“You must love yourself first before you love others” is a lie based on psychology from the era of Sickman Freud and not scripture or historical Christian tradition. The popular ‘self help’ mindset of ‘love the self’ is counter to the gospel and obedience to Christ. Yet it is a lie we love.
Proponents argue, “The bible says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ because it says, ‘as yourself’ you must love yourself first”. The argument erroneously takes the subordinate clause, ‘as yourself’ and makes it the primary focus. The primary directive, “Love your neighbor” is glossed over. The sub clause, ‘as yourself’ is a supporting clause designed to support the primary directive ‘love your neighbor’. Each person takes care of their body, they eat when they are hungry, put on a jacket when cold, and drink when thirsty – we are to do these same things for others. The subordinate clause was there for those who would question what it means to love others. The primary directive remains love your neighbor.
Advocates of ‘love the self’ point to people who, ‘don’t love themselves’. The argument goes that they must love themselves before they can accept love. However, Scripture doesn’t tell us that we must love ourselves before we can accept love. No where does God say to love the self so that we can accept his love. The opposite is true. When we refuse to accept love because we have a negative opinion of ourselves it is because we are putting our opinion of ourselves over reality. It is pride and arrogance in our own thoughts. We reject God and hold on to our belief. The solution is not to love myself more but to think of myself less. Subjugate my opinion to reality and the gospel.
Again, what does it matter if I do love myself? I love myself. So what? Nothing happens. If I think that I must believe I am beautiful before I accept a compliment, then what is the point of the compliment? I already believe I am beautiful. This is arrogance to believe that the only opinion that matters is my own and no other opinion matters until I have the same one.
Finally, not even modern psychology agrees with the proponents of loving the self-first. Neuropsychologists and attachment experts Stan Tatkin and Daniel Siegel both profess that one does not enter healthy relationships by loving the self at all. It is, in fact, a focus on the other that brings healing and true human connection.
Why do we hold on so tightly to the idea that we must love ourselves? We want to seek our own good. It covers up how truly selfish we are either by holding to negative or positive opinions of ourselves. Loving the other first requires laying down our own lives for another—both internally and externally. We must give up careers, hobbies, food choices, and even freedoms. But what other response do we have to a God that loved us first?
Show me how Christ was loving himself first and thought of himself on the Cross and then I shall follow his footsteps. He did not. He thought of honoring the Father. How little is it to give up my own success, to be wronged, or just think not of myself?