65: Self Love and the Ten Commandments

In this episode John and Gregg consider a comment by listener Melinda to episode #35, Love is more than grace.  Melinda makes three points/questions:

  1. That internalizing God’s love seems crucial, but sermons and the Bible often don’t seem to support this
  2. Gregg expressed that “grace is that mode of expression by which God most truly expresses Godself: grace shows God’s love in its truest and best light.”  Is grace given too much weight over love?
  3. Can you offer more discussion on “self-love”?  A Bible teacher recently said that self-love is not biblical because none of the ten commandments relate to loving oneself.   This teacher thinks that the ‘as yourself’ (i.e., love you neighbor as yourself) is just a reference point, such as, don’t harm others because you wouldn’t want to harm yourself.

John replies that the Bible teacher’s appeal to the ten commandments seems entirely arbitrary, like an “argument from silence” that presumes that this part of Scripture carries more weight than another and that fails to digger deeper to determine if the matter is more complex.  Further, in John’s view if we deny healthy self-love we end up losing ourselves: we have no real value and essentially cease to exist.

Gregg’s agrees that this approach takes the biblical text out of context: the ten commandments make no reference to creation, so should we therefore view creation as unimportant?  Gregg is even more concerned about the blatant contradiction expressed in viewing the ‘as yourself’ as “just a reference point.”  One the one hand the Bible teacher’s example (about not wanting to be harmed) itself amounts to a conclusion about human value derived from reflection upon one’s experience of valuing oneself to different degrees and in different ways, not a mere observation about one’s preferences (such as, “I don’t happen to like being harmed, though other people might”).  On the other hand, Gregg is suspicious that distorted logic often conceals deeper issues: in this case, an improper view of self.  The big problem with such views is that it effectively allows its holders to treat others in any way that they see fit.

Gregg goes further to explain that failing to love ourselves correctly actually undercuts and denies God’s love for us.  So while we are not God’s central concern–that would be God’s kingdom–we are legitimately epicentres of God’s love.  For Gregg this misunderstanding results from creating hierarchies out of what is meant to be the living tension between love and truth, such that failing to love myself is denying the very truth that the Bible, by declaring God’s vast love for humanity, is clearly claiming: human beings are of tremendous value to God (and so if to God, then surely to themselves)!

As such, God is also fully engaged in me being enthusiastically engaged in my own life, for the improvement, diversification, and enjoyment of my life.  For in this way we become fully human so that we may fully mirror Christ, both in our character (which for Christians is to be Christ-like) and in our personalities (which is for me to most uniquely me, which happens best through my love relationship with God).

5 thoughts on “65: Self Love and the Ten Commandments

  1. Joseph Gagliardi

    I found the discussion on the Old Testament very helpful on a question I’ve been wrestling with: what is our attitude supposed to be with regard to Israel? Does God still favor them over other nations or people, and if so, does that necessarily mean we should? Our church calls for prayers for Israel and has special services to pray for Israel, they declare emphatically “We Stand with Israel!” and I’m not sure how to reconcile that with the idea of God opening the banquet invite to all people and I perhaps needlessly worry that making such declarations cosigns that actions of Israel the nation-state and inhibits our ability as Christians to demonstrate love convincingly to other faiths and people groups.

    Any idea where I should land on this issue?

    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Joseph,

      Thanks for your comment. Wow, this is a big discussion! On the one hand I think that you’re right to cite the context (and significance) of the Hebrew Bible in this matter. On the other, there is the question of apocalyptic literature (such as the book of Daniel and Revelation). Particularly, there is the question of how we understand eschatology on the basis of how we exegete texts like Revelation (itself set within a context of understanding who / what God is, who / what humans are, and how the Bible proposes that the two are best to relate).

      So from my perspective any response to the “question of Israel,” in order to be fitting, must incorporate sound interpretations (and so understandings) of the above. I realize that I am invoking / requiring a very broad basis for arriving at valid understandings on this question, however–and if you will accept my claim that this represents an argument, essentially, from silence–this in my opinion goes some ways toward explaining why the question of Israel (at least in this context) is typically either avoided or poorly answered.

      It would be great offer some podcasts using this situation as “case study,” whereby to dig into some views on eschatology and examine how our thinking in other areas impacts (or even, to a certain extent, dictates) our thinking about eschatology.


  2. Marcellus

    Gregg, you are so correct in your thinking on this topic! Religion continually stresses the importance of self loathing under the guise of “humility”. We are taught that any emphasis on loving yourself is considered prideful or sinful, when in reality, loving yourself properly glorifies God at every level.

    Having a positive self image falls directly in line with scriptural references such as Deuteronomy 28:13, Philippians 4:13, Romans 8:31-39, and others. God does not view us as unworthy worms that must debase ourselves in order to glorify Him, just as we do not demand that our own children think less of themselves when in our presence. Satan, the enemy of our souls is referred to as the “accuser” because he constantly hurls insults our way in an attempt to keep us captive to our weaknesses and failings. God does not accuse us or even remember our sins. Therefore, why should “humility” equal self loathing?

    These types of religious teaching enslave Christians, breed frustration, and perpetuate the false image of God as arrogant, demanding, and cruel. Thank you for addressing this head on!

    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Marcellus,

      Sorry to be getting back to you so late. I’m glad that our discussion on self-worth resonated with you and yes, I too see a real tendency for Christians to act in ways that are “self-loathing” yet which pass under the banner of “being humble.” I think the main issue I have is that that way of thinking cannot simply be dispelled theologically or exegetically.

      In other words, there are biblical references that seem to support both perspectives. Even several of those you’ve noted, as I read them, are situated in a context of receiving support when we are rightly relating with God (as Deut 28:13) and are oriented towards the goals of the gospel and God’s kingdom (as Phil 4:13), rather than truly / simply validating human “worth.” And even though Rom 8 (and indeed, as N. T. Wright argues, the entire book of Romans) is deeply oriented toward God’s love for us, this has been used by many traditions simply to strengthen the argument for our lack of value (as being so unworthy of this love)!

      So while I agree with your conclusion my view is that only by taking the biblical story at its broadest do we have the correct context, as so can begin to overcome this thinking. But even this is not definitive—it is only a beginning. More so, I do not think the matter can (or was meant to!) be settled that way.

      Instead, I believe that we need to change the terms of the discussion—to accept that what legitimately “counts” as authoritative when it comes to understanding God, human beings, and the relationship between the two exceeds just theology and exegesis. Simply put, “changing the terms” of the discussion means coming to understand how (and how much) disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, geology, neuroscience, etc., not only may contribute but must be considered in terms of questions related to God, humanity, and the relationship between the two.

      I view this to be a large part of my vocational goal and an important orientation that I bring to the podcast. Thanks again for you interest and comment-look forward to more interaction with you in future.


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