By Brother Wade Paschal

“Love your Neighbor as you love Yourself” (Matthew 19:19)

The commandment to love my neighbor as I love myself implies a relationship between how and why I love myself and love of neighbor.  So what is that relationship? 

Growing up I often heard people talk about “self-esteem” and the “problem” of low self-esteem.  “Low self-esteem” means that I think negatively about myself.  Maybe I emphasize my failures and downplay my successes.  Because I do not believe in myself, I am timid about taking chances, I despair easily, and I feel powerless.

If a person grew up in a negative hostile environment where we are constantly belittled and demeaned the result is often a joyless, bitter person.

These are not make-believe problems.  Nevertheless, simply developing “self-esteem” may be an unsteady foundation for life.  The word “self” gives the problem away. 

The Bible does not believe that we can develop the kind of love that produces love for neighbor through our own inner resources. The first appearance of this command in Leviticus 19:17-18 suggests the problem:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

When the central question is about myself and how I feel, then when others inconvenience me or hurt me or treat me unjustly (at least as I see it), I will want vengeance, or I will or resent them.  If I want to love my neighbor as myself, I can’t start with me.  I must start with God. 

1 John 4 describes how we become loving:

 (4:19) We love because he first loved us.      

We love because we are loved.  We love because we have experienced the love of God through Jesus who died for us.

(4:10) In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

We experience the love of God through the life-giving and sin-forgiving gift of Jesus.  This love lives in us and transforms us so that we cannot hate our brothers while experiencing this amazing love of Christ. 

And this is not a one-time experience, but an on-going experience of receiving and abiding in the love of God through Jesus:

(4:16) God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.      

God loves us and as we receive that love and live in it, we love our neighbors—we want to love our neighbors.

This is not an esteem we create for ourselves, but a wonder and a gratitude for the God who seeks us out in order to cover us with this love.

Leviticus 19 lists a number of actions and attitudes that are inconsistent with love:  greed, stealing, lying, cheating, gossip, bullying, profanity, fear and above all hatred and resentment.  These are all just signs that I have put myself in the center of the universe and forgotten the God who loves me and has given Christ for me. 

It’s a good thing to start every day with this reminder:  I am completely loved by God through Christ.  By his death I am forgiven.  The only safe thing to trust in this world is God’s love for me in Jesus.

The more I know and live in that love, the easier it is live in it and to share it with others. 

Prayer:  Gracious God, you are love and I experience your love through who came to die for me.  Help me, Lord, recognize when fear and self have taken over and I am reacting to others instead of loving my neighbor.  Remind me of the infinite love you have for me in Jesus and the incredible price he paid to claim me as his own.  Fill me with your love so that I have more than enough to share with others. Amen.