So how do you feel about yourself? How’s your self-esteem? Do you have a good self-image? Answers to these questions have become prominent concerns of education, psycho-therapy, counseling and parenting.
One writer suggested that, “Feeling good about ourselves may in fact be the cornerstone of our total well-being.”
When this emphasis became mainstream, some church leaders jumped on the wagon. “Self-esteem or pride in being human” one minister wrote, “is the single greatest need facing the human race today” (Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.19). Schuller even wrote that, “Once a person believes he is ‘an unworthy sinner’ it is doubtful if he can honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Christ.” (Robert Schuller, Ibid., p. 98). Unbelievable!
As time went on, lack of success on every level of life (at work, in school, in relationships) as well as almost every form of evil and destructive behavior would be traced to low self-esteem. So the agenda in education, counseling and parenting became focused on the goal of encouraging self-esteem and self-love.
It’s certainly not unreasonable for parents, educators and counselors to see some connections between one’s view of oneself and other issues in life. Building healthy self-respect and confidence is not necessarily a bad thing — if built on the right foundation. But those of us familiar with what the Bible teaches (and honest about the reality of life) have good reasons to be guarded against overstatement on self-image, self-love and self-esteem.
Is self-love mandated in Scripture?
Scripture assumes that we love ourselves when it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) or “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but feeds and cares for it” (Ephesians 5:28-29).
The mistake some interpreters make is to misread these passages as mandates to love yourself. The text does not present two commands, one to love your neighbor; the other to love yourself. The texts above assume self-love as a current reality and mandate love for others. Scripture actually warns about the dangers of self-love and the need to put limits on self-esteem.
2 Timothy 3:1-4
“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.”
The “terrible times” in the “last days” are partly due to misplaced love. Notice where love is directed:
- verse 2 – lovers of themselves
- verse 2 – lovers of money
- verse 4 – lovers of pleasure
- verse 4 – rather than lovers of God
Along with this, people become:
- verse 2 – boastful, proud and ungrateful
- verse 4 – conceited
These traits are labeled as dangerous. They belong to the degeneration of wholesome society.
In 1 Timothy 3:6, there is a direct warning about dangers related to self-esteem. It warns against allowing a new believer to be an elder/leader in the Church: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”
Conceit is best defined in Romans 12:3- “…I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment…” This offers an important word against unrestrained self-esteem. “Think of yourself with sober judgment” –realistically and honestly— with humility (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7).
Would it be wrong to encourage someone to have confidence in himself or to have a little self-respect? No! But these statements shouldn’t be taken too far (Consider Luke 18:9-14 with Luke 15:18-19).
Old Testament examples:
- Moses (Exodus 4:10-11; 3:11)
- Gideon (Judges 6:15)
- Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5)
- Amos (Amos 7:14-15)
- Job (Job 42:6)
- Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-37)
New Testament examples:
- Peter (Luke 5:8; 22:31-34)
- Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
- John the Baptist (Luke 3:16)
Philippians 2:3-5 – the mind of Christ
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”
The best way to overcome misdirected love is to live by a kingdom of Christ understanding of life.
How did Jesus present himself?
“Also a dispute arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves’” (Luke 22:24-27).
Consider the contrast
The self-Image focus Says:
God’s Kingdom Calls Us To:
|1. Love Yourself||Love God and others (Ma. 22:37)|
|2. Build your self-esteem||Build up others (Hebrews 10:24-25)|
|3. You are good||None righteous (Romans 3:23)|
|4. Believe in yourself||Heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9)|
|5. Put yourself first||Put others first (Philippians 2:1-4)|
|6. Think highly of yourself||Be humble (Romans 12:3)|
|7. You are of great value||We are sinners (Romans 3:10-11)|
|8. Do what you want to do||Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16)|
|9. Find yourself||Deny yourself (Matthew 16:24-26)|
|10. Have self-confidence||Put confidence in God (Philippians 4:13)|