I recently heard a well-meaning pastor mention that to experience the true Christian life, and its fundamental blessings, we had to place God first, others second, and ourselves third. I think this theory of love is inherently flawed, and biblically so. It forgets one critically important, pre-requisite ingredient. I believe there is a biblical basis for everyone (within a certain context) to put themselves first. In other words, I think it’s actually God’s design for life. Self-love is central and prerequisite to loving God and others.
For example, in Ephesians 5:28 Paul says that for a husband to be able to love his wife, he must first love himself. Now, it should be a no-brainer to consider this love not of the self-conceited type, but of the type of genuine self-acceptance of humility. I can tell you of a man who used to be married who couldn’t love his wife properly/adequately because he didn’t love himself. I’m sure you too have seen him. And this is my point.
I don’t believe anyone can sustainably love God and other human beings without having first this healthy self-love (which we shall call from now on, self-acceptance). After all, how can anyone have the space and personal energy and depth to love someone else properly or adequately without first knowing love intrapersonally?
But, the trick is, there’s so much theory and practice to self-acceptance—it can’t be underestimated or fluffed over. From my own experience, the road to self-acceptance is a journey and it’s not one that can ever be skimped on. Its destination is a place called ‘liking-the-truth-about-one’s-self’—a place where we can enjoy that vista—warts ‘n’ all! From the Christian perspective it’s allowing God’s grace to fall upon us—many people struggle a whole lifetime to achieve this apparently simple thing.
For someone who’s made the journey and reached the destination of self-acceptance, loving God and others is the logical next desire of the heart (most of the time). It comes quite naturally for there are no barriers left that push the conceited self to the forefront. To want to help is the newfound spiritual desire. The person who has found themselves in this process cannot help being appropriately spiritual, and aims to be well-aligned, spiritually. They naturally seek higher ground. They naturally want to serve their family first, including themselves—they know it’s the wise thing to do.
There’s nothing sadder in my view of things to see someone serving God when they’ve not first put themselves first—it’s not authentic ministry and can’t ever be. There are millions of former and current pastors and ministers who’ve robbed themselves and their families because they apparently put God and others first and second respectively. I think God requires us to consider ourselves; charity begins at home!
So, provided we have first conquered the mount of this self-acceptance problem, we can then put God first, others second and ourselves third. We’ve already done a journey with God in coming to know ourselves in truth. We don’t any longer scare ourselves regarding our own skeletons-in-the-closet—we laugh at the enemy as he’s got nothing against us. We’ve placed our family in a high position—they’re ‘the first “others”,’ besides God—and we know what God wants us to do. We therefore make time for replenishing ourselves. We’re no good to God or others depleted.
Showing God and others the most authentic kindness is first about showing ourselves kindness; it cannot and does not happen the other way around, though we can often feel most fulfilled by serving others.
© S. J. Wickham, 2009.