What does the Bible say about self-love, loving self?

Question: “What does the Bible say about self-love, loving self?”

Love as described in the Bible is quite different from love as espoused by the world. Biblical love is selfless and unconditional, whereas the world’s love is characterized by selfishness. In the following passages we see that love does not exist apart from God, and that true love can only be experienced by one who has experienced God’s own love first-hand.

Romans 13:9-10, “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

1 John 4:16-19, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

The statement, “love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love yourself. It is natural and normal to love yourself. The fact that the vast majority of people in the world care for their own needs is testament to the fact that love for self is not lacking. The statement, “love your neighbor as yourself” is essentially saying treat other people as well as you treat yourself. The idea of loving yourself as a command of Scripture is not accurate. The Bible presumes that people already love themselves too much—that is our problem. We are to take our eyes off ourselves and care for others. At the same time, self-hate is equally unbiblical. The Bible nowhere instructs us to hate ourselves.

We love ourselves based on God’s abiding love for us, and in response to this love we share it with all whom we come in contact with—our “neighbors.” In fact it could be argued that were someone to NOT love themselves it would be an act of sin, as it would, in essence, be rejecting God’s love. Perhaps a more biblical phrase would be, “You must love one another out of obedience to God, which cannot be done outside of experiencing God’s love yourself in the first place and accepting what that love reveals about yourself.”

Recommended Resource: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson.

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