Living with Ourselves
I have written profusely on the tumultuous times in which we now live. In the midst of the
constant ebb and flow of differing opinions, it has become difficult to navigate through the
public arena without becoming increasingly frustrated with others. I myself have found it harder to love people than ever before, and this difficulty stems from unbridled anger, anger directed at the supposed ignorance and ambivalence scattered throughout social media platforms and numerous talking heads on network news stations. As I meandered through the maelstrom of opinions that I believe to be wrong and, quite frankly, stupid, it became harder and harder to give grace to people. Though it is our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), we often neglect to obey this second greatest commandment.
Why is it so hard to love our neighbors as ourselves?
This question has multiple answers; however, the chiefest among them, in my opinion, is
ingrained in the question itself. Perhaps we are loving our neighbors in the same manner we
love ourselves. Perhaps the issue rests in how we love ourselves. As I began to realize the
struggle I had with loving others, I began to pray and seek God. I questioned why it was so
difficult to show grace to those who cause so much pain and hurt in the world. Admittedly, I
even struggled with forgiving those who committed the most minor of grievances against me.
After each and every time I asked God why I had to forgive and show grace to others, he
always responded by reminding me that he continues to forgive and show grace to me, but, for some reason, I could not accept that answer. In fact, that answer only served to make me
angrier. After struggling through prayer, I finally understood what the true issue was.
I didn’t love myself.
This self-love is not from the same vine as the selfish, me-first love one can find in the self-help section in a Barnes and Noble. In fact, this self-love has nothing to do with us as all. It has everything to do with Christ’s love for us. In spite of every single sin you or I have ever committed, Jesus chose to love us (Romans 5:8). This unconditional love is what allows us to love others (1 John 4:19). This unconditional love is what allows us to love ourselves.
Looking at the life of the Apostle Paul offers many insights into the transformative love God
offers us. The redemption story that turned one of the church’s most bloodthirsty enemies into its greatest advocate should give all believers hope. However, nobody looked at the apostle’s salvation for inspiration more than Paul himself. He understood the evil of his sinful nature, and, in 1 Timothy 1:15, he even claimed to be the greatest among sinners. This realization, however, does not dismantle Paul’s relationship with Christ. Being the foremost of sinners does not stifle his mission to spread the word, love others, and serve God. The reality that Christ loved Paul for the trash that he was only strengthened and encouraged the apostle further in his walk with Jesus.
In Romans 5, Paul writes regarding grace and sin, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Paul understood this all too well, as his own life reflected a tremendous amount of grace. There is no doubt that Paul had his life in mind when penning this passage to the Romans. The more sin Paul committed earlier in life, the more grace he would experience. Instead of looking at our past mistakes as damning evidence convicting us of all the horrible names with which we label ourselves, we need to start looking at the incredible amounts of grace God shows us daily for no other reason than that he loves us.
While I was struggling through my anger with others and, foremost, myself, I stumbled upon
Galatians 2:20, which reads, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but
and servant of Jesus Christ, but the words that broke down my hardened heart were “for me”. In the Greek, υπερ εμου, this phrase opened my eyes to the raw love Jesus displayed on the cross two thousand years ago. These words were the key to loving myself. Christ gave me all of him despite every horrible thing I have done. In order for me to truly love myself, I need to accept this. I need to understand that, because Christ has already forgiven me for my trespasses, I too can forgive myself. I can show grace to myself. With his death,Christ transformed my worthless life into something invaluable.
If allowing myself the mercy, grace, and forgiveness that Christ offers is loving myself, then it
makes sense why this self-love is the standard off which we must love others. Of course, loving our neighbors can be difficult for a variety of reasons; however, we will always fail to follow this second greatest commandment if we also fail to love ourselves.