There is a temptation in Christian circles to give into the current self-improvement focus of the surrounding culture. Many advertisements, books, lessons, and movies portray becoming a better person by focusing on the self is a primary goal in life. “Be the best you” “Ten ways to better yourself today” “Learn to break off inhibiting relationships” “workout towards the best you” “Meet the new you” are all common phrases, and all of them are counter biblical.
Many advocates of a biblical focus on the self will argue that according to the golden commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” that we must first learn to love ourselves before we can love others. The logic is that if we do not love ourselves then we cannot love others. This is further taken to argue that we have to develop ourselves and grow as a person in able to help others. The first assertion is plain wrong, and the second needs qualifiers.
The commandment to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a direct command phrase, followed by a clause. The command is, “love your neighbor” the clause, “as yourself” is a qualifying phrase that gives us an example of how to fulfill the first command. It is not a path through which we must first travel to get to the first.
Furthermore the principle of self-love before love of the other is not a major theme in Scripture. I can’t think of a verse off the top of my head that speaks to that, other than the admonition to the elders in Ephesians to, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28). However, this keep watch is in reference to the next verse where Paul tells them that, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” So in context Paul is telling them to guard themselves against incoming attacks, and not an urge for them to watch over themselves first.
In Philippians Paul tells us to be humble like Christ, who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,” and hopes to send Timothy to the Philippians soon because he has no one else who takes a general interest in their welfare.
Also in the Hebrew Scriptures the focus on the character of God is his lovingkindness and compassion and forgiveness from generation to generation. No mention is ever made of God loving himself first. The dominant theme of Scripture is the love of the other, and not of the self. We as we seek to be like Scripture must make sure that we are emphasizing what Scripture emphasizes. We must emphasize the love of the other.