion. We lack the beauty of the simple rose. But humans have something nothing else in this universe does, the image of God imprinted upon them. To no other piece of the universe was this given. Philosopher Mortimer Adler said, “The dignity of man is the dignity of the human being as a person—a dignity that is not possessed by things"—that dignity stems from the image of God.
(Gen 1:26-27 ESV) Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after
our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the
birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every
creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in
the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The meaning of this image of God is debatable: Is it our consciousness? Our reason? Our morality? Our capacity for dominion? This is the simplest answer I can give, the image of God is the difference between us and the animals. Deeper into this topic: it seems to me that this image of God is the capacity for reason and goodness and thus, the ability to know God, the free will of choice, and the ability to obey or disobey. This image of God is put into action when Adam and Eve eat of the tree of which they were prohibited. None of the animals or vegetation or stars in the sky were given this command because they cannot comprehend the command or the goodness of the command.
The spectacular creation of human beings creates value. Human beings are separated from other creatures made by God. He created the stars, sky, and animals, so they have value too, but man’s value is greater because of the special effort God used in creating them. They are neither angel nor beast, neither purely mind nor pure body, but having a conjunction of body and spirit, and thus, having within ourselves a choice to be like angel or beast, a constant battle between spirit and flesh.
Don't tell me you are worthless. For some strange reason (love) God made you special. This isn't one of those times where we say, everyone is special so actually no one is special—listen, when God says something is special, it's special. No arguing. God is the Creator of this world and he is the ultimate Appraiser of things. When he made mankind in his image he said it was good, so don't go arguing with God, bucko. Things are only as valuable as God gives value to them; beauty is the eyes of God and you, my dear friend, are quite the catch.
When in high school I attended a Christian youth event where the churches' youth groups in the area got together for a night of food, worship, and fun. The preacher got up in front of the kids and he said, "Repeat after me: I'm a child of God. I ain't trash. 'Cuz God don't make trash." Let that be a reminder to us all: God don't make trash.
Too many people think they are not worthy of a good life. A good life being a life of blessings and things to enjoy—not of money, stature, power, sex, and frivoloty. A life where you go to bed at night proud of yourself, sleep well for a healthy amount of time, and are glad to wake up in the morning. This kind of life is a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—sound familiar? That's the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These are the products of living by the Holy Spirit and are the best description you can find of a good life.
What do you do when a person feels unworthy of a good life like when a person is so pessimistic about life that they refuse to get out of bed? Well, all questions find their answer in God's word. The Bible, when you know it and believe it in your heart, will make you feel worthy of a good life. This is because God, the Creator of the universe and Sovereign over all, loves you.
The Apostle Paul makes a side-note when talking about the relationship between husband and wife which is based on the relationship between Christ and his church, that is, his people. He is explaining how husbands are to treat their wives how Christ treats his people and how wives are to treat their husbands how Christ's people are to treat Christ. On the husband's side, he is to love his wife just as Christ loves his people, so much so that he died for them. The church, which Christ loves, is also called his body, the body of Christ. His people are part of him. Paul recalls the words of God when describing the first marriage between Adam and Eve, "the two will become one flesh."
The side-note relevant to self-love comes when Paul is explaining how Jesus loves his church like his own body and thus, how a husband loves his wife like his own body. Paul says concerning the husband and his own body,
"In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who
loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes
and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his
body" (Eph 5:28-30 ESV).
Paul emphasizes the illogical act of hating your flesh: he is inclusive of all people, painting with a broad stroke, saying "no one" and then is inclusive of all times, another broad stroke, saying "ever." In my Texan tongue this translates to, "There ain't a person and there ain't a time when a folk hated himself."
Paul's statement seems wrong, right? Aren't there people who hate themselves? There are people who don't like who they are, how they look, or what they do?
Listen to Paul's words in how he explains how people don't hate their own flesh, "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it." Paul is not talking about wishing you were a different person or with a different type of body—he is talking about not even eating. Proof that people love their flesh is that they feed themselves. We can find many people who have low self-esteem or dislike qualities about themselves, but there is not a person starving themselves out of self-hate.
My friend Billy, who, in his depression, slept nineteen hours a day, got up to eat. He did not hate himself to such a degree that he would inflict upon himself perhaps one of the worst pains, starving to death. Paul's words were true even in Billy's life, he didn't hate his flesh as seen in the fact that he nourished it. At the lowest point in his life, in the deepest parts of Billy's heart, there was still some molecule of self-love. This self-love is ingrained in survival for all creatures.
When I say self-love I mean love and respect for yourself so as to seek a good life, live well, and brave the challenges of life. This kind of self-love helps one to love life. However, God reminds us that there is a type of self-love that is not good,
"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For
people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive,
disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable,
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless,
swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the
appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people," (2 Timothy
This passage gives a list of bad qualities to have, with which God is displeased. Don't be distracted by the "last days" bit; the time period of the New Covenant, since the book of Acts in the past to the future Judgment Day, is the "last days" (see Heb. 1:1-2).
The list begins with "lovers of self." As opposed to having self-love in believing we are worthy of having a good life, a lover of self is someone who is too intent on one's interest, who is selfish. This is when a person overestimates their own value and underestimates the value of others. Certainly, you are valuable but all the reasons you are valuable make others valuable too.
As a fan of Aristotle's ethics, I recall his theory of the Golden Mean, "The best things are placed between extremes." Every vice is an extreme and in the middle ground between every extreme is a virtue. The two extremes here are 2 Timothy 3's "lover of self" and hating oneself to such a degree that the only self-care you can muster is eating, per Ephesians 5:28-30. What lies between these two extremes will be the virtuous balance of loving self, not too little and not too much: loving yourself but not only yourself. The perfect summation of this middle ground is found in Jesus' second greatest command, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mat 22:39 ESV) and also stated this way, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Mat 7:12 ESV).
It is our challenge to nurture this self-love into a healthy self-respect but pruned down and bridled from being a self-worship.
The value of humanity is enforced by the pages of the Bible. Creation of mankind is only on the first page, so imagine how much more evidence there is! God placed Adam and Eve in a garden with him to love life together. God resided in a Temple to live with his people. God became a human, Jesus Christ. God as a human died for human beings and our screw-ups. God wants to reside within his people via the Holy Spirit in our bodies. Heaven is prepared for his people where God will be in a garden again to love life together with us. The infinite love of God for human beings is the basis for our self-love.
You deserve respect and a good life. Not that these should be handed to you—you are not a child—but you deserve the pride that comes in seeking and establishing a good life.
Take hold of your dignity and live like you have it. See the value in yourself that Jesus sees. It was the Lord Jesus who implied our infinite worth.
(Mat 16:26 ESV) For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
The questions are rhetorical: there is literally nothing you can give in return for the soul and you will have no profit in exchanging your soul for anything. That means there is nothing in this universe more valuable than your soul. The biggest diamond, the largest continent, the most lavish palace, the nicest car, the bank account with the most zeroes—it's all worthless compared to your soul. Did you know you have one of the most valuable things in existence inside you? Or should I say, Did you know you are one of the most valuable things in existence?
No matter how you treat you, you are valuable. And value beckons special treatment.
I have a dear friend, a widow who keeps her house spotless. Her joy is in keeping a nice home. When she invites me to her house to eat I never quite relax for fear of making a mess of things. Every pillow is at the right angle, every picture frame dusted, and I wouldn't be surprised if her closet was organized by color. But she invites me to eat and I can't turn down a home-cooked meal with a good friend. Out she brings a wonderful meal on the nicest dinnerware you have ever seen. I did not ask how much the dinnerware was worth, not because of etiquette, because I feared I would faint at the answer. She took the time to talk about the craft and history of each set of silverware and which antique shop she found each plate. My wife points out how I eat like a barbarian at home but not at this widow's house. Using a fork that might be worth over fifty dollars changes a man, at least for a meal. I missed the plastic plates we use in our home, ones that are built to last, not to look nice. I got no fear with a plastic plate and a Tupperware bowl, but fine-china makes you eat carefully. Value beckons special treatment.
Imagine yourself as the fine-china, not the tupperware. You, a creation of God with his special image imprinted upon you, are fine-china and you should treat yourself carefully. In the way that you don't treat fine-china in a cavalier manner, treat yourself with respect.
Paul made a similar point in his second letter to Timothy,
(2Ti 2:20-21 ESV) Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
Of course, paper plates have less value and it does not matter how you treat them so much because they have little value. But you are careful with the nice dinnerware because of its value. The value decides how you treat it. Well when people are infinitely valuable, how then should they be treated? More to the point, how should you treat yourself?
My friend Billy—bless his heart—has this terrible habit of talking poorly about himself. "I can't do anything right," "I'm just a screw up," or "Everything I do is crummy." One time I put my hand on his shoulder and gently said, "Hey, don't talk about my friend like that. You know if I heard someone talking about you the way you are talking about you, I would stand up for you and say, 'Don't talk about my friend like that.' I won't put up with it from other people and I won't put up with it from you. Billy is awesome."
Because people are made in the image of God they deserve respect. Don't be cursing yourself because you are struggling or you had a bad day. Let the adult-side of your mind analyze the issues and encourage the child-side of your mind that is throwing a tantrum. Listen to your reason and conscience, and put your emotions in time-out until they learn to behave themselves. Walk by the Spirit who gives guidance through his inspired word (Rom 8:12-14; 2Pe 1:21), and let the flesh know its place (Rom 8:13; Col 3:5).
Bobby Price was born and raised by Christian parents in Perrin, Texas. Bobby decided early in life to become a preacher of God's word. He attended the Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas where he graduated in 2015 with his Bachelors of Biblical Studies with a focus in Congregational Ministry. Afterwards, he interned for a year at the valley view Church of Christ in Jonesboro, AR. He is currently working on his Masters of Biblical Studies, through the Sunset International Bible Institute Graduate School.