What do you do with those two little words at the end of Christ's Greatest Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself"?
Can you confidently say, "I love myself"?
Joel N. Clark suggests that learning to truly love yourself may unleash your full strength for loving your neighbor.
This is an excerpt from what I call Joel's "Christian adventure memoir," Awake: Discover the Power of YOUR Story (The Book You Can Watch). -Adam Forrest, Zondervan
The Least-known part of the Great Commandment
|Joel N. Clark|
I was visiting a church recently and found myself listening to a sermon on Jesus' greatest commandment. The pastor read a verse I think I've heard more than any other verse: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor." He quoted the verse at least ten times throughout his message.
Something was annoying me, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I picked up my Bible, found the verse, and read it. I was right. The actual verse reads,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The pastor is a great guy and he was preaching a good sermon. But it was as if those two little words, "as yourself," got in the way of what he was trying to say. They were unimportant.
[The Greatest Commandment] is like the CliffsNotes for life.
The verse is found in Matthew 22, and this entire section is amazing... The religious leaders asked Jesus to tell them which was the most important... Jesus broke down a thousand plus years of law into these three statements. I think this is pretty huge. It's like the CliffsNotes for life...
I have only ever heard one sermon about the "as yourself" portion of this Scripture... The pastor said that loving myself had something to do with eating right, going to the gym, and generally looking after myself. It meant that I should stand in front of a mirror and talk to myself, affirming those things I like about me. Even as a child I remember thinking that this was a very silly message.
If I understand language at all, "as yourself" is put on an equal level with "loving your neighbor," just one step under "loving God." If this is true, then it is one of the three most important things we could ever do with our lives. Yet I understand why it's not talked about. Pride is something that nobody needs to learn. We don't need to be taught to think highly of ourselves; it is humility that's the hard lesson. I'm sure this is why we spend most of our time learning how to love God and love others.
If anything, it would be easy to look at the world and say we all love ourselves too much. With much of the world obsessed with making more money and buying the newest "toys," it would make sense to say we need to learn to teach, teach, teach people how to live outside themselves and spend time loving their neighbors. But excess and pride have nothing to do with love...
I think the reason for much of the excess and egotism in the world is precisely that we haven't taken the time to learn how to love ourselves.
I think the reason for much of the excess and egotism in the world is precisely that we haven't taken the time to learn how to love ourselves. It is in loving ourselves that we learn humility. It is in loving ourselves that we begin to understand that excess isn't the answer. And most important, it is in loving ourselves that we are able to fully love others.
I no longer think that breaking down Jesus' second greatest commandment into healthy eating, exercise, and positive self-esteem is what Jesus was talking about. Although he doesn't spell it out for us precisely, I think that when Jesus told us to love ourselves, he was commanding us to live fully awake...
Loving God + Loving Neighbor as Yourself = Living Fully Awake
I believe one of the key ways God shows his love to us is through the opportunities he gives us to awaken our hearts. Each time I step out in faith and embrace life to its fullest, I awaken to a deeper intimacy in my relationship with Jesus. I believe the way we most fully experience God's love is when we make the choice to love ourselves enough to pursue what he has placed in front of us.