1 & 2 Thess.; 1&2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon; Proverbs 20-23
Key passage for devotion: 2 Timothy 3:1-5
"He loves himself.
He thinks he’s grand.
He goes to the movies and holds his hand..."
When I was in 6th grade, kids would sometimes recite this silly little poem. It’s certainly not worth remembering except from the standpoint that it expresses the negative attitude toward self-love prevalent in the early 1960’s.
Twenty some years later in the 1980s when my son went to 6th grade, that view had radically changed. At sixth grade graduation, my son’s class sang the popular Whitney Houston song, “The Greatest Love of All.” The song includes these lyrics: “I never found anyone to fulfill my needs...So I learned to depend on me...the greatest love of all is happening to me...I found the greatest love of all inside of me… Learning to love yourself…It is the greatest love of all.”
Houston’s song tells us that the well-being of a person, especially the younger generation, lies in their ability to love themselves. This song is a much more mature and creative expression than the 1960’s school yard poem, but it’s message is actually less biblical.
Jesus says “I command you to love each other in the same way that I have loved you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friend” (John 15:12,13).
The modern world has spent almost four decades trying to build people’s self-esteem because a variety of experts (to include many Christians) have convinced us that low self-esteem is the cause of crime, drug and alcohol abuse, rebellion, unhappiness, poor achievement, and a plethora of other harmful behaviors. In fact, experts tell us that people who act arrogant and rude (as if they love themselves) are actually compensating for their poor self-esteem!
The Bible, however, takes a different view. It says that the above behaviors are the result of selfishness, irresponsibility, pride, unbelief, or laziness. It says our tendency toward these behaviors stems not from our poor self-esteem but from our fallen sin nature and our love of self. And statistics prove the Bible to be accurate--crime, immorality and discontent have increased right along with the self-esteem movement.
The self-esteem movement insists that we all deserve to be unconditionally accepted, but that's not Biblical either. God loves us unconditionally, but He “accepts” us conditionally, depending not simply on our performance but on our heart attitudes and our values. For example, Scripture tells us that God opposes the proud, and Jesus says in John 15:14 that only those who do what he commands are his friends. James 1:5-8 says that a double-minded man “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.”
Actually, unconditional acceptance is an unrealistic philosophy: we punish our children when they misbehave (or we should), we hire the best person for the job, we choose friends who treat us kindly, we rely on responsible people, we frequent businesses that treat us fairly--there's really no such things as unconditional acceptance.
The self-esteem movement originated with the teachings of psychologist Carl Jung who was openly hostile to Christianity. While there are nuggets of truth in the philosophy, the premise is seriously flawed. It assumes we are born without a fallen nature and blames our problems on our environment. It says we are victims of our circumstances and our emotional health is dependent on our feelings.
The good news is that while circumstances influence us, our choices are what rule our lives. Joseph in the Old Testament is a wonderful example. He was raised in a very dysfunctional family (multiple marriage, jealousy, murder, incest, rape). According to self-esteem advocates, Joseph was doomed to a life of crime and dysfunction. Yet, he made choices that helped him overcome his difficulties, choices based on his love and trust of God—not his love for himself.
We are fallen human beings, and all of us are messed up to one degree or another. None of us will be completely happy and secure until we are in heaven. When we suffer from insecurity, confusion, fear, and sorrow, the solution is not learning to love ourselves more. The solution is loving and trusting God more, yielding ourselves more fully to His will, dying to ourselves.
In fact, according to Scripture, a great self-esteem is not the solution to our problems; it is the cause of many of them:
“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—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)
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