These ideologies are more compatible than you'd imagine.
By J. Sells
At first glance, these two statements seem like they’re at odds with one another, like you’re being told to love yourself AND hate yourself simultaneously. What’s even more important here is that Jesus uttered these statements Himself! Some may use this to attempt to point out how confusing Jesus is. On the contrary, the point that Jesus is getting at is quite clear, but WE are the ones making it murky. And this is thanks to the fact that a lot of us get our theology from social media these days. Things like, “live your truth”, “self-love”, and so on. These lines of thinking are actually quite dangerous and fly in the face of the things that Jesus taught. Why does this happen? And why do we conflate these “isms” with Jesus’ words??
Be mindful of the guests.
It’s often said and thought that love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 19:19) is a command to love yourself…but it’s not.
It’s a command to love your neighbor. I think we think it commands us to love ourselves because ‘love yourself’ comes after ‘love your neighbor’, a sequence that makes it seem like the latter item is what’s primary, like if someone said, “Be mindful of the guests as you clean the house”. Since cleaning is the task you’d be consumed with, you’d find a way to clean around the guests instead of tending to their needs because you THINK, or ASSUME rather, that’s what’s been asked of you. But, what was the FIRST thing you were told to do?
“Be mindful of the guests.”
What was the FIRST thing that Jesus told US to do?
“Love your neighbor.”
Photo by Ben White.
Oddly enough, ‘love yourself’ actually has nothing to do with how much you do or don’t ‘love yourself’ (in terms of self-esteem and whatnot). The ‘love yourself’ piece of that verse merely speaks to how we (at least those of us in our right minds) care for ourselves in terms of food, clothing, and shelter, often going to great lengths to secure these things…and a little added comfort. Okay, a LOT of added comfort. So what?
WE are to go out of OUR way to care for OTHERS in this SAME fashion. Going to great lengths to secure comfort for them, to make sure that they’re doing and feeling okay. So much so, that it seems as if we’re…
Denying ourselves. Woah.
And that’s just one aspect of ‘denying yourself’.
Here’s another. Jesus states in Matthew 16:24 that if anyone is to follow Him, he must ‘deny himself’. What does that mean? Deprive ourselves of food and drink? Certainly not, because He just pointed how the same love we give to ourselves is what we should bestow upon our neighbor. So what DOES He mean?
As westerners, most of us being outsiders and foreigners to eastern culture and life, we live very differently than they do. Beyond that, we think very differently than they do. Generally speaking, we’re an individualistic society, and the lands where the Bible was formed are very collectivist, meaning that we lean on ourselves in thought and deed, while they lean on each other in thought and deed. Proverbs 14:12 says, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Sounds dramatic, right? But it’s true. So what does all this have to do with denying yourself?
We know what HE knows.
Donning the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), we have His understanding. We lean on that. That’s where we put roots down. That’s where we glean our truth from. He is our firm foundation. We, in and of ourselves, have no truth (yes, I’m talking to you, ‘affirmationists’, you know who you are); there’s nothing worthy or lovable. ALL of that is derived from Jesus and what HE has deemed true about us! Knowing this, we have a new framework within which to operate. We now know how to truly treat others. We also know how to treat ourselves.
We treat others the way that Christ treats us, and we only know how Christ treats us because we have His mind. In essence, WE know what HE knows. And this is only achieved by denying what we ‘know’…by denying ourselves.
Love yourself. Deny yourself.
Grace and peace.