According to Jesus in Matthew 22:39, we are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Read that carefully once more…do you see the catch? What is love for your neighbor supposed to be like? If you answered “my love for myself,” you’re right!
So what does the Bible mean when it says to love ourselves? Let’s look at the context.
Jesus is teaching the people and has once again silenced some of the religious leaders–this time, the Sadducees. When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had shut the Sadducees up, they tried to set a trap for Him using the Law of Moses.
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).
First, let’s look at what the Bible doesn’t say. Many people throughout the years have looked at this and decided that Jesus meant that we need to learn to love ourselves. To me, that sort of thinking looks at verse 39 out of context. Jesus doesn’t explicitly say to “love ourselves” because He isn’t commanding us to do that. Jesus does something way cooler here: He makes an assumption.
It isn’t always good for us to make assumptions about situations or people, but when the Lord makes assumptions, they’re always accurate because He knows what people are like.
The assumption that Jesus makes starts in verse 37,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Jesus calls this the “great and foremost commandment,” the commandment people are to follow over all other commandments. Think of a pyramid. This commandment is like the base of a pyramid; every other commandment God gave or will give builds from this command. This command is the base that all of our obedience to God rests upon…after all, if you don’t love God with all your heart, soul and mind, why would you obey His commands?
Jesus uses that commandment as the basis for the next command, to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s here that the Lord makes His assumption: If we love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, then it naturally follows that we already love ourselves because then we see ourselves the way God sees us. The next logical step is that we see everyone around us the way God sees them and love them the same way.
Does that make sense? These are two separate commands, yet you can’t really accomplish the second without following the first. And, once you accomplish the first, you can’t really help the natural process of following the second. There are two distinct commands that are completely linked together.
This Scripture was never about “learning to love yourself;” it was always about learning to love God with everything you are and everything you have. By doing that, loving yourself and everyone around you just comes naturally.
Girls, how does this Scripture help you understand what it really means to love yourself and others?
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body (Ephesians 5:29-30).
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