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Learning to Love Ourselves

An Axis Course On Advent and Your Family

Commenting on Jesus’ “golden rule” (i.e. “do unto others what you would have them do unto you”), in his book The Cross of Christ, John Stott writes, “Self-love is a fact to be recognized and a rule to be used, not a virtue to be commended.” This at least seems to have been the perspective of the Apostle Paul when he encouraged the husbands in Ephesus to love and take care of their wives. Ephesians 5:29 says, “He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.”

In a time when women were considered property and often disposable, these words called for a revolutionary new way for husbands to treat their wives. But to make his point, Paul includes an idea that sounds very strange in our current cultural landscape—the idea that “no one ever hated their own body.” With the prevalence of eating disorders, body dysphoria and self-harm, it seems like our culture may be starting from a very different place than Paul’s was.

In his book Psychological Reflections, Dr. Carl Jung writes, “There was no need to preach ‘love thyself’ to people in olden times, because they did so as a matter of course. But how is it nowadays?” Drawing on much of Jung’s work, in his book 12 Rules for Life Dr. Jordan Peterson suggests that Jesus’ commands to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to “do to others what you would have them do to you” should be read as “equations, rather than injunctions.” So there should be an equivalence between how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. If this reading is correct, then we could just as well use our self-love to measure how we should treat our neighbors as we could use our neighbor-love to measure how to treat ourselves.

There are, of course, other passages like Philippians 2:3, which says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.” But the issue of learning to love ourselves involves correcting the self-hatred which seems so common today, as well as correcting our propensity to neglect the stewardship of our own lives and bodies, with which God has entrusted us.

This is not an excuse to live self-indulgent, self-centered lives. Rather, as Dr. Peterson continues in his chapter “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping”:

You are important to other people, as much as to yourself. You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself. You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued.

Getting to the point where we’re willing to take care of ourselves requires looking at the story we believe about ourselves. In some churches, the first thing we hear from the pulpit about ourselves is that we’re broken, sinful, and in need of a savior. But that’s not where the Bible starts its description of humanity. Genesis 1:26 says that we are “made in the image of God.” This means that at the deepest level of our identity—even deeper than our brokenness and our flaws—there is dignity, majesty, and nobility. We represent the almighty Creator of the universe.

Advent is the anticipation of how God will restore us to the men and women He intended us to be. And when we know that corruption is not the deepest level of our identity, we are free to be as ruthless as we need to be in dealing with our sin. God brought all this to us through the first advent of Jesus, whose second advent we eagerly await.

Action Steps

Sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, ask you family one of these questions:

  • What does it mean to take care of ourselves?
  • Does taking care of ourselves seem selfish to you? Why or why not?
  • Do you think valuing ourselves helps us value others? Why or why not?