To Love Others, Do I Have to "Love Myself?"

I’m a bit of a celebrity news stalker. In particular, I am fascinated when celebrity romances crash and burn. If the most beautiful girls in the world can’t stay in love with the world’s most handsome fellas even with enough cash flow to fund constant romantic getaways, I want to figure out why. Recently, two celebrity stories caught my eye. Both featured an A-list Hollywood starlet with a history of broken relationships. (I’ll let you guess which ones. It’s a long list!) Both seem to have finally found lasting love. Both shared the same secret to finally winning at romance. “I learned to love myself.” Both thanked their expensive therapists for helping them realize they could never truly love someone else until they loved themselves. Mind if I make a cynical prediction? This won't be the last time I will see these girls’ names in the headlines. They haven’t unlocked the secret to lasting love. “Loving themselves” won’t keep the home fires burning forever. How do I know? Because the Bible gives us a formula for lasting love that doesn’t teach us to love ourselves first.

What About That Second Commandment?

Jesus was talking about love when He said this,

“And a second [commandment] is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).

If you just pluck that sentence out of Scripture it does sound like Jesus is commanding self-love before others-love. That’s why we need to widen our camera angle a bit. Just before this passage, Jesus handed down the greatest commandment. Don’t miss this!

“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 first commandment’” (Matt. 22:37–38).

When it comes to love, Jesus says first we must love God with everything we’ve got. Love God with your whole heart instead of giving pieces of it away to a fella. Love God with your whole soul, making Him the only object of your worship. Love God with your whole mind. Spend your time thinking about Him. Dreaming about Him. Imagining your life with Him, instead of creating a fantasy life built on dreaming about something (or someone else). Once you’ve made God your first love then . . . “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

But What If I Don’t Love Myself?

The fact that we love ourselves is assumed here. Otherwise Jesus would have handed down three commandments. First, love God. Then, love yourself. Finally, love people. If you’re like me, you might be thinking, But I don’t love myself! I hate my eyes/thighs/laugh etc. But Jesus wasn’t talking about self-esteem here. He was acknowledging the fact that ultimately we all look out for number one. Paul said it this way,

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church . . . However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:29, 33).

Self-esteem is liking everything about yourself. It’s thinking you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s looking in the mirror and loving the girl looking back atcha. I don’t know about you, but my self-esteem seems to be in perpetual roller coaster mode. One minute I’m up. The next I’m crashing down. The next minute I’m feeling all topsy-turvy about myself. But ultimately, I still take care of myself. I still eat. I still sleep. I still do the things that make me happy. That’s the kind of self-love Jesus and Paul were talking about. Even when we feel like the ugliest girl in the world, we still take care of our basic needs. Jesus calls us to nourish and cherish others in the same way.

I Want to Know What Love Is

Jesus told us to love Him first and others second for good reason. First, He is worthy. He created us. He rescued us. He deserves every part of us. Beyond that, we need to love Him first and others second because He is the ultimate teacher when it comes to love. Have you noticed that we are all struggling to figure this love thing out? None of us really know how to love and be loved, but God knows. He is love after all.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

It’s only because of His great love for us that we know the first thing about how to love others.

“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Do you need to learn to “love yourself” before you can be lucky in love? Not so much. You do need to love God with every corner of your heart. As you do, an amazing thing will happen. How you see yourself will change. As you look at yourself through the lens of God’s Word, you will begin to know how wide and deep and everlasting God’s love is for you. That’s not the same as never having a bad hair day again. It’s better! God’s love will also extend to your relationships with others. That means:

  • You can be faithful to one person because God is faithful to you.
  • You can forgive when you have been hurt because God has forgiven you of so much.
  • You can be gracious to others because Jesus is gracious to you.
  • You can be humble because God is humble.
  • You can sacrifice for others because Jesus sacrificed so much for you.

I doubt that any celebrity therapists will be sending me their client list anytime soon, but if they do, I will open my Bible and show them this formula for true love. Step 1: Acknowledge that God is the source of love. Step 2: Seek to love Him with everything you’ve got. Step 3: Ask Him to help you love others and take care of them like you care for yourself. Step 4: Repeat often. What do you think?

  • Do you need to “love yourself” before you can love others?
  • Do you know any secrets to lasting love?

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager for Revive Our Hearts, and a host of the Grounded videocast. You can hear her teach on The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast.