Preaching to the choir: lovers of self

But wait — that’s a good thing, right? We’re supposed to love ourselves so that we can love others, right?

That doesn’t seem to be what the Bible says, at least not in the passage I read this morning.

I’ll be honest: I don’t think God intends for us to hate ourselves or to think we belong on the rubbish heap of life as rejects, devoid of anything worthwhile, and unfit for human company. After all, that would be an affront to Him as Creator. I’ll also be honest enough to admit that I have been guilty of saying, in essence, that God made some sort of horrible mistake when He formed me in my mother’s womb, because I was convinced that I was obviously and terribly flawed. God, in His mercy, has exposed that as a lie, and has brought me much healing.

We are image-bearers of God, whether we believe in Him or not. Some of us allow Him to shine through us better than others. But we all have value. We just need to remember that He has far, far more value. He is God, and we are not.

Over the years, I have tried to improve my self-esteem and self-image, but all the self-help books and inspirational talks in the world didn’t fix the gaping wound inside me. It was a deeper realization — a revelation — of the love of God, as my Creator and my Father, that brought the healing I so desperately needed. I am learning to stop using my own measuring stick to evaluate myself, or the measuring sticks of others, and instead to find my meaning and self-worth in my relationship with God.

At the same time, I keep praying desperately that God would keep me from self-love. Love is meant to be other-focused, to be giving and sacrificial, not self-focused. I know this flies in the face of what our culture teaches us, and even in the face of what I have believed in the past. Self-love all too easily becomes narcissism, which is already far too rampant in our society. The Bible acknowledges that we love ourselves and urges us to love our neighbor in the same way — even when I was in the depth of self-loathing, I still managed to put myself first, look out for myself, do things out of selfish motives, and give with strings attached. While I don’t want to believe in lies about how God made me, I also don’t want to think of myself more highly than I should. I want to esteem others more than I do myself. But, most of all, I want to love God far, far more than I do.

A passage of Scripture from 2 Timothy has been on my mind lately. It’s one I cringe at reading. I fight the urge to point fingers at other people. Although I want these words to penetrate my heart, I have to admit that I struggle and resist. I want God to show me where I have fallen short, where I have failed Him. The truth is not pretty.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. [2 Timothy 3:1-5]

The entire list seems to flow from “lovers of self”. We do these things, think these things, and are these things because we love ourselves far more than we should. Some of these things, in our culture, are things we no longer bat an eye at because they have become so mainstream. Who doesn’t love money? Isn’t a certain amount of pride a good thing? It isn’t arrogance if it’s true! It’s not really abuse if she was asking for it! Oh, come on, all kids disobey their parents — we need to worry about the ones that are too obedient! Why should I be grateful for something when I deserve better? Holy — that’s such an old-fashioned word and so stifling and legalistic! I could go on and on.

But let’s point the finger back at me. Let me read off this list, in my quiet prayer time, and ask God to show me if any of these apply to me. Let me ask with an open mind and heart, willing to listen even if the answers pain me.

I want to be a lover of God. I want to love Him more than I do myself, more than I love money, more than I love pleasure. I don’t want faux godliness, the kind that denies its power. I want the real deal. I want to be part of the Kingdom of God, not someone those of the Kingdom would do well to avoid. I can’t do this on my own strength.

We live in difficult times. May God have mercy.