Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Think of the instructions you are given on an airplane that is about to take off. In the case of an emergency that causes the cabin to depressurize, when the masks fall out of the ceiling what are we instructed to do?

The answer is that we are told to put our own mask on first before putting the masks on our children or others who need assistance. One mistaken way to think about this is that I am selfishly choosing to take care of myself before taking care of others! When looked at logically, very, very few people (hopefully) would agree with that declaration, for how could I possibly help my neighbor out if I am passed out in my seat from lack of oxygen.

In much the same way, we could look at Jesus’ declaration (quoting Leviticus) to “love your neighbor as yourself”. The first part of that we are pretty comfortable with and seems pretty straightforward. Loving our neighbor we can control and feels pretty safe. Bottom line, I have the ability to easily measure how I’m doing in this area.

But the part about loving yourself is more sticky. Conservatives in our Christian sub-culture react very vehemently against the idea of self-love, equating it with selfishness and the sin nature. On the other swing of the pendulum, liberals can embrace self-love to the point that pleasing the self and doing what feels right becomes the idol.

Why then, has Jesus included this caveat? Does this imply that I can only love my neighbor if I love myself? Or is it more like a limitation, that I can only love my neighbor as much as I’m able to love myself?

It is unfortunate that this statement of Jesus gets clouded by the narcissism that runs rampant in our culture. For us, these two concepts have become fused together so that self-love means considering our needs as preeminent, with not care or awareness for how satisfying them affects anyone else.

In some fascinating readings about relational systems, I have repeatedly come across this well accepted facet of relationships and conflict. We will, often without knowing or acknowledging it, react to the real or perceived defects and flaws in others that we feel are similar to our own imperfections.

Or, stated another way, the things we don’t love about ourselves are the things we don’t love in others.

Loving ourselves does not mean narcissistically satisfying every want or desire that we have. It is not an act of falsely inflating our self esteem or considering ourselves of more worth or importance than someone else. It also doesn’t mean that I just accept my sin as part of what I love.

What Jesus is reminding us of is the fact that we were crafted by God. He knows everything about us. We are of so much worth to Him that Jesus came to die for our relationship with God. Nothing about us is an accident. We have been given abilities, inabilities, circumstance, strengths and weaknesses that are intended to bring Him glory.

So I should not hate my need for affirmation, but should instead relish the strength that God gets to display as I allow Him to overcome that weakness in me. Only then, will my actions be truly loving because I’ll not be using them to satisfy some need in me.

Loving ourselves is not a sin, it is a command.

And it is what makes loving others a possibility.
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