When we encounter the word ‘love’ in the Bible, it can mean a lot of different things. Depending on the original language, the writer might be referring to compassion, unconditional love, brotherly love, or romantic love.
When we examine the idea of self-love, we find that different traits and expressions of self-love emerge. Some are Biblical and God-honoring, and some are not.
Consider these two passages side by side:
- To acquire wisdom is to love yourself; people who cherish understanding will prosper. Proverbs 19:8 NLT
- But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – 2 Timothy 3:1-4
The ‘lovers of themselves’ described in Paul’s letter to Timothy do not seem like people spoken of in Proverbs, who have acquired wisdom and cherish understanding. By contrast, they seem to have rejected all wisdom and understanding.
These passages must be speaking about two different kinds of self-love. Let’s address the problematic one first.
Is Self-Love a Sin?
The misery-riddled self-love in Paul’s letter is best described as pride. Here is one of the many proverbs that warn against the sin of pride:
Pride, the writer says, leads to any number of sins. The self-prioritizing attitude of pride paves the way for greed, envy, idolatry, and more.
In this way, pride is less about love for self than it is about love for pleasure, power, and control. Pride led Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit so they could be like God (Genesis 3:5). Pride causes us to elevate ourselves above God in our own perception.
This is why Jesus warned that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it,” (Mark 8:35).
Examples of Self-Love
Apart from Adam and Eve, the pages of scripture are filled with examples of people who were driven by pride and their own selfish pursuits. Let’s consider Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mark 10:17-22
We might see this as a cautionary tale about the corrupting effect of wealth, but there is more going on here. The young man was in love not only with his wealth but with the power and control that his wealth afforded him.
Jesus wasn’t just asking the man to live without his stuff, he was asking for total surrender. He was asking the man to love God more than he loved himself. Verse 20 shows us that Jesus’ request had its roots in his love for the lost man.
But the young man’s pride blinded him to Jesus’ love, leaving him with only a self-centered counterfeit form of love.
With that in mind, let’s examine a very different example of self-love.
and you know me.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. ” Psalm 139:1, 13-14, 23-24
The Bible describes David as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). In this psalm, we see how David meditated on God’s love, care, and purpose for him. What David experienced, as a result, was not a self-indulgent, prideful love but a true sense of worth because he has experienced God’s love.
Unlike pride, this is a very beneficial and Godly expression of self-love.
What does the Bible Say about Loving Yourself First?
In our interpersonal relationships, Godly self-love helps us to love others.
Paul illustrates the value that self-love has in marriage:
And the second of the two Great Commands assumes a measure of self-love:
In both of these examples, we see how self-love produces a greater love for those around us.
Because God First Loved Us
As we read earlier in David’s psalm, experiencing and meditating on God’s love instills a sense of worth in us because our Heavenly Father has proven that we are valuable to Him.
John echoes David’s joy over experiencing God’s love when he says:
There is genuine excitement in John’s tone, and rightly so. There is no better experience than knowing the love of our Father.
When we meditate more deeply on His love, we understand that He loves all of His people just as deeply as He loves us. This is how our Godly self-love leads us to a deeper and more complete love for others. Because we recognize that all love, no matter where it flows, originates from God.
We love because he first loved us. ” 1 John 4:10-12, 19