During the process of creation, God repeatedly examined everything that came into being and declared it as good. God created us in His image and likeness but do we ever rejoice and thank Him for who and what we are? Later God looked at man and found something not good for he was alone and God did not like that. But He then created Eve and did not sulk over the apparent lack in His creation. Surely God knew beforehand all that He planned to do but in this we are to learn to be like Him and rejoice in our mistakes also. Only the one who learns and corrects his mistakes can really love himself and others also.
Why is it necessary to love oneself? God created everything and then ‘saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good’ and He rejoiced at that (Genesis 1:31). After having placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). Surely God did not start the creation process in a sudden and unplanned manner. King David has written about the foreknowledge of God, ‘Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Psalm 139:16). The doctrine of predestination of believers is another example of the same foreknowledge of God. After seeing the rebellion of Lucifer in heaven and then Adam and Eve in the Garden, God did not start feeling like a failure in His work. The famous writer Mark Twain has said, ‘A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval’.
Man has been created with a combination of two elements, body from the earth and spirit from the heavenly from God and soul is the link between the two. Man’s spirit, being from God, has three basic functions; first, worship God the Creator, Provider and Sustainer; second, fellowship with Him to know Him and His will and finally receive revelation from God about His word and about all other things that He considers proper for us to know. All three works of the spirit of man are related to God. The three functions of the soul are self oriented; they are mind and thoughts, will or desires and emotions and feelings about self and others. The purpose of the soul is to connect the body to the heavenly and spiritual things and lead it into obedience. The body is created by God and it has a supreme purpose, to be God’s Temple, where He lives. The body being from the material resources provides the link to rule the material realm through turning the spiritual knowledge into its effect in the physical realm through actions.
After the fall mankind opened the door to the devil to take charge of the body. Man’s rebellion against God resulted in deformation of every area of his being and the body with its sensual or worldly knowledge started dominating the soul, thus disconnecting the spiritual from the material. The spirit of man is eternal while the body is perishable and merges with the earth after death through decomposition. The spirit of man encourages the soul not to be affected by the circumstances and David has said, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him’ (Psalm 42:5) and the same words are repeated in Psalm 43:5 also. David again provides the entire chain of blessings from God to mankind, ‘Bless the LORD O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name (spirit being related to God, sees Him worthy of all praise). Bless the LORD O my soul, and forget not His benefits; who pardons all your inequities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with loving-kindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’ (Psalm 103:1-5).
The benefits of God flow to the body through the soul like the healing of diseases and prolonging of our youth. The spirit of man connects to God and gives directions to the soul, and through that the Divine direction, life and blessings flow into the body. The sustenance of spirit is from God and the body from the earth but without the spirit, body is dead and the spirit needs the body for operating in the material realm. We have to see what we are closer to and which part of our whole being we love more than the other. Eve heeded to the voice of the body and the spirit became silent after that while the soul came to be dominated by the body and worldly knowledge. The Helper in the form of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in a believer, has been provided by God to restore that broken connection (John 14:26). Since our fulfillment cannot be without God, the inner urge to worship and fellowship with Him remains but we desire to achieve that also through the soul.
The soul being self oriented projects itself, like the Pharisee, who tried to tell God about himself and his efforts to please God unlike the tax collector who sought forgiveness for his sins (Luke 18:9-14). God’s love for all of His creation is expressed in the coming of His Son as Redeemer for He does not desire to condemn or reject anyone (John 3:16-17). Since God is not condemning anyone, I also must not and this starts with self. Lord Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has blessed every believer with forgiveness of all sins while the devil wants to keep on reminding us of the past. Loving self is like the great ‘I AM’ and living in the present while forgetting the past and not dreaming about the future but expecting the best.
How do we err in loving ourselves? King David praised God, ‘I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well’ (Psalm 139:14). The greatest miracle in all of creation is man in whom, his body and soul, God has placed such complex and marvelous things. David was known as a ‘man of God’s heart’, for right from his early days as a shepherd, he composed and sang songs of praise and worship, developing a close relationship with God. He understood the expression of God’s love in himself and praised Him while also loving himself.
Apostle John’s basic identity of God is love and man being in His image also must display this same emotion in abundance (1 John 4:8). We are commanded, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD’ (Leviticus 19:18). This has two components of love, yourself and the neighbor, for without the first, second is not possible. The biggest beneficiary of love is the one loving for the Hebrew word for love is ‘ahav’ where the root word ‘hav’ means to give. Lord Jesus, while teaching about a believer’s behavior towards others, said, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’ (Luke 6:27-38). He further taught, ‘But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? for even sinners love those who love them’. His further teaching, which many take it to mean about financial management, He said, ‘Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your bosom’. This giving is about forgiveness, loving and doing good to others and it is natural that one cannot give something that he does not have.
Five times in his Gospel, like this one example, Apostle John has stated about himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:23). From the cross, Lord Jesus fulfilled His duty to care for His mother by entrusting her care to ‘the disciples whom He loved’ by saying to him, ‘Behold your mother’ and from that moment he took Mary to his own home (John 19:26-27). Love changes a person from within and from being self centered to others centered and open to receive blessings. The disciples were disputing with each other about who will be the greatest among them (Luke 9:46-54). Then Apostle John informed Lord Jesus about forbidding someone ‘casting out demons in Your name’ for he was not one of them. Later when the people of a Samaritan village refused hospitality to Lord Jesus, for He was going to Jerusalem, the same Apostle John and his brother wanted to ‘command fire to come down from heaven and consume; the villagers’.
But after having known and experienced the love of the Son of God, the same Apostle could declare, ‘He who does not love does not know God, for God is love’ (1 John 4:8). As per legend, Apostle John was head of the church at Ephesus, and in his final years, his teaching was limited finally to only three words, ‘love one another’, from Lord Jesus’ teaching ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another’ (John 13:34). This new commandment of the Lord teaches a new and important aspect of loving, for you can love another only to the extent that you love yourself. It means what I do not appreciate in myself, I will never notice in others. Knowing and loving oneself are the fundamentals for loving others and it takes time to learn and master.
How does loving self help in spiritual and material growth? Only the spirit of man is indestructible and must be sustained by and be with God, for He breathed into man a part of Himself and man reflected God’s image and likeness in himself. This likeness was in the spiritual which was dominant over the earthly, the body. The temptation of Eve was to become like God through gaining the earthly knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Till then they were aware of right and wrong through spiritual knowledge. With the sin of disobedience, the body took control and demands full attention and care. The soul through the mind started producing thoughts for self care and ‘I think’ instead of what God thinks; ‘I want’ instead of what God wants and ‘I will’ instead of God’s will prevailed. God had entrusted the dominion over His creation with the command ‘to tend and keep it’. But the human soul placed my needs over the needs of creation and it goes on even today. Man was not supposed to die or suffer sickness and disease but misuse or overuse of the body and resources brought about both. We love our bodies more than all else and neglected the indestructible part, the spirit.
If we love our spirit, we will spend time to worship and fellowship with God and to meditate on the Word of God. Loving our soul would then involve bringing our thoughts (mind), our desires (heart) and our will in obedience to God. Lord Jesus’ command mankind to ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30). Loving God in this manner would then involve bringing and setting apart all this for His kingdom use. Apostle Paul teaches that the real way to love the body is not to present yourselves as slaves to sin for that leads to death (Romans 6:16). The warning for all of mankind is, ‘do not mix with winebibbers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty’ (Proverbs 23:20-21).
The final element of loving oneself is defined by Lord Jesus, ‘deny yourself and take up your cross daily’ (Luke 9:23). This denial is about everything in excess, from eating, sleeping, lack of adequate physical and spiritual exercise and resorting to crucifying your evil desires that lead to sin, disease and death. Lord Jesus explained the way to follow Him for anyone is to ‘deny himself, and take up his cross daily’. This denial is of the soul, to stop ‘I think, I want and I will’ and to crucify all thoughts, desires and wants of self pleasures to focus on thoughts, desires and will of God. This process continues throughout the life of a believer and it is only in this way that we can and must love our spirit, soul and body.
Apostle Peter has warned that, ‘Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). The devil does not eat up someone but lays out his own table of various temptations before everyone to taste and enjoy and perish in sin. Love for self is visible in our life in the way we live and that is our own choice.
Through faith in the Redeemer Son of God we receive forgiveness of sins but our sinful nature continues to try and control our lives. It takes a lifelong process of change under the power of the Holy Spirit to change our inner being. The first thing for loving oneself is to live a life of faith and confidence, in controlling sinful thoughts and desires through meditating on the Word of God. Without this we live a life under the devil’s control and can never really love ourselves or God.