Growing up in a fault-conscious Christian home, I learned early that loving others always came first. It was a noble thing and to some degree, the highest calling. I remember hearing from my parents that if we are to love our neighbours, we had to ask ourselves. “Who is my neighbour?” The answer was obvious. The closest people to me were my nearest neighbours, so logically, I must love my family first. You would think that meant I must love myself too, being, quite literally, the closest person to me.
However, loving myself was frowned upon, at least internally. The culture and society I spent my growing years with, showed me that to love myself is only appropriate if it does not get in the way of loving others. And something I grasped was that when someone loves you, you become happy. Therefore, loving someone meant making other people happy, in other words, pleasing them. It took years and a lot of struggle for me to realise that this is the furthest thing from God’s truth.
As humans, it is impossible for us to live and not love others. At least, we would die on the inside if we fail to express the love God designed for us to give and receive. With that said, the bible is clear about how to love, and it’s as clear as day once you see it.
“…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”Matthew 22:39 KJV
Most people I know omit the last part of this verse. Two words change the entire meaning, “as thyself.” It’s one thing to know that God loves us. It’s another to know and understand that God supposed us to love ourselves. He could have stopped at “love thy neighbour.” But, the verse clearly shows us that we gauge our love for our neighbours by how much we love ourselves. The bible tells us that if we love ourselves, we have a much better capacity with which to love our neighbours. It also nullifies the notion that loving our neighbour comes before loving ourselves. The bible is clear.
Why is this important, anyway? Honestly, it is very foundational and is one of the keys to living a fulfilling life. It is biblical the God loves each one of us, with perfect love. And it’s just as biblical as it can get that we ought to love ourselves with the love He first gave us (1 John 4:19). Consequently, we will be able to love our neighbours as God has purposed in us.