Like many in the Christian community, for me there are those familiar scriptures I believe I understand. They are so straightforward, investigative study seems pointless. Such was the case with the phrase “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”.
When I decided to actually study the verse, I discovered many truths hidden in the simplicity of the words. Love in this scripture is the Greek word “AGAPE”, which by definition is the type of love that is not self serving, does not depend on reciprocation and is constant. And as is pointed out in the scripture itself, I must demonstrate love to my neighbor in the same way I demonstrate love to myself. Herein lies the dilemma, how can I love my neighbor if I do not even have this “God” kind of love toward myself.
In our society, self love is usually associated with education, paychecks, property, family or status in the community. In the Christian community, self love is commonly associated with status in the church, amount of church work or worse, our Christian “performance”; the dreaded sin tally. How many times did I get it wrong today? How long did I pray? How much study time did I put in my bible?
The problem with these measuring tools is they are subject to change. We could lose paychecks, spouses and homes. And as sure as we rise in the morning we will sin in some way. It will either be in what we think or in what we do or don’t do. This is no stable basis for obtaining and maintaining self love. Self love must be determined by self worth. And true self worth can really only be determined by God.
The worth of a thing is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it. The Christian’s self worth should only be determined by what God paid to obtain them. Scripture teaches God paid the ultimate price for mankind, the sacrifice of His only son Jesus. This sacrifice was given so mankind, should they accept this gift, could become sons of God. Given this truth, the Christian self worth is priceless. Even non Christians believe Jesus was a person like no other whose loving works toward mankind are unmatched. To sacrifice someone like Him in hopes that even one would believe is mind boggling. What kind of love does that? It appears God’s love does.
The tremendous self worth of the Christian then, if embraced internally should produce self love that does not change based on circumstances or situations. This self love understands that while actions may change, self worth and subsequently self love remain constant. Now we can be free to love ourselves and capable of truly loving others effectively.
If we, I, can embrace this truth, not just intellectually, but let it sink deep in our hearts, the impact in our community will be astonishing. Service to others will become a way of life rather than just “the right thing to do”. When someone asks for food, our attitude will be the same as if we were preparing a meal for ourselves. If someone needs clothing, we will provide for them as if selecting our own wardrobe. If someone seeks mercy or a visit we will remember we too need mercy and sometimes long for a visit or phone call. That kind of demonstrated love pleases the heart of God and changes people forever.