Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV)
Is self-sacrifice necessary for a life of discipleship? I recently heard someone argue that Jesus’ quotation of Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself” refutes the necessity of self-sacrifice. This person felt that self-sacrifice equated to not loving yourself.
While I know there are those with self-esteem problems, it seems to me that our culture encourages us to love self more than we love others, not less. We live in a self-focused, self-absorbed society. We want what we want and we want it now. We may like to talk about the needs of others, and we may even do something about them, but the idea of giving up something to help another is a different matter. Even in our giving, the motivation can be to make us feel better about ourselves, not to improve the life of another.
How many of my decisions are the fruit of loving myself more than I love others? Do I consider the impact that my purchasing decisions have on others? Do my dollars support child labor, sweatshop conditions, environmental destruction or planned obsolescence? Does my lifestyle revolve around overindulgence?
I wonder how much of our self-love has made us our own idols, replacing God as the focus of our attention and desire. If I really love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind, can I simultaneously overindulge myself? It seems to me that loving God with all my energy and focus will open my eyes to what God loves and to what breaks God’s heart. And when what breaks God’s heart breaks my heart as well, love of self and love of neighbor then get into right relationship with each other.
When I love God with every fiber of my being, I will desire what God desires. That will include taking care of myself, but it will not stop there. I will also focus on meeting the needs of others because God loves them and I should love what God loves and as God loves. My wants may not be fulfilled but I contend that if I am that focused on God, my wants are then what God wants, which is life and love for each person—no one excluded. When I want what God wants, what I do does not feel like self-sacrifice. Instead it feels like joy!