Love is one of the central themes of the Bible. We are told that “God is love” and that “God so loved” and we are called by our Creator to “love the way that God loves.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus valued love greatly. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is approached by “an expert in the law” (someone who today might be a pastor or a seminary professor) and is asked what the most important commandment is in the whole Bible. Now, there are a lot of commandments in the Bible – more than just the big 10. Jewish traditions hold that there are 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible alone. The question as to which was the most important was commonly put to rabbis in Jesus’ day to tell what that rabbi’s understanding of God was all about. Jesus’ answer was amazing. He told the man, “The most important commandment is this… ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Jesus isn’t listing two tiers of commandments when He says this. He is simply saying that there are three loves that are at the center of the Scriptures: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. If you get these three loves right, the rest of the Scriptures are just commentary. As Christian women, we often think about our love for God. We pray, do devotions, read the Scriptures, and try to live according to the teachings of the Bible out of a deep love for God our Father and our Creator. Love for God can become as simple and as deeply ingrained as breathing. And, as women, love for others comes naturally to many of us. We are taught from a young age to think about the ways in which we affect other people and their feelings. Whether it is the way we talk, the way we carry ourselves, the way we converse, or the way we dress, we are taught time and again to think of the impact our decisions will have on those we love and those who are part of our communities and we behave accordingly. I find that it is with that last one (love of self) where we run into trouble often.
You see, Jesus didn’t just call us to love our neighbors, but to love them as we love ourselves. Did you hear that? God commands you to love yourself. It is both the logical and necessary prerequisite to loving your neighbor. Now loving yourself doesn’t mean being accepting of all you do, but it does mean that we are to root for ourselves, to be our own fans, and to work for our own care and betterment so that we can grow into our potential. It means giving ourselves grace and mercy just like we see Jesus extending to others. It means seeing in ourselves the image of God and loving that image greatly.
- Share together which of the three loves (God, neighbor, and self) is the easiest for you to show, and what your favorite way of showing it may be.
- In the book The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman identifies five primary ways in which people give and receive love: words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. What is your primary love language? How might you show more love to yourself in using your primary love language?
- How might modeling proper love of self make our faith more vibrant and attractive to others?
Additional Scriptures on loving yourself: Proverbs 19:8, Genesis 1:26, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
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