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For love to work correctly, you have to break it down into its three critical parts: subject, verb, and an object. Love (verb) demands a giver (subject) and receiver (object) for it to have vitality. Love alone is a neutral idea, which would cause it to cease to exist. We see this threefold requirement of love in the most famous verse in the Bible:
For God (subject) so loved (verb) the world (object), that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
God (subject) is the lover, and we are the loved (objects). And He is calling us to imitate Him by being redemptive lovers, which is why the most profound thing we can do to live out the 600+ laws in the Old Testament is to (1) love God and (2) love others.
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
Loving God and loving others is God-centered because your love is going away from you rather than toward you. Self-centered love is when the “lover” is also the receiver of the action, which is not satisfying to anyone.
The self-centered lover, like a crack addict, demands more attention, more acts of service, and more sacrifices from others. The self-lover depletes and discourages people. Eventually, their relationships die.
There is a way that seems right for the self-centered lover, but the end of that kind of narcissistic life is the death of their relationships. (Proverbs 14:12 paraphrase)
Then there is gospel-centered love with its counterintuitive message that cuts against the grain of our thinking. It seems foolish, but yet it is wiser than we are. It appears weak, but it is stronger than we are (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Christ modeled this kind of love for us when He came to earth as a human by setting aside what He had to love us well (Philippians 2:5-11). Though He sacrificed so much, He understood that if He followed the counterintuitive force of gospel love, it would end well with Him (Hebrews 12:2).
According to our self-centered “economy of reason,” we know that if you give something away, as He did, you will have less of what you had. But the problem with this kind of reasoning is that God’s ways transcend ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). He challenges the natural thinker’s thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Am I willing to set aside my way for a better way? Can I trust Christ? Is it true that if I give, I will be made whole, and those around me will be happier?
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. – Luke 6:38
Some of the fullest and happiest people that you’ll ever see are generous people (2 Corinthians 4:16). Some of the most dried up and worn out people are the stingiest among us (Ecclesiastes 1:8, 12:1). It indeed is the clashing of two economies.
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Typically, these kinds of questions poke at some of our hidden fears. Most self-centered lovers are afraid of the consequences of choosing a life of “giving over receiving.”
The fear-motivated person is tragically guarding something that they love. They are afraid of losing something by loving others more than themselves.
If I stop trying to satisfy my soul through man-centered means, will God make me happy? Will God take care of me while I spend my life loving others?
The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” We see this at the end of the great “other-loving” passage in Philippians. Notice how the Father blessed Jesus for His sacrifice.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. – Philippians 2:8-10
We understand the culture’s twisted version of self-love, which they call self-esteem. But did you know that you’re supposed to love yourself? How sad would it be for an image bearer not to like himself or herself? (Genesis 1:27)
Why would you not love yourself if God created you? To un-love yourself is ungodly. But you ask, “Are there dangers in loving yourself?” That’s obvious. Are there dangers with anything we do? Of course, but risks should not cause a person to overreact.
Jesus did say that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The implication is clear: we are to love ourselves. James said a similar thing in his passage on the tongue.
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. – James 3:9-10
Let me push the envelope: the reason we love the gay person and the liberal-minded person is the same reason we love ourselves: because God created all of us in His image.
I act out my love for myself every day. When I have a headache, I take medication because I love me. When I’m tired, I go to bed because I love myself. When I’m hungry, I do not deprive myself of food because I care about me. The honest truth is that I do not hate myself and God does not want me to hate me.
I won’t expand on this idea any further because I wrote an article on it already. You’re welcome to read it for further study. Self-worth (made in God’s image) and self-love are two different things.
One of the worst teachings of this idea of “hating yourself” among Christians is the “woe is me” worm theology worldview that does not value the image bearer. They have twisted the words of Christ to say, “Love God and others as you hate yourself,” which makes no sense at all.
You should love yourself because of who created you. The painting finds value in itself because of the painter. If the painter had no value, the painting would be worthless. But our “painter” has inestimable worth, and because of who He is, we are worth something too.