A Biblical View of Self Love
Old Testament scripture and Jesus both teach us something about self-love and self-care. Matthew 12: 28-31 says:
“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Although the teaching of scripture is explicitly clear about loving God and others, it also implicitly suggests that we are to love our selves. ‘As’ means ‘in the same way’, so we are commanded to love our neighbour ‘in the same way’ as we love ourselves. This command suggests that loving ourselves is a model for how we love others.
Paul provides a further implicit endorsement for self-love here, in Ephesians 5:28-30:
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.
We are not commanded to love and care for our bodies here. Instead Paul is assuming that we do love and care for our bodies. Self-love and self-care are scriptural assumptions.
Our culture is full of people who struggle with self-hatred and self-rejection, which may evidence itself in various mental health disorders. Another implicit way that scripture promotes self-love is through what we do not see in Jesus. Whilst Jesus does deny himself consistently, he does not hate himself and that is an important distinction. We do not see Jesus in the crux of emotional distress* through self-rejection, or having an existential crisis about his identity. Instead we witness an emotionally sound human in Christ. No doubt He has internalised the many words of His Father including, “This is my son, whom I love”.
We too are called to deny ourselves and to lay down our lives, to inconvenience ourselves for others. However, we are never called to reject and hate ourselves**. God created us and loves us. To honour Him, we must honour his creation, which includes our very selves.
As Christians we may baulk at the idea of self-love because we might equate it with the idea of self-centredness, or self-indulgence – ways that we are not called to. Instead we need to think of self-love as, firstly, a response to who God says we are (beloved children) and, secondly, as a first step in mature self-leadership.
Just as a mature and good parent know that they need to lead their children with loving gentleness and kindness, as well as with boundaries and discipline, so we too need to lead ourselves with loving-gentleness and kindness, as well as with boundaries and discipline. Harshness and rejection in the leadership of others or the self only leads to stunted maturity, as we are created to need love.
However, secure, loved people are strengthened and have greater capacity to love and reach out to others. We want to love God and others with our whole hearts, and self-love, under God’s love is one of the ways we work towards that.
* We do see him in acute emotional distress in the Garden of Gethsemane as he starts to bear the weight of God’s judgment. This is not a comparable situation with life-long emotional distress caused by self-rejection.
** Luke 14: 26 does say “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Because of the context of most of the bible commanding us to love others, we know that Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point here about where our heart and life’s primary devotion is. This is not an endorsement to hate and reject the self on a psychological level.