Love as described in the Bible is quite different from the love as espoused by the world. Biblical love is selfless and unconditional, whereas the world’s love is characterized by selfishness. In the following passages, we see that love does not exist apart from God and that true love can only be experienced by one who has experienced God’s own love firsthand:
Romans 13:9–10, “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
John 13:34–35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
1 John 4:16–19, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”
The statement “love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love yourself. It is natural and normal to love yourself—it is our default position. There is no lack of self-love in our world. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is essentially telling us to treat other people as well as we treat ourselves. Scripture never commands us to love ourselves; it assumes we already do. In fact, people in their unregenerate condition love themselves too much—that is our problem.
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, there was only one who showed himself to be a true neighbor to the man in need: the Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37). There were two others, a priest and a Levite, who refused to help the man in need. Their failure to show love to the injured man was not the result of loving themselves too little; it was the result of loving themselves too much and therefore putting their interests first. The Samaritan showed true love—he gave of his time, resources, and money with no regard for himself. His focus was outward, not inward. Jesus presented this story as an illustration of what it means to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (verse 27).
We are to take our eyes off ourselves and care for others. Christian maturity demands it. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3–4). According to this passage, loving others requires humility, a valuing of others, and a conscious effort to put others’ interests first. Anything less than this is selfish and vain—and falls short of the standard of Christ.
None of this should be taken to mean that we should see ourselves as “worthless.” The Bible teaches that we are created in the image of God, and that fact alone gives us great worth (see Luke 12:7). The balanced, biblical view is that we are God’s unique creation, loved by God in spite of our sin, and redeemed by Christ. In His love, we can love others.
We love others based on God’s abiding love for us in Christ. In response to this love, we share it with all whom we come in contact with—our “neighbors.” Someone who is worried that he doesn’t love himself enough has the wrong focus. His concern, biblically, should be his love for God and his love for his neighbor. “Self” is something we want out of the way so that we can love outwardly as we ought.