Love thy neighbor as thyself. All Christians know it as one of the pillars of a healthy relationship with God above. The second greatest commandment, only behind “love the Lord your God with every last speck of your being,” it implies a Christian life devoted to the servant leadership practiced by Jesus. This is no easy task—sacrifice, humility, and trust all play a role in crafting a love of others that is likened to picking up a cross and following a carpenter from Galilee down a hard and treacherous road.
Of course, before any of this can happen, we must love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength. If we do not do this, we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves, for if we do not have a proper relation to God, loving anybody as ourselves is doing them a disservice; the harm we do to ourselves is even worse. If we do not love the Lord our God, we will never be able to understand how much he loves us; if we do not understand how much he loves us, we cannot even begin to love others well.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves—not love our neighbors and hate ourselves. And yet in many Christian circles, there is an attitude of self-hatred and guilt that is acceptable and almost even encouraged. We are called to love others; how can we be permitted to despise ourselves? If a man walks into a room of God-fearing brothers and sisters and says, “I hate such-and-such a man” the response is an almost immediate, passionate cry of, “Brother, we are to love them as Jesus did, especially when it is difficult!” But if the same man is sitting over coffee with a friend and says, “I feel such terrible guilt and shame over my sin” the response is often times a more restrained, “Well brother, you should pray for forgiveness and grace.”
Love is difficult; any man, woman, or child, if asked honestly, will attest to the truth that love is often a hard and difficult task—as difficult as carrying a fatal burden up a long road for the sake of another. But it is the second greatest commandment, against which there is no law.
Love the Lord your God with all you’ve got.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Do we love our neighbors like we love ourselves? Do we condemn, shame, bully, belittle, and degrade our neighbors? Do we whisper insidious, toxic words at their every fault and failure? Do we tell them they aren’t good enough for love and grace and mercy?
Or do we cover their sins with love and grace? Do we extend them the blood of Christ, poured out for the remittance of failure, for guilt, and for every sort of misdeed? We surely must; there is no other way. How then can we go on despising our own selves? We are loved by God; we are loved completely and utterly, given no quarter or rest from the reckless, raging fury of God’s love. That is the love we are to extend to others. That is the love we are to allow ourselves. This is why it is so important that we first love the Lord our God; if we love him, we will trust him; if we trust him, we will trust that we are loved.
In a tragically cynical, yet brutally honest article entitled Love Your Neighbor as Yourself? No Thanks., Dan Pearce writes about “Loving others the way I loved myself destroyed my life.” He explains how he projected his own inner guilt, mistrust, and self-loathing onto others, and that it tore at every relationship he had, including two marriages that ended in divorce. He concludes by saying that we must love ourselves before we can love our neighbors.
This is an entirely valid point, but it neglects the very core truth that we simply aren’t very good at loving ourselves. Sure, there are those egoist and braggarts who seem to be having an affair with their own ego, but like any affair, this is rooted in lust, not love, and it is born of insecurity or misperception. The vast majority of humankind doesn’t treat themselves too well. This is why it’s essential that we love the Lord our God with absolutely everything we have. Only when we have despaired of our own strength, then we will trust on His. With this trust in the infinite love of the Father, we can acknowledge in the same breath our utter degradation and the fact that we are loved—even liked—by God the Father.
On this subject, Carl Jung observed: “What if I discover…the poorest of all beggars, the most imprudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me…that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then? As a rule, the Christian attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to brother within us ‘Raca’ and condemn and rage against ourselves.”
This should not be. Christ stretched out his bloody arms for all mankind—not everybody but yourself. To think otherwise is not only arrogant; it is insulting to God himself—it is saying that the blood of the Cross covers everyone’s sin but thy own. But even failing to fully accept the love of God is not to lose it—it is merely a tragedy. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Self-hatred serves nothing, but love covers a multitude of sins.
We should not love ourselves because we are lovable—we are not. But to love others well, we must love ourselves well. And to love ourselves well, we must first love God—at least enough to trust his love.
Love thyself for the sake of thy neighbor.
Love thyself because God loves thee.